Rising Mayo tennis star is awarded US scholarship

RISING young Hollymount sports star Emily Connolly has been awarded a four-year tennis scholarship by IWU Wildcats at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana.

It's a remarkable achievement for this budding player, one which is sure to put her on the big stage in ladies’ tennis. Indeed, in securing this scholarship Emily is one of a very elite group of Irish tennis players to receive such recognition in the USA.

Not alone is it a huge achievement for Emily and her family, but also for the sport of tennis throughout Connaught.

Born and bred in Hollymount, sport was a huge part of Emily's life from a young age. But little did she know when she picked up the game of tennis from the age of 10 that she would embark on a huge journey that would take her to the USA.

Speaking to The Connaught Telegraph, Emily - who is daughter of Mike and Ann Connolly, Hollymount - said it was dream come true and that she was looking forward to jetting off to the USA on December 31 and joining IWU Wildcats in Indiana.

She went on to speak about when she first started playing tennis, what it means to have secured this scholarship, plans for her study, training, the level she is at the moment, and about her coaches and family.

"For me growing up was always about sport," Emily explained.

"I played Gaelic football, soccer and I swam at a high level. I came across the game of tennis at the age of 10 when I joined my local club in Claremorris. I have never looked back. I just fell in love with the game of tennis. I was so lucky that the coaches in Claremorris Tennis Club were so supportive of all the juniors pursuing the game. For me I just wanted to continue to train and compete and keep improving."

What does it mean to have achieved your scholarship? "Going to the USA on a tennis scholarship has been a dream for me over the years and I am lucky enough to get the opportunity to do so. All my hard work is paying off and I now get to keep furthering my work in a new and exciting place.

“It’s an amazing feeling. I get the opportunity to join the tennis team at IWU and play and train alongside other brilliant tennis players. My aim is that I will then be able to bring my game to a new level."

Emily plans to study kinesiology and exercise science in Indiana. "I completed my Leaving Cert in Mount St. Michael Secondary School, Claremorris, last June. Now it's great to be able to continue to develop both aspects of my life (tennis and study) in a top class environment," she said.

But what about the training schedule and competitions? "My training schedule throughout the years has been very busy. It is something that I have become accustomed to and I love it.

"It is just a case of early mornings and late evenings training on court in the dome in Castlebar or in the courts in Claremorris, and travelling to tournaments throughout the country all year round competing in many different clubs and in many different events.

"I have trained around 17 to 29 hours a week for a good few years now, and that included training on court, playing tennis, doing many different drills, points, etc. On top of that I have fitness sessions and also gym sessions throughout the week. It's busy, but I live off the buzz of improving and getting better."

Emily has competed for the province (Connaught) for over seven years now and also for her club for many years, and also in national tournaments throughout Ireland.

She was a member of Naas Lawn Tennis Club in Kildare, where she played and won the Dublin Floodlit League this year with the ladies team, while in her home club (Claremorris) she was part of the team which won the Connaught League this year for the first time ever.

"This was particularly special to play in and win alongside my club-mates," said Emily.

"There are a lot more competitions I have played in throughout Ireland and it has all been a great experience for me. I am very thankful for the coaches and the support behind me over the years. My parents have been unreal in the way they have encouraged and spent so much time bringing me here, there and everywhere. Without my family I would never have been able to fulfil this great dream.

"I am so thankful to my coaches Garrett Barry, Seamus King and Daniel Irimia. They are top guys. All the hours of work on court that they have put in alongside me is immense. They have always been there pushing me on and encouraging me to improve and strive for my goals.

"Finally, a huge thank you goes to Mark Finnegan from All Sports Recruitment for all his help and guidance on this journey."

There is little doubt the odds had been stacked against this young Hollymount tennis player. But it didn't stop her. Once she realised her great talent, she left no stone unturned to reach the top.

The future is looking very bright for Emily and that’s because of all her hard work, dedication and commitment to her dream and to the game of tennis.

Emily is a real role model for all young tennis players and indeed any sports person in Connaught who may hope to follow her path in the future.

She starts her journey in the USA in January, where she will continue to strive for excellence. I have no doubt she will achieve huge things in the future.