On training evenings, the entrance to Dublin’s St Clare’s training base off Griffith Avenue resembles a gate check to a concert.
It isn’t Fort Knox — after all, it, like Liverpool Football Club’s Melwood, is overlooked by houses — but most prying eyes are kept out, even if some exceptions are made.
The story goes that upon noticing two men taking in a Dublin session, a member of Jim Gavin’s backroom team was tasked with asking them to leave only to realise they were John McCarthy and Barney Rock, county greats and fathers of James and Dean.
Carton House and Cooraclare are visited regularly by the Dublin group during the summer but St Clare’s has been Dublin’s home now for 10 years. For too long before it, Dublin had been nomads in their own county, utilising the likes of St David’s CBS in Artane, Cathal Brugha barracks in Rathmines, and Parnell Park for sessions.
On December 11, 2008, the Dublin County Board — at the behest of their new senior football manager Pat Gilroy — made a planning application request to develop “The Bunker” in St Clare’s. Less than two months later, and it was granted. According to the application, it involved “the development will consist of a new single-story sports facility, containing changing rooms, shower, toilets, trainers’ room medical room, canteen and training room with a gross floor area of 305 square metres with external site works, comprising demolition of existing sheds, modification to existing site services, connection into existing foul and surface water drainage on a site of 14.16 hectares.”
Humble by any shape or means, as former player Alan Brogan insisted last year. “All that’s in St Clare’s is one dressing room, an ice-bath, a kitchen and a whiteboard. It’s not a patch on Tyrone’s facility in Garganey, Kildare’s in Hawkfield, or Kerry’s new €7m development in Currans.”
But the aesthetics didn’t worry the Dubs. Brogan recalled in 2018: “All of a sudden, we had our own dressing room, we had our own privacy. Small things made a difference. We could have an ice bath. We had an area for eating. We had our own notice board that we could put stuff up on and no-one would see it. It was our own little sanctuary down in Glasnevin.”
Gilroy’s decisions to partner up with DCU in terms of support and bring in the college’s professor Niall Moyna as a backroom team member were just as important and it’s a testament to him that St Clare’s remains Dublin’s base up to today. “He was the driving force that built all the facilities that Dublin now call home,” statistician Ray Boyne told this newspaper last year. “It was Pat Gilroy’s idea and Pat Gilroy’s drive and he was planning in the far distant future.”
Since then, the only work done on the site occurred in 2013, Gavin’s first year in charge, and on this occasion paid for by DCU. It concerned the extension of the existing artificial pitch to form a GAA standard artificial Gaelic football pitch “152x117m within a 2 hectare site with run-off, long jump and sprint track, alterations to the existing floodlighting and all associated external works”. Permission was granted in February 2013.
It would have been within Gavin’s power to move away from St Clare’s but he chose not to. It remains Dublin’s Championship hub with the facilities of Innisfails GAA club used for their League preparations, county board chief executive John Costello highlighting in his annual report two years ago how training was cut short twice at the Balgriffin club because of floodlight failure.
When the GAA’s National Games Centre at the National Sports Campus was established in 2016, it was believed that Dublin would use it frequently. But given that other counties and teams could also call it home, it became clear quickly Dublin were never going to be anchor tenants. They were not going to be constrained by being put on a timetable.
An agreement was put in place for Dublin to kit out the gym in Abbotstown but they removed it when access became a problem. As well as gym sessions, Dublin players undertook rehab work there with the county’s high-performance director Bryan Cullen but that is no longer the case.
Dublin now complete their gym work in Parnell Park in a building behind the Donnycarney Church End terrace. Planning permission for a temporary single storey 300 square metre gym for a period of five years was given the green light in October 2017.
In the planning submission, former Dublin player and selector Jim Brogan, in his brief as planning and development consultant,explained: “Dublin GAA County Board have no gymnasium facility under its jurisdiction. This can cause serious practical problems on occasions for underage and adult inter-county teams with regard to gaining access to facilities with the appropriate equipment etc. This gymnasium is required to meet this need in the short term.”
Before Cullen’s switch from Leinster Rugby in 2016, Dublin’s strength and conditioning work had been done with Martin Kennedy in the National Athletic Development Academy, close to the National Sports Campus. Kennedy himself moved to the IRFU a month after finishing up with the Dublin senior team in late 2015.
The 35-acre Spawell site in the South Dublin suburb of Templeogue just off the M50 purchased by the Dublin County Board in 2017 for close to €10m could end up being the county’s version of Kerry’s Currans.
It was reported in July that the board intend selling nine acres of the land which includes the large car park at the front of the property, the proceeds from which will be used to offset the loan they took out with Central Council to pay for the site.
In close proximity to Faughs, St Jude’s, and Ballyboden St Enda’s GAA clubs, four pitches as well as a training centre are to be constructed although the development timeline is uncertain — former European Tour professional Peter Lawrie opened a golf academy in Spawell last January and is believed to have a three-year lease on the driving range. That would conclude around about the time the provision of the temporary gym in Parnell Park elapses.
So Dublin senior football’s hopes of centralising their efforts remain on the long finger but it hasn’t exactly hurt them.