WHEN those attending Omagh Lawn Tennis Club’s 125th anniversary dinner in the Silverbirch Hotel last evening (Saturday) scan over the numerous newspaper cuttings and memorabilia on display they’ll realise the good times didn’t always roll at the Campsie-based club.
Nowadays the Omagh club boasts state-of-the art playing facilties, a modern clubhouse and a flourishing membership that hovers above the 200 mark.
It’s a far cry from a time when Omagh LTC was on the brink of extinction.
Long-serving treasurer Olive Kee wasn’t exactly sure of her dates but remembers much talk among senior members of the club going out of existence.
“Exactly when it was I’m not quite sure but apparently the club owed this and that and got to the point where the trustees had been called in regarding it’s debts,” she said.
“That was obviously a low point and I suppose people really had to get their heads together. Even when I joined in the early nineties there were maybe 10-15 members, that was about it.
“I suppose in the past tennis didn’t have a great reputation and not everyone was welcome at a time. Thankfully that has all changed and nowadays it’s a sport that can be enjoyed by all.
“In the last 20 years alone tennis has changed beyond all recognition.”
Omagh boasts a colourful and vibrant history and very much part of that great tradition was the late Nora Taylor, who played right up until her 90th birthday.
Nora (nee Hyde) moved to Omagh in 1956 and by then had already been capped by Ulster.
At the ripe old age of 65 the banker’s daughter captured the open singles, ladies doubles and mixed doubles titles at the Tyrone Tennis Championships. In the ladies doubles she partnered Joan McCleary, another household name at the Omagh club, and in the mixed pairs played alongside Maurice Pollock.
There were many stalwart playing members over the years including, in more recent times, Mary and Stephen Cuthbertson, Rachel Logan, Donna McSorley and others.
Last year schoolteacher McSorley represented Ireland at a seniors (over 35) tournament in South Africa and, as part of growing programme of events, club members play an annual weekend friendly against Shirley Park Tennis Club, based in East Croydon, London.
There have many significant staging posts in the history of Omagh Tennis Club but the appointment of Billy Pollock as Club President and a forward-thinking committee brought the club kicking and screaming out of the dark ages and into an exciting new era.
With the help of lottery funding new all-weather courts were laid along with the erection of floodlighting and that assisted in transforming the club and making it more accessible to members and non- playing members.
The new facilities were officially opened in 1998 and seven years later, with the help of further funding, a spanking new clubhouse was opened by Lee Jennings, President of Tennis Ireland.
With qualified coaching now readily available and incentives in place to drive up membership, Omagh Tennis Club, according to Olive Kee, is fit for purpose in 2017.
“The infrastructure developments have made a massive difference,” she continued.
“In many respects it was a leap into the unknown but on reflection the club may not have survived had it not been for such drastic action.
“Since then it has been an improving situation and nowadays the club is pretty much open for business all year around.
“It has moved into the 21st century. We have a flourishing youth set-up including a summer scheme, qualified coaching and players can book the courts on-line. People can also pay-to-play.”
As past and present members alike congregate to mark 125 years since the first meeting in the courthouse back in 1892, there should certainly be a realisation that Omagh Lawn Tennis Club has enjoyed many tremendous highs and survived one or two extreme lows during what, has at times, been something of a white-knuckle ride.
The fact the club remains in place to tell the tale is testament to the dedication, commitment and vision of an ever-changing group of local enthusiasts who simply loved to play the game.