Sunday 25 June 2017

Coaches scope out talent for 'next star' of 2020 Olympics

Mary Fitzgerald with Irish International Wheelchair athlete Patrick Monahan Photo: Gerry Mooney
Mary Fitzgerald with Irish International Wheelchair athlete Patrick Monahan Photo: Gerry Mooney
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

A 'world beating performance package' has been put in place to push our paralympic medal haul in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to a record high.

Budding athletes in a number of sports - plus some of those who have already made it to the winning podium - thronged the new Indoor Arena at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown yesterday. The day-long event showcased a wide range of paralympian sporting endeavour, in a bid to encourage potential talent to strive for possible Olympic glory in three years' time.

Athlete Niamh McCarthy with Dylan Prenderville
Athlete Niamh McCarthy with Dylan Prenderville

Basking in the afterglow of a stellar performance at the Rio Games, where they bagged 11 medals, organisers are now determined to "broaden the base" by offering every possibility facility to anyone trying to make it to the top of their sport. Specialised coaches stressed all eyes are now on Tokyo - and there is a widespread belief Ireland's medal haul next time round can surpass our previous Olympic best.

From early morning the arena was a hive of activity as up to 500 athletes and their families, from various parts of Ireland, gathered to sample some of the sports on offer. Coaches hopeful of trying to scope new talent were on hand to field questions at various stands scattered around the complex.

Several leading Irish paralympians took part in a series of live demonstrations, but the event that provoked most interest was a showcase wheelchair rugby match - popularly known as 'murderball'. Fiercely competitive, it involves two teams battling it out to get the ball across the opposition's goal line. It is a contact sport, where players are allowed to use their wheelchairs to aggressively block opponents.

It can lead to matches of particularly high intensity, but the rough and tumble of the sport is what makes it so enjoyable for many of the participants.

Training out of Kilcullen, Co Kildare, Ciara Staunton is a near veteran of the game, having played it for the past eight years, and it was the first sport she took up after coming out of rehab.

"That's what drew me to it in the first place. Some people might look at people in wheelchairs as being a little bit weak. But when you get on the court it's full on; everyone smashes the crap out of each other."

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Paralympic Performance director Dave Malone said he was hoping yesterday's event would "unearth" fresh talent, with a view to putting participants in various sports on a "high performance pathway". He said the supports provided were designed to help individual athletes depending on their circumstances.

"It could be performance analysis, nutrition advice, sports psychology, or lifestyle management.

"It's all encompassing, underpinned by the expectations of the individual and their sport."

Sunday Independent

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