HomeTennisIrish tennis ace slams 'deeply puzzling' €40k grant that was available

Irish tennis ace slams ‘deeply puzzling’ €40k grant that was available

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TENNIS ace Conor Niland is making a racket about an alleged funding farce which he claims left him fighting his way up the sporting ranks.

The Limerick-raised star was the best Irish men’s singles player in his pomp and qualified to compete in all four Major tournaments — including Wimbledon, with the 2024 event starting in London tomorrow.

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Conor Niland is making a racket about the lack of support from the GovernmentCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Conor had to combine sponsorship deals with support from his family in order to pursue his dreams

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Conor had to combine sponsorship deals with support from his family in order to pursue his dreamsCredit: Sportsfile – Subscription
He was left red-faced by previous shortcomings on home soil, including his match with Younes El Aynaoui

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He was left red-faced by previous shortcomings on home soil, including his match with Younes El AynaouiCredit: Getty Images – Getty

Tennis saw him travel the globe, but the now 42-year-old said his cause wasn’t helped by a lack of training and investment back home.

He revealed that even though players could get a cash boost of €40,000, qualifying criteria included being in the WORLD’S top three.

Conor explained: “There was some Irish State funding on offer while I was on tour, but it was structured in a deeply puzzling way.

“In 2007, the top-tier grant award of €40,000 a year would have been very useful for me.

“But to earn it, I’d have had to be ranked in the top three tennis ­players in the world, or made the semi-finals of a Grand Slam event.

“If I got myself among (Roger) Federer, (Rafael) Nadal and (Novak) Djokovic and made $100m, the Irish Sports Council would have topped that up with a €40,000 ­bursary.

“This was money that could and should have been aimed at promising young players who actually needed it. Of course, the money theoretically allocated for the top-level bursaries — for players in a category that has never existed in Ireland — wasn’t spent at all.”

Instead, Conor had to combine sponsorship deals with support from his family in order to pursue his dreams, having beaten future world No1 Federer in the junior ranks.

Ireland’s Davis Cup captain admitted he was left red-faced by previous shortcomings on home soil.

He said: “One of the biggest Davis Cup matches of my career was against Morocco in 2008 in Dublin.

Watch grand slam champion hit ‘worst double fault of all time’ against Brit tennis star Katie Boulter at Eastbourne

“I faced Younes El Aynaoui, a former top 15 player. Both teams were staying in the Mespil Hotel for the week, which was just a few ­minutes’ drive to our venue, the indoor courts at Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club.

“There was a car waiting to take us from the hotel to the court. I went downstairs to get into a Volkswagen Polo driven by Aileen Rogan, Tennis Ireland’s operations manager. I squeezed into the back seat, as all 6ft 4in of Younes’s frame was already sitting in the front seat.

“He was a major name in tennis to someone like me, and I never expected to be sitting behind him in a hatchback before an international.

‘Initial shock’

“When I got over this initial shock, I realised we weren’t moving. It was raining heavily and the roads were clogged with traffic, and with time running out before our match was scheduled to begin, Aileen began to panic.

“She made a phone call and then turned around to tell us we were getting a police escort to the courts.

“Two minutes later, a phalanx of police motorbikes came screaming through the traffic, with blue lights flashing.

“The driver gestured to Aileen and we took off quickly, going the wrong way on a one-way street, with cars veering out of our path.

Traffic jam

“Motorists stuck in the jam looked on in bemusement. Younes’s dreadlocked hair jiggled in front of me as we picked up speed. We arrived at the venue about a minute later.

“As we screeched into Fitzwilliam, a policeman got off his bike and strode purposefully up to us. Was he about to wish us good luck?

“He lifted his visor and jabbed a stiff, black-gloved finger into Aileen’s face. ‘One of our men fell off his bike on the way over here!’.

“It was like Apocalypse Now in south Dublin, but instead of Robert Duvall leading the charge in a helicopter, it was Aileen Rogan in her Volkswagen Polo.

“On reflection, we could have just walked. My legs were like jelly from the adrenaline of the drive. I lost in straight sets.”

Embarrassing play

In his new book The Racket, Conor — ranked 129th in the world at his peak — also told of an embarrassing double fault by future Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

He recalled: “I returned home for a Davis Cup tie with Tunisia, which was a kind of on-court homecoming. This felt more like it.

“My old neighbour Eoin Reddan –— who was by then a regular Irish rugby international — was in the crowd, and we won, thus avoiding relegation, played well, beating Malek Jaziri in straight sets.

“Leo Varadkar, then the Irish ­Minister for Sport (and future leader of the country), was in attendance and joined the team for some small talk after the match.

“‘And do you play full-time, Conor?’,” he asked.

“‘Yes’, I said, ‘you don’t get to Wimbledon by playing part-time’.”

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