The National Pitch Maintenance Workgroup, led by Kieran McGann of the GAA, were out "raising standards" on Sunday by putting on a pitch renovation open day in Croke Park. Groundsmen from up and down the country gathered to observe the famous Croke Park pitch get a facelift in time for the 2017 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. Guests of the GAA were shown the processes that the Croke Park grounds staff use to keep the "busiest pitch in the world", one of the best pitches in the world.
The one hundred strong attendees were treated some fantastic hospitality in the headquarters of the GAA throughout the day, courtesy of the lovely catering staff. The day kicked off with four informative talks from industry professionals on matters concerning quality pitch maintenance, followed by a Q&A with the Croke Park pitch manager Stuart and then finished up with a peak in the ground staff's shed and a close up view of the pitch renovation in full swing.
Campey Turf Care Systems, Brian O'Shaughnessy was up first to talk about why we need to be renovating our pitches. A full pitch renovation is the single most effective way of dealing with Poa annua grass, also known as annual bluegrass. Pitch renovations can be an expensive process and a lot of clubs will not want to have a pitch out of action for up to six weeks during the season. Brian recommends that getting air into your playing surface is one of the most important practices carried out by groundsmen, soil compaction is detrimental for the playability of your pitch and its ability to absorb water. Keep general footfall off the pitch when not in use, footprints do a lot of damage.
Henry Bechelet from ICL was on next, his talk was aimed at providing an understanding on why we use fertilisers and wetting agents. Henry gave us some handy application techniques. Get your soil tested, it's a no brainer, if you know what your soil is lacking, you can be more clinical when selecting a fertilising program. Wetting agents are hugely important for getting water to disperse evenly through your soil, YES, even in Ireland.
Then ICL's Colman Warde took to the podium to give us the lowdown on grass seed and the best over-seeding techniques. Getting the right grass seed is key and make sure that you are getting fresh seed from your supplier. Seed has a sell by date, if the seed has been in a bag for over a year, up to 25% of the seed could be dead grass seed. Over-seeding is an important process for GAA groundsmen, especially when a full pitch renovation is unrealistic for your club.
Last up was Daniel Crowley from Colaiste Staofain Naofa, Cork. Daniel gave a great talk on the importance of aeration and top-dressing. Aerating and topdressing are not expensive processes and they will make a massive difference to the quality and playability of your pitch.
After lunch, we all headed pitchside for a Q&A with the Croke Park pitch manager, Stuart Wilson. Stuart was the assistant head groundsman at the Emirates Stadium in London and does a fantastic job now in Croker. Behind Stuart the pitch renovation was in full motion and it was a colossal flurry of mowers and machinery. After fielding a few questions, Stuart and his team led us off in groups to have a look around the grounds staff shed and view all the technology & machinery that the team at Croke Park have at their disposal.
An interesting idea I liked was how they prepared a pre-germinated grass seed mix. They use a wheelie bin to make the seed mix by simply punching holes in the base, adding grass seed, pouring hot water over the seed at least once a day and closing the lid. This pre-germinated seed is perfect for over-seeding, bare spots that need attention quickly and for putting down on pitch-scars straight after a game. Another tip was using a growth regulator. Growth regulators like Primo Maxx inhibit the vertical of your grass and produces a thicker, healthier sward that is better equipped to handle wear and tear. It will also save you money on your line marking paint, well worth the expense.
Gaelic football and hurling groundsman have a very tough job in this country, the game takes practically no breaks during the growing season. There is a lot of simple things that can make a huge difference. Things like keeping footfall off the pitch at all times when not in use and keeping training drills confined to less used areas of the pitch, these changes cost nothing, but they have got to be communicated to everyone within the club if they are to be well executed.
Huge credit to the GAA, the Croke Park grounds team and the National Pitch Maintenance Workgroup for putting on an excellent open day. These open day events really are a great opportunity for GAA groundsmen to stay fresh with some new ideas and I think everyone who attended got a huge amount of information and tips to take home with them.