Katie Taylor flies Tricolour as Olympic athletes arrive home
GOLD medallist and flag bearer Katie Taylor rounded off her Olympic dream by flying a Tricolour from a plane as Team Ireland returned home.
The champion boxer smiled and waved from the cockpit of the Aer Lingus jet with her medal on show and revealed that it has not left her neck since the success.
"I haven't let it out of my sight. I've been sleeping with it," she said.
The five medallists - Mullingar boxer John Joe Nevin with a silver, double bronze boxer Paddy Barnes, fellow Belfast boxer Michael Conlan and redeemed showjumper Cian O'Connor, also both with bronze, led the team of 66 athletes to a private reception with scores of family and friends and dignitaries.
A hero's welcome greeted the athletes on the runway at Dublin Airport - but the homecoming seemed slightly muted compared to what's in store outside the Mansion House on Wednesday afternoon.
An emotional Sonia O'Sullivan, Team Ireland chef de mission, said she was proud of the team and the Olympic spirit they displayed.
"It's very easy for us to focus on our medal winners but I believe that their cause is helped along on by a positive team spirit," she said.
O'Sullivan, a silver medal winner at Sydney in 2000, praised the work put in by boxing captain Darren O'Neill who continued to support and drive on his teammates despite being knocked out of his middleweight division early.
The return had been overshadowed by reports of a split over whether or not athletes should attend a public homecoming today.
Katie Taylor's coach and father Pete was angered over suggestions he had turned down the offer of a celebration on the streets of Dublin. He had not been consulted.
Pat Hickey, Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) president, insisted there was no rift between the sports body and the Taylor camp over the claim.
"There is no rift whatsoever between Pete Taylor and the Olympic Council of Ireland or the athletes," he told RTE Radio.
"I personally have a great relationship with Pete Taylor. He was misquoted in several papers about many things. Of course the man was very angry."
Initial plans for a homecoming had been suggested as early as August 2 but the OCI and Dublin City Council failed to get support from the majority of the athletes. Many, who have been away from home for weeks and months, said they preferred to get to their home towns first to see loved ones.
Mr Hickey rejected claims that the whole homecoming plan had been botched but admitted communications failures.
"Shambles is too big of a word," he said.
Junior minister for sport Michael Ring also attended the airport welcome and vowed to continue to fight for funding for sports to bring a stronger team to the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.
"You lifted the souls and minds and the hearts of the people of Ireland," he told the athletes.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny arrived in the airport separately ahead of the team and backed the idea of striving for better results.
"It's not all about the money, obviously it's an important element of that but in order to achieve a greater result in Rio there's time for reflection here on what went wrong and what can be improved," he said.
"The athletes have done their country proud. I admire every one of them.
"On behalf of the people, I thank them for their efforts. The fact that they are termed and deemed to be Olympians is something that nobody can take from them, and they will carry it with them for the rest of their days."
"Well done and thank you on behalf of our country."
Competitors made their way to separate welcome home celebrations.
Katie Taylor led an open top bus parade through Bray followed by a concert and fireworks display while Mullingar was brought to a standstill with John Joe Nevin also enjoying a tour of the town and reception at the GAA grounds.
Both towns were also celebrating other athletes - local garda and boxer Adam Nolan in Bray and in the Nevin heartland of Westmeath, equestrian Olympian Joseph Murphy and Paralympians Damien Shaw and Mark Rohan.
Double bronze medallist Paddy Barnes and boxing team-mate Michael Conlan enjoyed a reception at the Titanic centre in Belfast before a bus tour tomorrow.
The public reception for the team takes place outside the Mansion House in Dublin on Wednesday lunchtime.
Groups of fans ignored the advice of airport authorities and turned up in the arrivals hall. They left disappointed however as the team was whisked from Pier E on buses across the runway apron to a VIP area of the airport and on to their respective home towns.
The Government is planning a special reception for the athletes at Farmleigh on Friday