BANN Rowing Club is to be made into a centre of excellence following a personal pledge made to club officials by Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín last week.
The Minister’s promise came amid historic scenes at the tiny Hanover Place clubhouse with the homecoming reception for Olympic rowing heroes Alan Campbell and Peter and Richard Chambers.
After meeting the trio, the Minister said: “One toilet between 80 children and not enough facilities isn’t good and I’m going to look at what support we can bring to this project.”
“What I am committed to is doing a proper assessment to see what the needs are, then find the money.”
The vice captain of Bann Rowing Club. Stephen Smyth, said the facilities were “virtually unchanged” since the 1920s Speaking ahead of her visit Stephen said: “Our boat club is virtually unchanged since the 1920s.
“The weights room, gymnasium, the lack of facilities will astound the minister.
“If she thinks boxing clubs are spit and sawdust, when she sees where we produce champions from at Bann I’m sure she will find some money somewhere.”
Hours later, during the Minister’s visit, Stephen added: “I’m very proud that the Sports Minister took the time out of her schedule to come down today.
“She saw exactly our facilities, there’s no need to hide them.
“This is the apprenticeship that served all these rowers and the Minister has given us a personal guarantee that this is going to change and that’s a tremendous legacy in itself.
“The boys are living legacies, rowing legacies but the Minister’s commitment now will create a full time rowing centre of excellence here at Bann. This is the best news for the club.”
A tremendously enthusiastic flag-flyer for Bann himself, Stephen expressed his joy at welcoming home the boys.
“It’s unbelievable and the pride extends throughout the club.
“These guys regard this as home, after all their achievements, it is still is home. I’m very proud of their achievements.
“The production line is working here - we have two boys (Joel Cassells and Chris Black) at the Junior 18 World Championships in Bulgaria this week. “They have been inspired training with our Olympians. Peter trained with them against Alan Campbell, that’s how it works here.
“They just produce the goods in the water and that’s the difference, there, this water we have here”.
Stephen added that Coleraine could rightly feel part of the trio’s success.
“I’m a businessman for 34 years and I’ve never known the feeling of community involvement ever like this in Coleraine.
“It started with the Olympic Torch when we had 8,000 people hanging round the bridges, off the railings and tarpaulins. That was a fabulous day for Coleraine too.
“David Cameron taking time out of his schedule to come and tell us that it was partly our Olympics, that Northern Ireland had won £48m worth of contracts but more importantly that Northern Ireland had got the medals in the rowing.
“That was tremendous for our club to be so honoured and today this is what the boys call their homecoming.
“Coleraine is their home. They might row for Oxford Brookes, they might row for Team GB, but they are Bann men in their heart of hearts.
“The bottom line is that they are Bann men coming home to Bann.”