Laois sporting supremo Pat Critchley has rowed in behind the Portlaoise Panthers in their quest for a new dedicated indoor sports arena for Portlaoise.
The Panthers have launched an online petition (you can sign here) for a new sports facility for Portlaoise that will would potentially cater for a range of sports as the Panthers themselves have seen an influx of members and have outgrown their the St Mary's Hall facility they had been renting.
As their numbers increase and they continue to further cater for those with additional needs, more and more teams are coming on stream and they need a home of their own in the Town.
Critchley is well known in GAA and Basketball circles and has coached many successful teams in both sports including victorious Basketball sides in Scoil Chroist Ri in Portlaoise, an important feeder into Portlaoise Panthers.
Speaking on the matter, the highly respected Mr Critchley commented;
"I joined Portlaoise Basketball Club in 1972 when we played in Old St Mary’s Parish Hall. We moved to St Mary’s Sports Hall after its building was spearheaded by Fr. Jim O’Connell. The Sports Hall committee for thirty odd years from the mid 1980’s comprised mainly but not exclusively of parents of young basketballers.
"They voluntarily oversaw development projects as well as the upkeep and running of the Sports Hall on behalf of our Parish and community.
"I have witnessed the ebb and flow of the club over the years but it has never been as strong and vibrant as it is now. It caters for players from nursery, to juvenile, to Midland League, to National League, to Masters and inclusive teams, as well as consistently producing Irish Internationals.
"It has always been a strong part of the ethos of basketball in Portlaoise, that we cater for anyone who wishes to play. It is vital that our facilities allow us to continue with this proud tradition.
"I know that the club will not be found wanting in its financial input into a facility project but they will need support. There are several options available and it is essential that all relevant bodies get behind the project; Basketball Ireland, the Council, the Parish, Sport Ireland, Sport Partnership and more. We need to be open to thinking outside the box, if necessary, to achieve our goal.
"We will especially need the people of our town and county, as well as our businesses, to get behind us. We can provide a facility that we can be proud of and that, with our superb location, can attract major sporting events.
"Let us remind ourselves of the vision Fr. Jim had for a facility that has served us for the last forty years and build a new one that will serve us for the next forty."
The Panthers Basketball club is the largest sport in the locality without any facility of their own. Last season's All Ireland champions in both Women’s Division 1 and at U18 level have nowhere to display their cups nor anywhere they can call home.
The club have rented court time in St Mary’s Sports Hall for a number of years and more recently have had to rent additional court time in several schools in Portlaoise and in other towns across the county. The facilities in St Mary’s Sports Hall consist of a single court which is shared with a number of other sports and the basketball club simply cannot obtain sufficient court time for their growing membership.