The best players in Ireland will be competing across Saturday and Sunday.
Excitement is building in Multyfarnham this week as the local pickleball club prepares to welcome dozens of competitors to the Irish Nationals taking place on March 25 and 26.
Pickleball originated in America almost 60 years ago and is a paddle sport, played with a whiffle ball on a badminton-sized court and a tennis-style net. A non-volley zone (or kitchen) prevents volleys close to the net, and the serving team cannot volley the return of serve.
But that’s just the technical stuff. The real appeal of this sport if you talk to anyone is its ‘addictive’ nature and the fun and laughter that follows for anyone who picks up a paddle.
The Irish Nationals are being hosted by the country’s oldest, and largest pickleball club, which developed in the thriving Westmeath community just over ten years ago.
Multyfarnham Community Centre is where all the action will take place, and it’s also where the Ballinafid Multyfarnham Bunbrosna Active Retirement Association host their training sessions, which take place several times per week.
Marian Mooney is one of the driving forces behind pickleball in the Multyfarnham area. Even though she loves sport, she would never have considered herself a ‘sporty person’, But that all changed in 2012. She admits that when she was first introduced to pickleball, she was a little bit taken aback by its rather unusual name:
“My first reaction was spell it because it didn’t sound right, but we were introduced to it by David Scally of Westmeath Sports Partnership who had been introduced to it in college, and he took us on a six week training program. And we decided we liked it then and we continued ourselves over the years and it slowly and surely grew.”
Despite its unusual name (which originated from a dog would you believe), the sport is growing in popularity due to its accessibility and its ability to ‘transcend abilities’.
The club in Multyfarnham has close to 160 members and its appeal is not just in the action on the court. Marian believes its success is centered around the social element that the sport brings to those who take up the paddle. Men and women play on different teams with mixed abilities evident on every court and in every match.
It’s also a wide variety of ages that turn up for pickleball, according to Marian:
“It’s suitable for all age groups. And that was the most important thing. We have people in here playing pickleball here regularly and we have very young people playing here as well, teenagers and that, so everybody can play it together. And I think that’s important. It’s important for the people who are retired to be involved with people who aren’t and it makes a big difference, you know. And I think it’s important to have the cup of tea afterwards so we can give out to each other how well or badly we play.”
Marian isn’t the only member of her family who enjoys pickleball as her daughter Cassandra is now ranked as one of Ireland’s top international players.
Along with her playing partner Colin Sheridan, they are really looking forward to performing in front of a home crowd as part of the Irish Nationals in just a few days’ time.
Cassie says it’s very exciting for Multyfarnham to be able to host the competition:
“Multyfarnham is kind of the heart of pickleball in Ireland. A lot of pickleball in the country grew from here. We kind of became a place that people knew, as they played it, ‘we’ll go look at it and bring it to our own club’ So like that, it’s nice to think that not only are we in the middle of the country, it’s a good location. People have come here for tournavils (a hybrid of a festival and a tournament – ED) and stuff, but as a club, we’re proud to be able to host it and be kind of a part of something so big for the first time, you know.”
Cavan native Colin is also a national badminton player and has donned the green jersey for world-wide pickleball events. He agrees with Cassandra that hosting it in Multyfarnham will be very special for everyone in the community :
“It had to be held in Multyfarnham because it is the centre of pickleball, it’s the largest club in Ireland. And it is a fairly central location, probably outside of Dublin for everyone to travel because we have a huge contingent coming from Kerry and another huge contingent coming from Belfast. So, each part of the country we’re about halfway we’d like to think from everywhere.”
The Nationals are generally seen as a key event in the Irish pickleball calendar as it is regarded as best preparation for the Irish Open which this year will be held in UCD in Dublin in June. The Irish Open was previously held in ‘Multy’, but this is the first time the Nationals are taking place at the well-appointed facility.
It means that for spectators in Multyfarnham this weekend, they will be seeing the very best Irish players on show. That brings with it a significant logistical challenge for the organisers and guarantees a very busy Community Centre as Colin explains:
“Over the two days, it’ll probably run for about 12 hours each day starting at 9am. And we’re expecting to play something around 280 matches so we had to limit the field to about 100 competitors each day. I’m sure we’ll have loads of spectators too, because pickleball is a very, very family orientated sport. So if one person plays in your family, you usually find three or four people play in the family.“
Action will get underway at 9am on Saturday morning and it’s hoped that large crowds will come out to watch and enjoy the action. The Multyfarnham Pickleball Facebook page will also have a host of helpful information for people interested in popping along as there is no charge for spectators
And if it’s your first time even hearing about pickleball, why not follow Marian’s advice for people curious if they might like it as a sport:
“Don’t think about it too long. Just come along and have a look.“
You can also find more info here