Crowds turned out in great numbers on Saturday 15th July to celebrate the official opening of Bridge Utd’s new clubhouse and pitch development, a fabulous achievement and a tremendous legacy to pass on to younger members of the Sixmilebridge community for many years to come.
The event coincided with the 50th anniversary of the club’s founding in 1967. According to Barry Downes, club development has been ongoing since acquiring the site from Clare County Council in 1992. After an initial leasing arrangement with the council, the club completed their purchase of the site by 2013. Barry says they were successful in applying for Sports Capital Funding in 2015/16 and this led to the present development.
Ray Maxwell welcomed the many club members, players, officials and visitors to the official opening of Bridge Utd’s new clubhouse and pitch development. He remarked on the momentous occasion in the club’s history before introducing special guest John Delaney, chief executive of the FAI, and extending a very special welcome to Limerick FC.
Parish priest Fr Harry Bohan gave his blessing to the new facilities and joked that he didn’t want to hear any complaints from the GAA lads present. He congratulated the club on its achievement, particularly to all the officials, the volunteers and all who were involved in the massive development in the middle of a community of 6,000 people. “The amount of voluntary time that has gone into this would have been enormous, the whole concept of voluntarism keeps out country going as well.”.
Quoting from Eamon Dunphy, Fr Harry added, “we hope and pray that those who play the beautiful game will continue to do so in Sixmilebridge. This club involves about 300 players and 70 other adults, so well done all.” Fr Harry also had an anecdote for Tipperary native John Delaney. He recalled Paddy Leahy, one of the most famous hurling coaches, passing the cathedral on his way to play Cork in a Munster final when one of the Tipp players said ‘will we go in and say a prayer’. “Paddy said, ‘by xxxx we won’t! We’ll bate ’em dacent or we won’t bate ’em at all”.
In his address John Delaney said he was delighted to return to Sixmilebridge since his last visit in 2012 “and by God the place has come on fantastic! The committee has done a tremendous job, unbelievable! Back in 1967, only a brave man would open a soccer pitch in Sixmilebridge. I remember 1967 as the year I was born and Jack Lynch was Taoiseach and Dev was President. Paddy Cooney, Mikey Whyte and Rory McNamara did a very brave thing when they formed Bridge United AFC.”
John didn’t arrive empty handed and gifted the club’s committee with free VIP guest tickets for the Ireland v Serbia World Cup Qualifier game on 5th September in recognition of their achievements. Noting that Bridge Utd currently field 13 teams of 150 kids in boys and girls competitions, on behalf of the FAI Mr Delaney offered to bring 50 kids to the Serbia game as well.
Finally, he also presented an FAI grant of €5,000 for the club development. “This,” he said, “is the FAI’s way of thanking the club for what they are doing in the community in this part of Clare and may your next 50 years be as good as the previous 50”. From there John Delaney and Esther Murphy proceeded to cut the ribbon marking the official opening of the clubhouse and the FAI chief then unveiled a commemorative wall plaque.
Next up was an exhibition game against Limerick FC who ply their trade in the League of Ireland Premier Division. On Saturday evening celebrations moved to Bunratty Castle Hotel for the anniversary dinner dance. A number of founding members were present for the occasion as were many former players. “It was a great night and opportunity for people to catch up and share many great memories,” said Barry.
Finally Barry paid tribute to the volunteers and other local clubs for sharing their facilities while this work was ongoing. “We couldn’t have done what we have done without the support of the community who have supported our fundraising efforts down through the years. In terms of getting the project finished on time we were fortunate to have a very hard working group of volunteers and specialist tradespeople who worked around the clock to have the project completed for Saturday. The club owes these volunteers a huge debt of gratitude. Thanks also to Bunratty FC and Shannon Town for the use of their grounds for the past two seasons. Bridge Utd are greatly appreciative of their assistance.”