Athletics: Irish stars lifted by Athlone plans
IRISH athletics is about to get a massive shot in the arm with the construction of a new, international-quality indoor track in the midlands.
The Irish Independent can confirm that Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) are planning to build a 200m indoor track and could have it completed by the end of 2011.
The third-level institute, which installed a Mondo outdoor track last year, have ambitious plans for a new multi-sport indoor facility and hope that work on their new six-lane indoor track will begin early next year.
"The track will be designed to international specifications and meet the IAAF standards," said Athlone IT President Ciaran O Cathain, who was recently appointed Athletics Ireland's new Chair of Finance.
"We hope to appoint the design team within the next month and, all going well, should be onsite in January 2011 and have the track ready for the end of that year," he said.
The college's large student population has already created a demand for world-class sports facilities on campus, which will increase further with some future health/science-related courses.
But O Cathain believes the indoor track and facilities will also offer fantastic opportunities for the Irish athletics community at large.
"Our central location should make it particularly accessible for training and competition and we would hope to increase the profile of Irish athletics by hosting a couple of international events per year," he revealed.
With tendering yet to begin he would not give an estimate of eventual costs but said the current economic downturn should help to considerably lower them.
The project attracted 63 expressions of interest, which have been shortlisted to eight, and O Cathain says the project wouldn't have attracted such interest during the Celtic Tiger building boom.
Irish internationals Pauline Curley, Eileen O'Keeffe and Gordon Kennedy are all AIT graduates and, like the latter two, Connacht hurdlers Gerard O'Donnell (Carrick-on-Shannon) and Ian Durkin (Claremorris) are currently on athletics scholarships at the college.
Nenagh Olympic's indoor facility, pioneered by Sean Naughton, is Ireland's only existing indoor track and Athletics Association of Ireland (AAI) recently committed to helping to update that.
Athlone's new facility would be ideally located for Athenry's Paul Hession, who crosses the channel a lot to train with his Scottish coach Stuart Hogg.
Hession opens his season on Sunday, racing the 100m event on the unique four-lane track in Manchester in the Great City Games, the city-centre event which will also feature Tyson Gay. Also racing there, in Sunday's Great Manchester Run, is Mullingar's Martin Fagan.
Both Olive Loughnane and Robert Heffernan are giving this weekend's IAAF Race Walking World Cup a miss because it takes place at altitude in Chihuahua, but Leitrim walkers Colin Griffin and Laura Reynolds are competing in Mexico.
At home, after a 10-year absence, the Woodies DIY AAI Games and Senior Relays are returning to Kerry on Sunday, where they will be hosted by Castleisland club An Riocht. Among those competing will be Leevale's 400m hurdler Patrick Maher, who won AAI'S Athlete of the Month award for April after setting a new Irish junior record of 52.14.
AAI is sending an 11-strong team to attend the European Youth Olympic Trials in Moscow on May 21-23, a qualifier for the Summer Youth Olympics in Singapore in August (see Factfile).
It includes talented young Limerick sprinter Sarah Lavin and Waterford walker Kate Veale and many of them will be involved in the provincial qualifiers of the All-Ireland Schools. They take place in the coming week, starting next Wednesday with the Connacht Schools, at Athlone IT, and the first of Leinster's two days in Santry.