Athletics: Athlone IT unveil €10m indoor 'field of dreams'
If you build it, they will come. That was the adage for one famous baseball movie and Athlone Institute of Technology's new indoor 'field of dreams' is already living up to that billing as it prepares to officially open its doors this weekend.
A record 360-plus entries have been received for Sunday's AAI Open Games, the traditional start to the domestic indoor season, which Athlone IT is hosting for the first time in its new €10m facility.
Top Irish 400m runner Brian Gregan was among a group of athletes who participated in a test event there this week and he was full of praise for the country's first international-class indoor track.
His first runs on it produced a 21:27 personal best for 200m and Gregan is back there again on Sunday looking to get the 400m European Indoor qualifying standard (47.2 seconds) with his first official race of the year.
Donore's John Travers was also in fine form at the test event, running 1,500m in an impressive early-season 3:42.52, another personal best indoors.
Mullingar sprinter Steven Colvert is another of the rising Irish stars who should benefit from this facility, but he won't be racing this weekend as he has just returned from two weeks' training in Tenerife with a slight niggle.
The vision of Athlone IT and Athletics Ireland president Ciaran O Cathain in building such an ambitious facility in the midlands is commendable and it offers an exciting new resource.
Ireland's 'Chairman of the Boards' Eamonn Coghlan was among the first to give it his seal of approval, describing it as "a world-class facility that will inspire future generations of athletes towards greatness for many years to come".
O Cathain emphasised that it is not just a resource for elite athletes, stressing: "It is there to be used by the entire college community and, indeed, by the people of Ireland generally."
Fittingly, it will be largely a lot of grass-roots and development athletes who compete there on its opening weekend and it will be the National Indoor Championships next month that will attract the biggest of the domestic stars.
Robert Heffernan, his wife Marian, Gregan, Travers, Brian Murphy, Thomas Chamney, Kelly Proper, Niamh Whelan, Darren McBrearty, Kerry Harty and Sean Tobin will be among those racing on Sunday.
Bringing in decent athletes from Spain, Holland, Germany and Britain to bump up the standard in the men's 400m and 3,000m should produce some good competition and the women's 800m – which features Siobhan Eviston, Siofra Cleirigh Buttner, Laura Crowe and Ciara Everard – should also be one of the top events on a red-letter day for Irish athletics.