“It was Saturday, January 24th at 7.30am,” the chairman of St Saviours GAA club in Waterford recalls, “and it was Ollie Ryan, our caretaker telling me the clubhouse was on fire. I got there within five minutes but there was very little I could do.”
“Soul-destroying” is the phrase Corcoran uses to describe the scene. Their clubhouse, built 20 years ago, but developed season by season in the intervening two decades, was little more than a smouldering shell.
A Facebook posting from the club that weekend summed up the sense of despair. It read: “We’ve suffered many a painful defeat on the field of play over the years but it doesn’t come close to the devastation we all feel this morning after last night’s events.
“We are very proud of our facilities, put together over a long number of years through the blood, sweat and tears of our members and to see the clubhouse destroyed in one night is heartbreaking.
“However, we will build it up again brick by brick if necessary with the help of everyone in the community and beyond.”
Six months on and Corcoran stands in that same building, which is within weeks of an official re-opening that will also act as a thank you for all those involved in the mammoth process of returning the facility to former glories.
“The fire in our clubhouse was one of two that night in the Ballybeg area with the local Youth Resource Centre also gutted,” Corcoran explains. “A few days later the boxing club was also burnt.
“Because of that it had become a community issue, it wasn’t three different organisations going their own way in terms of fundraising and so forth. Everyone was in this together. “This wasn’t an attack on any individual, or any group — this was an attack on the community in Ballybeg.”
And so the Ballybeg Brick by Brick campaign was born, a massive fundraising push to raise monies for the repair and rebuilding work of the three structures and organisations affected.
The response in the interim has taken all by surprise.
Businesses, rival sporting organisations, the general public have all come to the aid of this small outcrop of Waterford City.
Corcoran said: “Soccer and rugby clubs came to us offering facilities if we needed them. There was massive solidarity and that wouldn’t be forgotten. The day of the fire Croke Park contacted us with help and advice in terms of insurance and those issues. The county board door has always been open to us as well.”
Corcoran outlined the work involved. “We had to remove all our roof panels and basically put on a new roof. Once that was done the internal work began and now we have that 95% complete with two adult dressing-rooms, a referee’s room, a function room and two toilet areas. That was just the structural work. There were countless other things lost or damaged.
“For example we lost a few sets of jerseys to the fire. And then there are all the pictures and mementoes which you can’t put a price on.” But what of the cost of bricks and mortar?
Corcoran wouldn’t go into specifics but somewhere north of €100,000 is a reasonable estimate of the monies pumped in. The future is bright, beginning with Waterford’s Munster final against Tipperary in Thurles on Sunday.
“For the first time in a few years we will be running a 50-seater bus to the Munster final, things like that are great to see and gives everyone a boost. The other great news is that the completion of the work means we will be able to be one of the host venues for the Tony Forristal All-Ireland U14 hurling tournament next month which is another shot in the arm. Slowly but surely things are falling into place. Next year we are planning for our official pitch opening. So there is always something to aim for and work towards. It has been a tough experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone but it also has been a great eye opener in other ways.”