'I thought I'd just be having a little party with family' - hundreds turn out to honour Olympic hero Annalise Murphy for homecoming
'Silver Lady' Annalise Murphy stood tall and proud on the front of a boat waving an Irish flag as she led a flotilla of boats in triumph into Dun Laoghaire Harbour tonight.
Hundreds of people cheered as the Olympic silver medallist stepped nimbly onto the stone steps of the East Pier for a rapturous welcome home event.
Amid the flag-wavers on the other rib boats arriving in her wake were Sail Ireland team mates Andrea Brewster, Saskia Tidey, Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern.
Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council laid on a big welcome for the sailors and the Olympic hockey and badminton team members from the borough.
The honoured athletes were feted as they took part in a march to the People's Park for a welcome home event attended by a large crowd of well-wishers.
"It's all a bit overwhelming," the Olympic heroine told Independent.ie
"So many people have turned up. I've never experienced anything like it. I thought that winning a medal would mean having a little party with family and friends. I'm so delighted there are so many people here," she said.
She said she hoped her performance will inspire a young generation of sailors.
Her brother Finn (24), busily helping to organise a huge night time party at the National Yacht Club for 2,000 invited guests, said the evening was extra special for all the family.
"Annalise did not have an 18th party nor a 21st party nor any other birthday party over recent years because she was always away somewhere training.
'She's lived a sailor's life which is not as flash and glam as people think. That's why tonight's party is so special for us," he said.
Her father Con (59), standing amidst the festive crowd on the pier, said "It's wonderful. Annalise has spent seven years working hard for what she achieved. There were a few ups and a lot of downs. We're delighted it has paid off big time.
"She took leave from her studies to train full time seven years ago and she's still on study leave," he laughed.
Her mother Cathy, a former Olympic sailor and a boat-builder, said she was happy her daughter trained full-time for seven years as it was "the only way" to win medals.
"She is so much better than me. We were racing each other recently and I came ahead of her in one race but she thrashed me in the next race," said the proud mum.
Her daughter is now aiming to beat both men and women in the world sailing championships in Italy next year,she said.
Sports and Transport Minister Shane Ross delighted the crowd in the People's Park when he spoke of his visit to Team Ireland in Rio when team spirits were "a tiny bit low" after setbacks and disappointments and how Annalise's medal performance "lifted every Irish heart right up to the sky."
He even made a joke about the tickets controversy and the dramatic events in Brazil. He quipped, "I was very lucky to get out of it too!"
Local Government Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor told the crowd the Murphy family's support was so focused they even went on a lettuce diet in solidarity with Annalise's own weight reduction plan.
Council cathaoirleach Cormac Devlin hailed the sailor as a role model for all young people. The council and UCD were planning to launch a study bursary in her name.
National Yacht Club Commodore Larry Power said Annalise will receive honorary life membership of the club. Her training partner Sara Winther will become an honorary overseas member of the club. Annalise's coach Rory Fitzpatrick will receive a medal from the club.
Meanwhile, President Michael D Higgins will host a reception on Sunday for Ireland's Olympic team.