Talking Sport with Stephen Glennon
MOYCULLEN’S Olivia Downey has some story to tell. For years, Downey was just a ‘social’ racquetball player who loved nothing more than a good old-fashioned chin-wag when the weekly Wednesday session came around. Jump forward to 2017 and the 39-year-old has undergone a radical sporting transformation. In addition to being crowned the All-Ireland intermediate singles and doubles champion earlier this year, she also claimed three medals at the 19th European Senior Racquetball Championships last month.
Given where she has come from, Downey’s journey is a remarkable one. “Yeah, it was only in the last year – this year in fact – that I really began to take it seriously and I actually went down to train and not just to talk,” she laughs.
While she had been attending competitions in Connacht over the last three seasons, she had never ventured any further or, indeed, maybe, applied herself to the extent required to challenge and progress.
“Then, in January, I went to a tournament – the first time I went outside Connacht – in Tralee. When we were there, one of the girls from Castlebar – who was actually on the Ireland team – asked ‘do you ever do drills?’ And I said, what is a drill?
“She (Katie Kenny) said this is what you are supposed to be doing on your own. So, she came to Moycullen and showed all the girls. From then on, I said I will try this out and I ended up doing them.”
As the improvements began to be made in her game, Downey decided to aim for the All-Ireland championships, which, this year, were to be held in Ballinrobe in April. Downey excelled beyond her wildest expectations, not only winning the intermediate singles but also claiming the honours in the doubles with her sister, Rosie.
“Then, one of the lads, Johnny (O’Keeney), asked me would I be interested in going for the Europeans. I said I didn’t know if I would be good enough but I went for it. Only for Johnny asking me, I wouldn’t have thought of it.”
From then on, Downey dedicated herself to finding another level to her game, with preparations for the Europeans intensifying over the Summer, in particular the eight weeks before the championships in The Hague.
Along with Downey, the women’s Irish team included Mayo trio Donna Ryder (Newport), Kenny (Castlebar) and Ailbhe Gill (Ballinrobe) while the men’s outfit consisted of Joe Devenney (Ballinrobe), Padraic Ryder (Newport) and Cork duo Darragh O’Donoghue and O’Keeney.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.