By Louise Toal
Blind tennis player Marian Maloney from Galway has encouraged young people with visual impairment to take up tennis as part of a new series launched by Sport Ireland called Women on Wednesdays.
Blind tennis is played on a realigned court with special balls equipped with bells which jingle when they bounce.
“It is very new to Ireland. The coach walks you through the court so you get a sense of the distance. You count your steps, so you get an idea of your spatial surroundings, so you’re there with your racket and you’re tracking the ball,” Marian said.
After an eye diagnosis at the age of 12, Marian was told she could never play sports. Three years later she was registered as a blind person at the age of 15. Encouraged by her mother she took up Irish dancing and became a qualified Irish dancer instructor by the age of 18. Since then she has cycled from Prague to Paris on a tandem bike and plays tennis at Galway Lawn Tennis Club.
Marian was due to travel to Belfast for a tournament in 2020, but like countless other sporting events, it fell victim to Covid-19 restrictions.
Connacht Regional Development Officer for Tennis Ireland Olywn O’Toole said, “We were one of the first sports to return after the last lockdown. There are 100 visually impaired players in Ireland and there has been no announcement as to when players can return from government.”
“During this lockdown we have upskilled our coaches with the help from Galway Sports Partnerships and Tennis Ireland and we hope to deliver rackets and balls to players so we can train virtually,” she said.
Minister for Sport Jack Chambers said, “Last week I had a useful discussion with women from swimming clubs in the Galway area who were encouraging women to participate in sport. Their commitment to sport and women in sport was really inspiring.”
“Through my engagements with Sport Ireland with the women in sport committee, I know that increasing the visibility and profile of our female role models in sport has been a key priority in recent years. The hero’s of today will inspire the next generation of Olympians and Paralympians. The visibility of women in sport at all levels is really important. When the time comes we want to see everyone back, not just men and boys and this something I’ll be closely monitoring in the months ahead,” he said.