TYRONE GAA manager Mickey Harte was invited to officially open the £2.5 million state-of-the-art sporting facilities at The Cliff in Seacourt.
Harte, who has won three All-Ireland titles, cut the ribbon watched by Larne mayor Bobby McKee; East Antrim MP and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson; Sport NI chief executive Eamonn McCartan; Larne Football Club manager Paul Millar; and The Cliff chairman, Bertie Shaw.
Also among the guests were local sporting heroes past and present including boxer Dave Boy McAuley, athlete James McIlroy and Northern Ireland international footballer Gareth McAuley.
The impressive project, which is the brainchild of Seacourt Community Council and Larne Youth Football Club, includes a full-size floodlit third-generation astroturf pitch, offices, an indoor hall, superb changing rooms and a boardroom. Funding for the scheme came from Sport NI (£2.3m) and Larne Borough Council (£200,000).
Mr Harte, who admitted he hadn’t visited Larne on many occasions, said he respected the welcome he had received, adding that he was impressed by what he saw at the modern complex.
“I think it’s great when a community comes together to build something meaningful,” he told the guests. “And maybe that’s what this country and all of us need to realise: that community is everything and that people are the most important thing in our lives.
“People come together through sport and they give the best of themselves and this project is the result of community spirit.”
He added: “It is important that people respect the facilities. The whole idea of respecting yourself and everyone around you, for me, is the key to success in sport.
“Great facilities like this don’t happen by accident. There are a lot of people who have put a lot of time and effort into this. We should always appreciate the people who make these things happen.”
Referring to the death of his daughter, Michaela McAreavey, who was murdered on honeymoon in January, Mr Harte said: “I also want to pay respect to the people of Northern Ireland who were so supportive of us in our recent tragedy.”
Cllr McKee was also full of praise for The Cliff, describing it as “a fantastic community sports facility”. He said the project had been realised because of the drive of Seacourt Community Council and Larne Youth. The DUP man said he supported the project’s aims of providing more opportunities for under-represented groups and the mayor praised Mr Harte for the “graceful way” in which he had handled the murder of his daughter Michaela McAreavey in January and the killing of PSNI constable Ronan Kerr in April.
“It has been, to me personally, an inspiration,” said Cllr McKee.
Sammy Wilson, MP, commented: “I know how much hard work has gone into this. It is an indication of the determination of the folks who were involved in this that it has now come to fruition.”
Mr Wilson said The Cliff could be put to use to by everyone in the community and said it would prove a great attraction for local young people. He spoke of the “amazing turnaround” he has witnessed in the Seacourt estate over the years which, he said, was due to hard work.
Mr Wilson paid special tribute to Bertie Shaw, who he described as the driving force behind the project.
“It is a great day for us all at The Cliff to finally get the place officially opened,” said Mr Shaw. “The Cliff came about after some brain-storming from two individual groups, Larne Youth and Seacourt Community Council.
“John Workman, Norman Black, myself and the late Peter Crossan sat down and talked with Larne Borough Sports Forum. Out of those conversations we set about exploring how we could deliver the project. We spoke with Sport NI and we also spoke with the council chief executive and both bodies encouraged us to the hilt. We are deeply appreciative of that.
“The Cliff is overseen by a management committee which is committed to making the facility sustainable to ensure it delivers an increased participation in sport and physical activity. As chairman, I am proud of how far we have come and we will continue to improve and ensure the whole community of Larne benefits from the facility.”
East Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan said: It’s money well spent on a facility which is adaptable for all sports and it was great to hear both soccer and Gaelic sports being mentioned. It is very welcome that Mickey Harte was invited to open it.
“I’m certain that The Cliff will be a flagship facility.”
Larne FC manager Paul Millar said: “I had heard about the plans and vision for this place, but when it was eventually built I couldn’t believe it. As a user group with Larne FC, the facilities are absolutely amazing. I have told others that The Cliff is like AC Milan’s training ground. The standard of the build and the whole layout is unbelievable.”