Wednesday 25 April 2018

Campus no longer toxic for politicians

An Tánaiste Joan Burton turned the sod for the new National Indoor Arena at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown.
An Tánaiste Joan Burton turned the sod for the new National Indoor Arena at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown.

John Greene and Declan McCormack

When two ministers and a minister of state show up at a gig, you know it's no ordinary gig. Throw in a Tánaiste and you know it must be something special.

And so it was on Friday, at the National Sports Campus, when the sod was turned on the new National Indoor Arena. Time was when the campus site at Abbotstown was a toxic place - you'd have more chance of getting an admission of wrongdoing at the banking inquiry than getting a politician to pose for a photograph here. It's all so different now. The campus is now the future of Irish sport, and more and more are waking up to that fact.

The first phase of the National Indoor Arena - which, by the way, received an additional €800,000 in funding on Friday from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport - should be open for business by November next year. Dave Conway, who is the chief executive of the National Sports Campus Development Authority, is developing a reputation for delivering projects on schedule, and on budget.

Phase one features the National Indoor Athletics centre, with 200m running track, 60m sprint track, 110m sprint/hurdle track, throw, jump and pole vault areas, permanent seating for 400 spectators which can be increased to 1,900 for key events; the National Gymnastics Training Centre, which will cater for all disciplines; and the National Indoor Training Centre, with a multi-sport facility catering for more than 20 sports and capable of being sub-divided into three separate areas with seating for 1,500 spectators.

The plans for the second phase of the facility will also include covered synthetic playing pitches, allowing for all-year-round training for field sports.

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Maureen O'Hara's association with Shamrock Rovers is well known, but readers of a certain vintage may be intrigued to learn of the connection, albeit ephemeral, between the late Omar Sharif and Athlone Town FC.

Back in the heady 1970s and '80s, Athlone Town were playing UEFA and European Cup matches against the likes of Standard Liege, KB Copenhagen (with a young Michael Laudrup in tow) and in 1975, a certain AC Milan. Cue Omar Sharif.

Sharif was, at the time, at the zenith of his acting fame and was staying at the luxurious Leonardo Da Vinci hotel in Milan to play in a bridge tournament, when he met with Mick O'Brien, the irrepressibly acrobatic Town goalie, and various members of the Town's all-conquering team, who were in the city to play a return leg with AC Milan. Micko spotted Omar and the rest would have been selfie history if selfies had been around then.

Omar was delighted to be photographed with the Athlone players, bought them 'minerals' and told them he was going to the match in San Siro, where he would have witnessed a heroic performance by Town, who kept AC scoreless for over 70 minutes before they eventually lost 3-0.

And if Omar was impressed by the Town's footie performance, he was also apparently impressed by the club's bridge prowess, as one of the travelling supporters, who happened to be a player of international standing, impressed him with his skill at the 'contract' game.

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IRELAND'S Janice Ward has been elected to the Presidium of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF). The Presidium is right at the top of the tree in that organisation - it consists of the association president and four officers. Ms Ward, of the Irish American Football Association (IAFA), will take the role of secretary.

Ward has been involved in both American football and softball in Ireland for the past 20 years. In addition to being active within the IAFA, she has been a member of the West Dublin Rhinos in the Irish American Football League for several years. Outside the sport, she is a human resources executive.

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