Mayo tennis ace Roisin’s dream is on hold but it’s still very much alive

OVER the last few weeks we have spoken to a number of our elite athletes in Mayo whose plans for the future have been put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many of these young athletes featured in our 2019 Connaught Telegraph Young Sports Star Awards, which were held in early March.

Little did we know then that life as we knew it was about to change as the Covid-19 pandemic was just around the corner.

Thankfully we got to hold our fifth annual awards night in Breaffy House Hotel where 36 individual athletes along with three teams gathered with their families and friends for what was a great night of celebration, a night during which the sporting achievements of Mayo’s young stars were recognised.

It was hard to imagine that less than two weeks after that great night the terms ‘lockdown', ‘social distancing’ and ‘cocooning’ would become part of our everyday vocabulary.

Nor did we envisage the emotional and economic havoc, along with the human suffering, this pandemic would cause, but the clarion call - we are all in this together - captured the essence of what human spirit can be in a time of crisis.

The most striking thing for me to emerge from this crisis is the resilience of our people, not just our sporting people, but people in general and our young people in particular.

For many Leaving Certificate students and secondary students in general this is a summer they are unlikely to forget and one they may not want to remember.

It is one that will have passed them by in terms of enjoying the freedom that comes with leaving secondary school and preparing for the induction into third level education or entering the big world and all the excitement and challenges that comes with it.

I have no doubt they will make up for what they have missed somewhere along the way but it is difficult to avoid the feeling that summer of 2020 will be like no summer there has ever been or is ever again likely to be.

We spoke with elite athletes such as Maeve Gallagher, Nicholas Quinn, Michaela Walsh, Cillian Melly, and Dayna and Hazel Finn, who shared their thoughts on how they coped with the pandemic and how they were able to continue their training in a very restricted and much-changed environment.

They also spoke about how their plans for the future had to be put hold but the clear message from these athletes, who we hope will go on and fulfil their potential in the coming years, is that they have never lost hope or belief, a belief that they will go on and pick up when this dark cloud of the current pandemic passes over.

Star in the making

This week I spoke with a promising young tennis player, 17–year-old Roisin Murphy from Castlebar, whose ambition remains to go to the Untied States on a scholarship.

Time is on the side of the student from St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Castlebar, as she won't be sitting the Leaving Certificate exams until next year, but her future is not necessarily dependant on how well she does in her exams as the US entry system is based more on an overall assessment of those who apply to their colleges.

"Yes, the dream is still alive and hopefully it will still be next year but we just don’t know what is coming down the line," Roisín told me in phone conversation last week.

Just over two months ago she was among the award winners at The Connaught Telegraph Mayo Young Sports Star Awards, where she spoke about her ambitions, her hopes, her dreams and her love for the game of tennis. Her ambition hasn't waned despite the intervention of Covid-19, as Roisín explains.

"Everything has changed of course and things are very different not in light of what has happened but thankfully I have been able to cope and I have been putting in the work to maintain my physical health and looking after my mental health."

Only a week before lockdown Roisin was travelling to Dublin for training and compeitions as often as three days a week.

"Yeah, I was really enjoying the trips to Dublin where you need that higher level of competition if you want to maintain your progress.

"Then all of a sudden it was just lockdown. It was crazy really but after a while I began to get used to it and the great news is that tennis is back and I can now return to my local club in Castlebar, which has been opened, and get court practice, and that is so important."

There won’t be competitive games but she is very happy to be back on court.

"Friendly games do lack that competitive edge but it is so important for practicing on different aspects your game and I am so delighted to be back on court and playing and also meeting each other – at a safe distance, of course."

Her biggest challenge during the lockdown was keeping in shape but she has done a fair bit of running and weight training so she hasn’t fallen behind.

"I was training almost 24-7 six days a week. Tennis is very much a summer-based sport and all competitions have been cancelled and it is unlikely there will be any for the forseeable future, but maintaining your conditioning is important.

"I have done a lot of running and that helps your cardio system, which is such a vital part of the tennis game.

"Stamina is so important and plays huge part in many games which can go on for a long time, so I'm keeping myself in reasonably good shape under the circumstances."

So far Roisín has stood that test and the number five ranked junior player in Ireland has another year to get herself into an even stronger position and hopefully fulfill that dream of a US college tennis scholarship.