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‘Once in a lifetime day’ for Athlone Tennis Club | Westmeath Independent

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Faye Higginbotham, Pia Aymerich and Clement Higginbotham at the grand opening of Athlone Tennis Club.

Despite the dipping temperatures, there was a real carnival atmosphere at the new home of Athlone Tennis Club beside Athlone Regional Sports Centre on Friday last as Minister for Sport Thomas Byrne officially opened phase 1A of new state-of-the-art facilities.

Coming off the Ballymahon Road roundabout to sweet sounds of trumpeter and singer Keith McDonald, the club’s three new clay courts came into clear view, along with three children’s courts and a modular clubhouse, all which got very favourable reviews from the many visitors present at the opening and children from St Paul’s NS who tried out the new courts for size.

Welcoming the large crowd, Athlone Tennis Club chairperson Cathal Kenny described the opening as a “momentous day” and a “once-in-a lifetime day” for members who are very proud at what has achieved and that everyone is here to celebrate with them.

Minister Byrne commended the voluntary spirit of members down through the years for catering for tennis as a competitive sport and a social pastime in the town. There is a history of the sport in Athlone stretching back to 1885.

In particular, he commended the current committee for their hard work taking the club forward to this point where “outstanding” facilities are now provided for everyone to enjoy.

“You all deserve the recognition and thanks,” the Minister said during a brief speech prior to the official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“I think this is a great facility for the people of Athlone, both in Westmeath and Roscommon, something we can all appreciate after that rainy weather over Christmas is – outdoor sport.

“Tennis is and should be one of most accessible sports, and I think when people are asked what sport they like to play … tennis, it’s the one they are likely to respond with,” the Meath-based Minister commented.

Sport is at the heart of what he does, and the department is keen to boost participation levels in all levels of the community, he added, telling the committee that this project, which got a grant of €170,000 from his department was a “money well spent”.

CEO of Tennis Ireland Kevin Quinn spoke of meeting the “force of nature” and a “driven man” in Oliver or Olly McGrath who drove this project forward, comments that resulted in spontaneous applause from the crowd.

Athlone Tennis Club has been designated as a regional centre of development for Tennis Ireland, and while thrilled about phase 1A, the organisation is really excited about phase 1B which could bring all weather tennis to the region under a dome.

“We’re really excited about that and I very much hope that we are back here in the not too distant future to open a wonderful dome,” he added praising the work of volunteers in the club for the work they do with members, schools, Vision Ireland and with those with disabilities.

David Spillane, Head of Development at Leinster Tennis, praised the club’s vision in providing top-class facilities and to the committee for delivering it on time and on budget. Mr Spillane said he had no doubt he’ll be back in two years or less to open the dome.

“I commend the club on this wonderful undertaking ensuring that tennis facilities of the highest standard are available to the large catchment area around Athlone,” Cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council Cllr Liam McDaniel commented on a site provided by the local authority.

Peter Ormond from Westmeath Community Development also added his words of congratulations on bringing this excellent project to fruition with the assistance of substantial funding from Westmeath Leader.

After a plethora of thanks, not least to the council and councillors for such a “strategic site” and for the visionary decision for provide ARSC and the land around it for a sports and leisure complex, of which Athlone Tennis Club is now part of, Chairperson Cathal Kenny paid tribute to the contractors for a super job and the sponsors and members, particularly, the bondholders who supported the project.

For the future, he said they are working with many groups to ensure the club is inclusive and increases participation, and on the infrastructure side they are equally ambitious, and phase 1B will bring them to the next level. Mr Kenny rounded off his speech by saying he hopes that the club has shown with the first phase by delivering a €600,000 project that they are worthy of backing to build the region’s first all-weather dome.

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