The NUIG Connacht GAA Air Dome has been a rip-roaring success and now the GAA wants to expand the model into every province.
Having taken inspiration from similar structures in Finland and London, and built by Slovakian hands, it's now the world's largest sporting air dome.
The first inter-county game was hosted in the Mayo venue on January 3rd, which was a meeting of Leitrim and Sligo in the FBD League.
It has hosted a multitude of games since that evening and has provided a weatherproof alternative to the various GAA grounds across Connacht.
Now, the GAA's Provincial CEO John Prenty is keen to see other provinces build similar structures but it might not be as plain-sailing as the one in Bekan.
Air Dome Obstacles
"The next one won’t be so cheap," Prenty told the Irish Times. "You’ll probably have to go to a greenfield site and the land costs will be significant."
"We had land as part of our plan building the Centre of Excellence 10 years ago so we only had construction costs."
Prenty said the GAA intended to build outdoor pitches on the land for schools initially, but they pivoted to an air dome structure after advice from then Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Kenny had seen a smaller version erected in his local tennis club in Castlebar. Given the number of matches postponed due to the weather, they went ahead with the move.
The centre was ready to use last year but it was delayed due to Covid. Now, Prenty says it's being used almost every day and is a vital facility in the locality.
"The only time it wasn’t in use was the last two weeks," he said. "Because we had the coaching conference last Saturday week, and then there was no point in taking up the floor before congress.”
It was part of the original plan for the venue to become a home to other events, such as hosting concerts, trade exhibitions, and conferences.
26 February 2022; A general view during the GAA Congress at NUI Galway Connacht GAA Air Dome in Bekan, Mayo. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Despite the financial obstacles, Prenty says the GAA are keen to build an air dome in the other provinces, but there might not be a need for another in Connacht.
"I don’t think we need another one in Connacht but we do in other provinces. One in Munster, two in Leinster, and maybe in Ulster."
"The dome does take a good bit of managing. You can’t just blow it up and leave it until you come back a few days later. There’s a facilities manager and he and I have smartphones to respond to any issues with the dome."
Prenty estimates it costs about €170 to maintain a day and runs off generators and a gas supply to keep the air dome lifted and the temperature regulated.
With the effects that Storm Eunice brought a few weeks ago, Prenty thinks it's built to outlast storms and adverse weather conditions wherever it's erected.
"It’s very robust on the outside. It moves above your head so there’s tolerance. Unlike London, there’s no metal in our dome. It’s completely air-based from corner to corner."