Olympian Aisling Cooney will be one of the star attractions as Ballyshannon Leisure Centre obtained a significant coup this week having been named as the host venue for next month’s Irish University Swimming and Waterpolo Association (IUSWA) Inter-Varsity Championships.
Twenty-one-year-old UCD student Cooney, from Sandymount in Dublin, took part in both the individual and team 100m backstroke in the Beijing Olympics four years ago and is hopeful of making the standard for London. Conor Leaney, a native of Ballynure, Co. Antrim, competed in the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and the University of Ulster student will also join the 250 competitors who are expected to take part in the championships for third-level students
Mayor of Ballyshannon, Cllr. John Meehan, who is also on the board of management at the leisure centre, believes capturing the competition is a major boost for the town.
“If there’s 250 students taking part and they take three people each with them, then you’re looking at 1,000 people,” said Meehan, a two-time All-Ireland swimming champion. “It’s great the leisure centre was deemed fit and that’s testament to the management and staff. Now we have an opportunity to put our best foot forward.”
The manager of Ballyshannon Leisure Centre, Caroline Patton, has credited the White Flag status, a renewed quality standard award that focuses on hygiene and environmental aspects at indoor leisure facilities, with helping to secure the championships. They will take place on Friday, March 23, from 5-9pm and the following day from 9am-3.30pm. The IUSGA also oversees life-saving and water polo but Ballyshannon will host the swimming championships.
“We were delighted to hear we had been chosen,” she said. “The IUSWA were looking at different pools and ended up picking here, which is great. “We will be concentrating on getting things ready for the event, although most of the infrastructure is in place. They are looking for blocks, lanes and a PA system, which we have, so it’s just a matter of us getting a few things in place over the coming weeks. We had to rearrange a few classes and appointments but everyone is willing to reschedule as they realise this is not an opportunity you get every day.”
There is further reason for Ballyshannon Leisure Centre to celebrate this week with the news they have also been granted the All-Ireland Surf Lifesaving for Nippers (eight to 13-year-olds), in conjunction with Irish Water Safety, which takes place in April.