IAAF president Coe backs multi-sport facility in Tuam
It's one of the biggest athletics clubs in the country, but for the 800 juvenile members of Tuam AC, having a proper place to train is nothing but a dream.
However, it's one that moved a step closer to reality this week as Sebastian Coe, the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations [IAAF], backed an audacious plan to create a multi-sport facility in the town.
It's not so much a case of if you build it, they will come, because according to international sports consultant Pierce O'Callaghan, the town is already over-run with eager young sportspeople. The issue is they have nowhere to train.
"Girls participation is really strong in Tuam and it's all good stuff, but the reality is traditional GAA clubs can't cope with the numbers," said O'Callaghan, a former elite race walker who lives locally. "We've so many active kids, but without a new facility we're going to lose them - simple as that."
O'Callaghan has three young daughters aged between six and 10, who are all members of three local clubs - Tuam Athletics, Tuam Camogie and Tuam-Cortoon Ladies Gaelic football - and his goal is to build one facility that will see each sports club in the town work together instead of competing.
Tuam's population has grown steadily in recent years, rising from 8,824 in the 2011 census to 9,550 in 2016, but despite the size of the athletics club, youngsters train either in a local school hall or park, and must make an hour-long drive to Claremorris or Athlone to use a track.
"We need a focal point for the whole community," said O'Callaghan. "They're announcing more houses for Tuam and it's really well connected, but the sports facilities have fallen woefully behind. It's not sustainable."
Next Monday former Irish athletics team manager Patsy McGonagle will give a public talk in Tuam, where he plans to outline how he succeeded in establishing the Finn Valley community facility in Stranorlar, Co Donegal.
O'Callaghan plans to use that as a model to bring the necessary expertise and finance to the Tuam project, which he hopes will be completed by 2020 and will include an outdoor 400m track and extensive multi-sport indoor facility.
The response from the local community has been positive, though he's aware it can only be achieved through generous government support and substantial corporate sponsorship.
"It's a real call to action," he says. "The threat is we're going to lose 800 kids to inactivity. They just need a home to practise their sport."
O'Callaghan is a senior adviser to Coe, the IAAF president since 2015, and Coe - who spent many summers visiting Lough Corrib in his youth - promised he would attend the opening of the facility if plans get off the ground.
"Bringing sport together like this is really the way a community needs to be directed," said Coe. "It'll make a big difference to the sporting infrastructure in North Galway and I hope everybody comes together. And if you get this off the ground, I'll be there to open it."