BRENDAN O'BRIEN: No longer stuck in a moment, it’s time we enjoyed home comforts

The National Indoor Arena in Blanchardstown, Dublin. Picture: Inpho

There’s a clever little post doing the rounds on Facebook the last while, writes Brendan O’Brien

It’s nothing more than a basic Venn diagram with just the two intersecting circles. One labelled “With You” the other “Without You”. An arrow pointing to the shared space between them says simply: “Place where Bono can’t live”.

Geddit?

Depends on your age, probably.

As the post from ‘Sarcasm Society’ intimated, it’s a joke that may fly over the heads of a generation for whom the band U2 must seem as dated as the original spy plane of the same name and a similar thought struck when walking through the doors of the brand spanking new National Indoor Arena at the National Sports Campus yesterday.

Shiny new sports facilities seem to pop up like newly-minted Chelsea and Manchester City fans these days but anyone old enough to be left utterly perplexed by the Pokemon craze, adult colouring books, or Justin Bieber can remember well just how bereft this self-proclaimed ‘best little nation of sports lovers ever’ was when it came to this type of bricks and mortar.

The chief symbol of our want, the greatest stain on our sporting souls and proof of our place at the back of the field among international sport’s also-rans, was for so long the absence of a single 50m pool in the entire jurisdiction. Countless promises were made and broken, or just allowed pass their sell-by-date, Now? Now we have three. Three!

Such largesse.

And not just that. We have gleaming stadia all over the place, playtime palaces catering for our GAA, soccer, and rugby teams, and a National Sports Campus that is maturing into a world-class centre of excellence. The National Indoor Arena is more than just the latest piece of that expanding jigsaw.

There are a good 20 national governing bodies queuing up to make use of the new gaff but Badminton Ireland got first dibs this week as they shifted their FZ Forza Irish Open across the city from the tournament’s habitual home in Baldoyle in an operation that involved months of planning and a few days of frantic heavy lifting.

The organisation’s people were on site by 7am last Monday morning and the snag list is eye-opening. Just getting the six court mats across town from Baldoyle was a military operation. Each one weighs half as much as your average family car but the toil has been worth it now the doors are open and the tournament underway.

It’s free in for the general public all week, by the way, and we’d highly recommend it.

It isn’t that there is a whole lot to it as a piece of architecture. The Arena is, when all is said and done, a big rectangular hall with retractable seating, dressing areas and all the usual bits and bobs you would expect to see at your local gym or sports club. Taking it in yesterday, you couldn’t help but wonder how it has taken us until 2016 to build something like it.

The €22m price tag aside, that is. None of which isn’t to play down its worth. Over 200 players from 29 different countries signed up to play the Irish Open this week and the quality of the field has taken a very clear step up in class. Ireland’s Olympian Scott Evans and people in Badminton Ireland will tell you that is directly attributable to the quality of the venue.

Multiply that effect by the 20 sports mentioned earlier and a very positive picture begins to emerge and there is a real benefit to Irish athletes as well. Evans played twice yesterday and nipped up the road to the Irish Institute for Sport between his appearances for an ice bath and a bit of R&R. Other players had to make do with a kip or a stretch on the spectator seating.

This is the embodiment of the Campus: many disparate parts, one homogeneous facility.

“It’s the kind of place I wish was around when I was 16,” Evans told this column yesterday. A simple enough statement but one made my a man who felt the need to emigrate to Denmark as a teenager due to the lack of sufficient services and facilities in his native country. Maybe, just maybe, our days of enforced sporting emigrants are coming to an end.

It’s unlikely that there will be any Irish interest come tomorrow’s finals but the Arena will continue to serve badminton on Sunday when every national squad from U13 levels on up convenes for a day-long session. The long-term plan is for badminton’s high performance programme, currently situated in Marino, to be based permanently in the proposed National Velodrome on site although it will be five years at least before that ribbon is cut.

Still a lot to do, then, but we’ve come a long way already.

Email: brendan.obrien@examiner.ie Twitter: @Rackob


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