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Leisureland warned it could lose water sports clubs

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A Board member of Leisureland has warned that competitive rates must be offered to the clubs which use the swimming pool once it reopens or otherwise risk losing what, financially, has been the lifeblood of the facility.

Indeed, Swim Ireland’s regional Club Support Officer for Connacht, Vincent Finn, who was elected to the Board of Leisureland as the swimming and water polo clubs representative last month, believes that with the date for Leisureland reopening gone back to December, it could possibly result in some of those clubs setting up permanent homes at privately-owned pools.

Originally, Leisureland, forced to close due to the damage caused by severe flooding last Winter, was scheduled to reopen in September – and later October – but various problems, including a disagreement with the insurance company over the re-tiling of the facility, was the reason behind the delay.

Mr. Finn noted this has caused further problems for the clubs which have already taken a massive financial hit after losing their revenue stream from teaching classes. “The [swimming] season starts on September 1 so you are still talking about a third of the season gone from a teaching point of view, from an income point of view and from a pool point of view once it reopens.

“So, it will be interesting to see whether clubs come back en masse to Leisureland or if they establish relationships where they are. We will see what happens. Despite what some people might think, the clubs are the lifeblood of Leisureland and they are the reason why Leisureland is still open.”

He explained Leisureland received a huge amount of its income from the local swimming and water polo clubs but he expressed his deep satisfaction at the exorbitant rates these clubs had been charged by Galway City Council over the past decade. He said it was time to address these charges.

“This will be something I will be standing up against because the fees charged in Leisureland are extremely high compared to any other pool in Ireland. I know this will cause trouble but I am putting it on record anyway.

“The standard pool rate throughout Ireland is between €15 and €18 per lane per hour, with some pools being even cheaper than that. The rate in Leisureland is €30 per lane per hour and it has been for the last 10 years.

“So, my job on the board is to find out, with rates at these levels, why Leisureland is losing money and yet other facilities of a similar nature don’t seem to have that problem while charging cheaper rates,” said Finn, alluding to the mounting losses incurred by Leisureland in recent years.

In late 2012, a Government audit found that the cost of the pool, gym and conference complex to the local authority the previous year was €683,000 – six times greater than the budget approved by the council at the start of the year. That was a 30% increase on the previous year’s deficit of €524,168.

Consequently, Mr. Finn said it was critical that Leisureland put a strategic plan in place to turn around the financial shortfalls but warned it would be detrimental to the existence of the swimming clubs – and by extension the facility itself – to ask them to pick up the tab. A balance must be struck.

“While clubs are in the water, Leisureland doesn’t lose money – Leisureland makes money – and that is very important. They have to understand that. Leisureland is also a very important infrastructure for the public, not just from a tourism point of view but from a leisure and a learning to swim point of view.”

From his work on the ground with clubs, the Support Officer highlighted that since the closing of Leisureland, the local clubs – Sharks, Laser and Galway – had found it extremely difficult to survive. “The loss of Leisureland has had a huge impact on the three clubs, Laser, Sharks and Galway,” he pointed out.

“The first thing was they lost their pool time; so, they had to scramble for pool time everywhere. In fairness to the Kingfisher – both NUIG and Renmore – they have been extremely good to all three clubs, particularly NUIG. I can’t say enough good words about what they have done.

“So, the clubs have managed to get pool time but it meant a lot of early mornings and more stress on the parents. However, it’s a double-edged sword because, while the clubs have managed to survive, they have had to do so without the income they generated from the teaching classes.”

He outlined all three clubs, which in total cater for 1,500 children, would have run teaching classes in Leisureland, from which they generated an income that they put back into paying for their pool time and coaches. “Now, many of the clubs are running raffles, quizzes and dog nights in order to raise the funds necessary to stay alive.”

Mr. Finn detailed that the closing of Leisureland also had another serious implication for the city’s three clubs. “About 90% of the swimmers the clubs have would come through their teaching programme and they would be taught in a certain way so when they got into competitive swimming, they would be ready for it.

“So, there would be a structured pathway which would teach them to swim properly and they wouldn’t progress from one stage to the next until they could achieve the standard that was required. That is not there now so there is going to be a void of a year where you don’t have swimmers at that level.”

At any rate, he hoped the affinity those clubs had with Leisureland would see their return – “Leisureland was their base and they almost feel homeless without it” – but he warned that the clubs should not be taken for granted.

In this respect, he was critical of the lack of consultation between Galway City Council and the clubs regarding Leisureland’s refurbishment and he has now called for transparency, particularly in relation to rates, going forward.

Connacht Tribune

All out in force to cheer home one of their own

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Fiona Murtagh…back home with her Olympic medal on Sunday. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Sitting on an airplane, mid-air from Japan en route to Dublin, Olympic bronze medallist from Moycullen, Fiona Murtagh was unsure whether anyone would be at the airport to meet her and teammates Aifric Keogh of Na Forbacha, Eimear Lambe and Emily Hegarty when they touched down.

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, there was no big welcoming party planned for Dublin Airport. But Fiona need not have worried; as she strode out of airport security and into Arrivals, all her family were there to hug her.

Fiona hadn’t seen her parents Marguerite and Noel since April because of a pre-Olympic training camp in Italy; and her siblings Pádraig, Lorraine and twin Alan all turned up, too.

“Oh my God, I couldn’t believe it. It was actually really emotional, it was so lovely. I didn’t expect the full family to be there. Tears came to my eyes. I hadn’t seen mom and my dad in seven weeks,” said Fiona.

That was just the first leg of what was to be a heart-warming homecoming for a hero.

The family drove back to Galway with Fiona, who had heard “through the grapevine that there was going to be something in Bushypark”.

“But the scale of it, I didn’t expect it at all, it was incredible, it was so lovely to see everyone come out and support and see me”, she said.

Read the full story over eleven pages of coverage on the homecoming of our Olympic heroes in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Rowing heroes reunited for special day to savour

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Hero’s homecoming…Aifric Keogh with her parents Susan and Jim Keogh. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

About halfway through her homecoming on Bank Holiday Monday, Aifric Keogh spotted a very familiar face in the crowd lining the road.

It was her fellow Olympic medallist Fiona Murtagh from Moycullen, whom she’d soldiered with in Tokyo days earlier to win bronze in the Women’s Coxless Fours final.

Fiona was outside Furbo Church with her boyfriend, on the way to Pádraicín’s to meet mates. The plan was to watch Aifric’s open-top bus and cavalcade pass-by. Fiona had no intention of joining in – but she had no choice.

“When I looked down and saw Fiona, she was laughing at me, waving up. So, I made the bus stop and dragged her up there beside me,” laughed Aifric.

It meant that those turning out on the second leg of the journey from Na Forbacha to An Spidéal and back again, got two Olympic legends for the price of one!

“I made her come up with me. And then we were driving through Spiddal and we actually drove passed her aunt’s house, so her aunt and cousins and mom were outside waving up at us. It was really nice for us to be so close together here in Galway,” said Aifric.

That was just one of several special moments from a homecoming the 28-year-old rower will treasure.

Whereas Fiona came back to Conamara straight from Dublin Airport, and had a hero’s welcome in Moycullen on Sunday, Aifric stayed in Dublin on Sunday, driving down the following morning.

As she passed through Barna on the way to her parents’ house in Aill an Phréacháin in Na Forbacha, she could see flags, bunting and bonfires being prepared for her official drive-through later that evening. But what she witnessed on that journey to the home house of her parents, Jim and Susan, didn’t prepare her for the size of turnout.

“It was amazing. I didn’t know what to expect. Obviously, I was expecting some of my friends and family but seeing so many people from Spiddal, Barna and Furbo coming out along the road the whole way was just crazy,” she said.

Read the full story over eleven pages of coverage on the homecoming of our Olympic heroes in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Saw Doctors sell out – to shoot back into the charts!

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Saw Doctors...as they were in the early days (from left) Leo Moran, Pearse Doherty, John 'Turps' Burke, Davy Carton and (front) Johnny Donnelly.

It’s official – the Saw Doctors have finally sold out. Because, as of this week, it’s impossible for fans to get their hands on a copy of the Galway band’s iconic first album, remastered 30 years on from its original incarnation.

The good news is that the band are now going to do a fourth vinyl pressing of ‘If This is Rock And Roll, I Want My Old Job Back’ – but given the global renaissance in vinyl, it will be the beginning of September before they’ll be for sale.

So far, the album has sold all 1,500 copies pressed – and that has increased hopes of the band playing live again, once pandemic restrictions are eased, according to the band’s manager Ollie Jennings.

“A guy called Simon Moran is the biggest music promoter in the UK; he’s based in Manchester and he’s worked with Peter Kay in the past, who got him into the Saw Doctors.

“He has, twice in the last six months, written personal emails begging the band to tour the UK,” he says.

And that’s not some vanity project, because he knows that – the last time the Saw Docs played in the UK in 2017 – they did 20 shows that drew 30,000 fans.

“We sold out the Manchester Apollo with 4,000; we sold out two nights at Glasgow’s Barrowlands with 4,000 each night. He knows we will do the business,” says Ollie.

Up to now, the prospects of another tour seemed remote – but the success of the album has rekindled the Saw Doctors, and something magical happened when the band got together to sign the rereleased LP.

“It was a wonderful afternoon in Leo’s house in Tuam; loads of laughs and old stories; just magic – it was like being back in 1990 or 1991 again,” says Ollie.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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