WALKING through the UCC Mardyke Arena at 7.15am on a Friday in early December, it hit home, once again, what a top-class sporting facility that is present on Leeside.
Some of those to benefit and develop from the facilities are those that are currently on the Mardyke Arena UCC Emerging Talent Programme.
The Mardyke Arena, which is a facility used by some of Ireland’s most aspiring of sporting athletes across a variety of different codes, invites athletes between the ages of 15-18 annually to apply for their Emerging Talent Programme.
The programme provides those who are selected a specialised vehicle to fulfil their sporting potential and acts as a support function to the athlete, coach and parent.
As part of the emerging talent programme, athletes have access to resources in areas including sports science, athletic development, performance psychology, nutrition and lifestyle support.
Jeff Gomez is the Sport and Athlete Performance Manager as part of the Emerging Talent Programme at the Mardyke Arena UCC.
“In the beginning, it is all about getting used to the programme, getting ready for the first couple of months,” explains Gomez in relation to those athletes that are on their first year.
“The early stages are all about getting used everything.
“For those coming back for their second year or even their third year, it is just about optimising everything, balancing the Leaving Cert and their sporting competition.
“For the third years on the programme especially, it is really all about balancing competition and the Leaving Cert. Also, balancing the recovery, the sleep and everything else.
“They all have progressed quite a lot. We are lucky there is everything that we need here for the recovery, the gym. Even things like organising breakfast for them.
Gomez adds: “For example, Ellen Cassidy (swimming), she is doing the short course championships at the moment. So Ellen and Beth (Nolan) are both in season.
“Also, Sophie O’Rourke (squash) is very much in competition at the moment. She would be competing nearly every weekend.
“At the same time, she plays for a French club, so she would be traveling to France once a month. So she is competing on a regular basis.
“Hieu (Power), Sean and Chris (McCarthy Crean), are going to head to Venice for a World League competition in Karate.
“But for the majority of them, it is still the off-season. So we are trying to work on baseline and strength and conditioning.
“Once we reach the high season of February, March, April, those guys will be ready to go.”
Among those that have been on this particular programme for a few years already include golfer Sara Byrne.
The talented teenager from Douglas is gradually becoming one of the top female golfers on the Irish amateur scene and she one day harbors ambitions to turn pro.
This is her third year on the Mardyke Arena UCC Emerging Talent Programme, so she is someone that is in a good position to judge the strengths it provides.
“It just keeps getting better every year, to be honest.
“I’ll be doing my Leaving Cert in August 2020 and then I will be going off to the University Of Miami on a golf scholarship there.
“For any sport in America, college sport is massive. But especially in golf. Women’s golf over there is very, very big, college golf is massive.
“So I can’t wait and it is going to be a really good experience. I’ll go to Miami for four years and the I will hopefully go pro after that. But we’ll see.”
“The programme really suits me because when I go to my golf coach, he tells me what part of my body that I need to strengthen.
“He calls Jeff and then Jeff makes up a programme and Sarah Cunningham makes up a programme and we do that in the gym. At the minute, I am not able to play that much golf because I am in Bruce College, so that takes up a lot of the time.
“The gym also takes up a lot of time. But that is just winter work as I’m currently in the off-season.”
As she alludes to, lot of the work which Byrne is doing is between combining her educational and sporting commitments.
The most well-known female Irish golfers at the present moment would be the Maguire twins of Lisa and Leona Maguire, who earlier in 2018 began life on the professional golfing circuit in the United States.
Byrne though is a young golfer that is most certainly going in the right direction though herself.
In June of his year, Sara won the Irish Women’s Close Championship in Enniscrone. It was a tightly contested final which Byrne won, edging out Louise Coffey 2&1 to secure the silverware.
Byrne joins an elite group of players that have won the competition, that includes the aforementioned Maguire twins and also Olivia Mehaffey, who is making strides also on the European and World stage.
“To win that this soon, I wasn’t expecting to win that this year, so that has definitely been the highlight of my career so far,” recalls Byrne.
All in all, 2018 has been a year she can be very proud of. Byrne in September represented Ireland at World Junior Golf Championships in Ottawa, Canada.
While also in recent times, she was selected on the Great Britain and Ireland Junior team to face Continent of Europe in The Junior Vagliano Trophy (U16) in Club Golf Bologna in Italy, the only Irish player on the selected panel.
As for her own inspirations and golfers whom she likes to base herself off, Byrne adds: “I always love watching Tiger Woods play. On the amateur side, I always look up to Olivia Mehaffey. She is from up north (co Down) and she is one of the best golfers in the world on the amateur stage.
“I look up to her and see what she does and try to copy that, to be honest.”
The way she is progressing, don’t be surprised if Byrne will herself be playing at a level which Mehaffey is playing on at the moment sooner rather than later.
All of the athletes on the Mardyke Arena UCC Emerging Talent Programme have aspirations of competing at an elite level in their respective sports. Being able to avail of such fantastic resources and facilities at the Mardyke Arena can only be of benefit to them and their careers.
The ETP Athletes for 2018/2019 are as follows:
Hieu Power – Karate (1st Year)
Beth Nolan – Swimming (1st Year)
Colin Doyle – Athletics (Sprinter 100m & 200m) (1st Year)
Olwyn Ryan-Bovey – Tennis (1st Year)
Alannah Neff – Athletics (Steeplechase)
Katie Moynihan – Javelin (2nd Year)
Christopher McCarthy Crean – Karate (2nd Year)
Sean McCarthy Crean – Karate (2nd Year)
Saorise Morrissey – Boxing (2nd Year)
Sara Byrne – Golf (3rd Year)
Ellen Cassidy – Swimming (3rd Year)
Sophie O’Rourke – Squash (3rd Year).