THROWBACK TUESDAY Westport United FC chairman Stephen Duffy (centre) is pictured watching a game with Vinny O’Malley (left) and John Casey. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
PROUD and ambitious sporting clubs like Westport United have had to think outside the box throughout the pandemic.
The 110-year old club is currently planning to construct a new astroturf facility, as well as a number of new pitches at their United Park base.
Club chairman Stephen Duffy says that the ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic has made fund-raising for such projects that bit more difficult.
“With regards to putting in an astroturf pitch you’re talking anywhere between €800,000 to €1m, so it’s a lot of money. It’s going to take a lot of effort,” he told The Mayo News.
“Even last year, the way the Juniors went with the run to the FAI Junior Cup quarter-final, and the final of the Connacht Cup, we couldn’t have any supporters at all. They’d be big days for us, especially the home draws.
“You’d always have 500-600 people down there, especially for the big games. That was a big hindrance to us. We were lucky that our PRO Kenneth Gannon could stream it live so supporters could see the games.
“We’ve the lotto running online, that’s keeping us going,” he added. “It’s tough because people are being asked to dig deep. It’s not just Westport United, you’ve GAA and all different types of organisations. It’s difficult because some people aren’t working and we’re conscious of that. We’re just trying to do the best we can.”
The oldest soccer club in Mayo also boasts one of the largest youth memberships of any club in the county, with over 600 members across 37 teams.
“You’d have up to 140 boys and girls there [in United Park] on a Monday,” explained Stephen Duffy.
The club chairman is also ‘confident’ that some form of outdoor training for children will be sanctioned by the powers-that-be next month.
“If there isn’t too many cases in the schools you’d be hopeful. I know the Government has hinted that there might be a bit of outdoor activity from April 5. It’ll probably be in pods of 15 but we’d accept that, even just to get the kids back.
“You can see them even when you’re out for a walk and you’d have a few of them gathering, they’re just itching to get playing again.”
While he reckons it will be June before any competitive adult soccer can resume, Duffy says the restart can’t come soon enough for the soccer-mad Covies.
“It’s difficult. Westport United is a big part of the town,” he said. “We’ve a big membership and they love their football. It really is difficult, you’re just hoping that we will get back at some stage playing competitively during the summer playing competitively, because you really miss the buzz.
“It’s great to go down to United Park or the Sports Park and you can just see the smiles on the faces, everyone back playing again. You really miss it.
“With kids it’s really difficult as well,” he continued. “They like nothing better than to be out kicking ball, whether it’s soccer or Gaelic or whatever. We are hopeful. It has been really challenging with Covid, [there’s] no doubt about it.”