Like most other sports clubs, a strange year beckons for UCD Tennis this year. Usually this time of year would see preparation begin in earnest for the Floodlight League commencing at the end of September. However, like many events on the tennis calendar this year, Covid-19 has put paid to any chance of league tennis this side of Christmas.

Competitive tennis aside, the club has been renowned for its midweek tennis coaching which caters for players of all abilities. These coaching sessions have proven very popular among members in recent years and so there is some concern that current Government restrictions may inhibit the club’s ability to offer these lessons.

Men’s Captain Zac Thompson is optimistic however that coaching can continue in something that is close to its normal guise. “We’ve drawn up a plan and timetable for weekly lessons which we will be posting soon. Our aim is to try and make the coaching as enjoyable as can be and we hope for a good turnout from old and new members alike,” he said.

The overriding theme for the year is definitely one of uncertainty, something which makes planning an unenviable task. However, Ladies Captain Heather Naughton remains positive about the year ahead and hopes to bring some new initiatives to the table. “I would like to set up a ladder system where players who would like to play competitively can organise their own matches and try to climb the ladder within the club,” she said.

Providing their members with a playing experience that is as normal as possible is a clearly a priority for both captains. “For new members we’re going to be focusing on getting them playing tennis and meeting new members, while for current members we’ve scheduled training days where we can prepare for intervarsities,” Naughton added.

As Naughton alluded to, the main objective for the season is to achieve success at the intervarsity tournament in March. The club has achieved remarkable success in recent years with the ladies completing an historic 5-in-a-row last time out.

The men’s teams have not quite reached such lofty heights, but will be encouraged by their Bowl victory last year nonetheless. Thompson is hopeful of another strong challenge this time out and believes that home advantage can spur his teams on. As for playing the role of host, Thompson admits that the backdrop of Covid makes planning difficult but that the club will be “going about things in accordance with coronavirus regulations” in any such scenario.

A big potential blow to the men’s chances this year is the possible loss of club talisman Sam O’Kelly. The counter-puncher underwent major knee surgery a few weeks ago and is in a battle to regain his fitness come springtime.

The Carrickmines native is typically upbeat about his prospects however. “I’ll be back and you know what I’m capable of; class is permanent. My record on tour speaks for itself,” O’Kelly warned.

The threat of a resurgent Trinity side is something which also does not perturb him. “There’s a lot of good players at Trinity, but a bit like Gonzaga and Arsenal you’d have to seriously question their big game mentality when it comes to competing at the very top level. They haven’t won the big titles,” said O’Kelly.

Another player returning to the fold this year is Conor Gormley who spent the year honing his game in Tennessee last year. An iconic figure within the club, Gormley sums up the special atmosphere UCD Tennis engenders.

“I’m an arts student so the class sizes are massive. It can make it more difficult to get to know people in your course. The tennis club is a tight-knit group and everyone’s really sound. They know how to enjoy themselves,” he said.

Gormley also relishes the competitive aspect of league tennis, particularly intervarsities. “Being from Wexford, it’s interesting to see the dynamics of the Dublin rivalries at intervarsities. It mimics the Leinster schools rugby, albeit on a smaller scale because people are competing against others who they’ve grown up playing against,” Gormley added.

Neil Stokes – Sports Writer