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Sunday 22 September 2019

Coach Alan is pride of the nation

Coach Alan Taylor from Bunninadden with his wife Alison and children David, Rachel and Amanda and Denise McDermott from the Sligo Sport and Recreation Partnership in Bunninadden on Friday. Pics: Carl Brennan.
Coach Alan Taylor from Bunninadden with his wife Alison and children David, Rachel and Amanda and Denise McDermott from the Sligo Sport and Recreation Partnership in Bunninadden on Friday. Pics: Carl Brennan.

Emma Gallagher

He started out coaching table tennis to young players in his own cattle shed and has now been named Coach of the Year 2019 by Table Tennis Ireland.

Bunninadden's Alan Taylor has done immense work for the thriving club based in south Sligo and although modest about his input, his efforts are certainly paying off with 5 club members, including his three children, playing for Ireland.

Last Friday, the Bunninadden community gathered in their Community Centre to celebrate the local man's achievements and the commitment he has voluntarily put into developing and coaching the Bunninadden Table Tennis Club over the years.

The farmer said he was surprised and delighted to hear he had won the award. "It definitely came as a surprise, I really wasn't expecting it at all. Especially for a rural club like ours, to get recognition nationally is a big honour.

"We got the email, I don't do emails and my wife Alison was reading it out. I thought she was codding me!," he laughed. "So we took the day off and went up to Dublin for the awards ceremony. For a club the size of Bunninadden's to get the mention is really great. I am very proud to see how the club has grown and the players come on," Alan said.

He started playing Table Tennis when he was a young teenager and instantly fell in love with the sport. "I must be playing it now for over 40 years, I'm 55 now. I was 12 or so when I first started and then it wasn't until I was 24 that I started playing at a higher standard.

"I started off in St George's in Tubbercurry, that was the parish club then and we would travel to other clubs and all of that. I suppose I always wanted to be better and keep improving as a player," he pointed out.

He progressed in the sport and played with other players in the Sligo League advancing from Division 3 to Division 2 and then to the Premier Division, winning 'Player of the Year' in all three divisions.

The story of the Bunninadden Table Tennis Club began in his cattleshed and soon the children were playing in the Community Games. "Peter O'Dowd's daughter soon joined and as the kids go on in the Community Games then we moved to his garage and from there to the changing rooms in the park. We then were doing a bit of fundraising and we moved to the Community Centre where we now have 13 tables."

He said there is 35 in the club now, both adults and children. "Our youngest player is 6, while Ronnie Gilanders is our veteran. Other players from different areas come on the night, including Carrick and we have people coming from Knock too.

"My three kids have all played for Ireland. Rachel (13) played for Ireland in the 6 Nations, David (16) played too as has Amanda (19) and we have 2 more as well.

"I played for Connacht myself and I still play a bit but I find now when I play the over 40 blitz I'm coming up against fellas a lot younger than me!"

Alan said what he likes about Table Tennis is the challenge and watching out for your opponent to make a mistake. He said a great thing about coaching is seeing the players get better the more training and effort they put in.

"It's good to see them go away and learn it. Another girl in the community that is a very good defensive player is Aoife O'Dowd. My niece and nephew, Karen and Jonathan Hodgins are very good too and have won a lot of leagues in Longford. There are so many names really, it's hard to mention them all! The youngest girl here is Ciara Gormley, she started playing when she was 6 and she is a very good up and coming player."

Alan said it is great to see the club growing. "Anytime I'm in the hall and hear the ball tipping I want to get playing. Hopefully now we will try and keep the club going. The nearest club to us is in Sligo Grammar School, we are the only ones in Sligo and there could be one or 2 parish halls.

"We meet every Thursday evening from 7 to 9pm in the Bunninadden Community Centre. Anyone that wants to come can. It's €2 on the night or €10 if they want to keep it going. We will be going to the National events in September then," he explained.

Now, Alan's endeavours over the years at making the sport grow in his area are reminded by his national award sitting proud on the mantlepiece. "For a rural club like ours, it's great. I'm very proud," Alan added.

Locally, SSRP Sports Co ordinator Deirdre Lavin stated

"Winning National Coach of the Year is so well deserved as Alan possesses all the qualities of a great coach in abundance, having inspired so many young people to play the sport from participation right up to high performance level." She added "In addition to being very knowledgeable and having a great love of Table Tennis, Alan is positive, inclusive and supportive in developing the ability of all players at the club."

The club has grown in strength and achievements over the years with recent remarkable successes in Community Games, All Ireland Primary and Secondary School Finals, Connacht Leagues & Opens and Ranking Tournaments; with Alan's coaching and guidance significantly contributing to these successes. A number of the Bunninadden Table Tennis Club members play nationally and five of these players have played and continue to play internationally over the years.

The hard work and efforts Alan has put into the club over the years was recognised in speeches from Fiona Doddy Chairperson of the Community Centre and also by Peter O'Dowd Chairperson of the Bunninadden Table Tennis Club at the event on Friday.

The Bunninadden Table Tennis Club had nine members recently complete the Table Tennis Ireland Introductory Coaching Course organised by Sligo Sport and Recreation Partnership (SSRP) which means Alan will have additional trained coaches to help strengthen and develop the club into the future. The sport of Table Tennis is growing more popular throughout County Sligo. Following the hosting of the Table Tennis Road Show by SSRP back in December 2018 with TTI Development Officer and Coach Jing Yi Graham and the Bunninadden Table Tennis Club, there has been great momentum amongst other communities, schools and Community Games groups for the development and promotion of Table Tennis and the future for the sport is looking bright!

Bunninadden Table Tennis Club under the stewardship of Alan has linked with Sligo Sport and Recreation Partnership over the years and most recently through the Bunninadden Community Sports Hub Initiative. The Club have always been open to working with SSRP to facilitate new members, taster sessions, the inclusion of people with disabilities and delivering outreach workshops. SSRP invested in Table Tennis equipment which has led to the Club hosting the Connaught Rankings, Senior Interpros and also hosting the 'Galway Speeders Club' using the newly acquired Wheelchair Friendly Tables in Bunninadden Community Centre. In May 2018 the Club hosted the All Ireland Senior/Master Interpros in the Bunninadden Community Centre which was attended by Ken Strong the President of Table Tennis Ireland. This success has all spiralled from the voluntary efforts and dedication of Alan Taylor and the Bunninadden Table Tennis Club. Great credit is due to Alan and the Club for putting Bunninadden on the map!

There is a strong sense of warmth from the Club and a lot of this is down to Alan and his support team around him. Alan's wife Alison carries out excellent work behind the scenes in the Bunninadden Table Tennis Club and her work doesn't go unnoticed in the community.

The Club has been in existence for over 10 years and has had many outstanding accomplishments to date with approximately 60 members ranging from six year olds up to adults thereby facilitating both Junior and Adult sections. The Club comprises of a small but hard working committee, and dedicated coaches and volunteers who work with Alan to make sure that everything runs smoothly for all involved. Bunninadden Table Tennis Club meets every Thursday evening from 7-9pm in the Bunninadden Community Centre. They welcome new members of all ages and abilities to come along. For more information on the club please visit www.facebook.com/bunninaddentabletennisclub/.

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