A KILLALOE tennis coach has netted signed jerseys from high profile international sports stars that will be auctioned to raise money for an Irish and an international charity, writes Dan Danaher.
The items that will be auctioned by Wesley O’Brien include a signed Usain Bolt shirt; a signed Rafel Nadal shirt; a signed Franz Beckenbaur Bayern Munich shirt, a print of the Formula One car driven by Lewis Hamilton, which is signed by Mr Hamilton and other key figures in Mercedes; and a signed Rory McElroy golf flag.
All of the jerseys are included in a special frame that has been professionally inserted. The raffle winners will also receive a certificate of authenticity with each of the jerseys. Any Irish winner will have the bonus of free postage, unlike people outside Ireland who will have to pay for the cost of receiving it by mail.
The sports memorabilia were posted on idonate under the Access Foundation banner on Monday as part of five separate raffles.
People can log on and purchase tickets for one of the jerseys until Sunday, December 5 when the winners will be drawn in either St Anne’s Community College, Killaloe during one of the forthcoming blind tennis sessions or in the Killaloe Ballina Tennis Club.
Wesley hopes the raffles will earn enough money for him to continue his charity work with the Hit and Hope Foundation and to help the Access Foundation in Ireland.
“I was blown away to get these great jerseys. I was happy enough to get the Rafel Nadal shirt. Friends of mine encouraged me to issue another appeal through social media.
“One item turned into 25 items. I never thought in a million years the South African Rugby team or Manchester United would send me a signed shirt. I am very touched by people involved with these sports stars to send me these jerseys without knowing me once they learned about the charity.”
“The first three trips I made to the Ritsona Refugee Camp in Greece came out of my own pocket. I didn’t mind doing this but this isn’t sustainable in the future.
“Whatever is raised will be spent on equipment such as rackets, nets, tennis balls and the flight to go out to the camp.
“We hope to raise a good sum of money because these jerseys are special and look great in their frames.
“I want to do something to help the refugee camps abroad and to help the marginalised in Ireland as well.”
He recalled children and adults experience a lot of stress in the Ritsona Refugee Camp because of the challenges they have to try and overcome.
“Two families have to live in a very small room. Children in the camp play tennis with me and go away happy. I would like to think the fun they have is brought into the rest of their lives as well.”
Felix Jones is organising a signed South African jersey, which will arrive in the near future. He has also received signed jerseys from the Republic and Northern Ireland soccer teams.
Everton Football Club has sent him a signed shirt from the players.
The Hit and Hope Tennis Foundation started off in 2020 when Wesley decided to raise money to purchase a defibrillator for the Ritsona Refugee Camp, north of Athens.
Having contacted the Rafel Nadal Foundation, Mr Nadal sent him a signed shirt. Back in June 2020, Wesley only had half what was required to purchase the defibrillator so he contributed the remainder from his own money.
Wesley managed to purchase the defibrillator from a company in Mallow at a very competitive cost price of €800 because it was for charity. Following another appeal, he has received some interesting sports memorabilia.
Proceeds from the auction will also be shared with Olwyn O’Toole from Access Tennis Foundation in Ireland, which gives refugees in Direct Provision, homeless people in emergency accommodation and the marginalised a chance to play tennis.
Speaking to the Clare Champion, Olwyn recalled she met Wesley from their work coaching blind and visually impaired tennis.
“I am delighted to be working in partnership with Wesley. I hope we can raise money to help people who are not in great situations in Ireland.
“Tennis can help people to interact, particularly those who have been isolated due to Covid-19. Using the Insta Tennis Programme, we can get people playing tennis in 30 minutes.”
Although the Access Tennis Foundation is only one month in existence, it helped about 100 people in Direct Provision and 150 in local communities.