Thomas is the best, Barr none: fans left heartbroken but deeply proud
Published 19/08/2016 | 02:30
The tears of pride flowed freely yet Waterford hearts were still left broken for the second time in just five days.
Just five-hundredths of a second separated Thomas Barr from a bronze medal in the 400m hurdles as he finished tantalisingly close in fourth place.
It was so close that his youngest sister, Becky (22), initially thought he had clinched an Olympic medal - only to realise his incredible charge to the line in Rio had fallen just millimetres short.
Surrounded by 150 cheering supporters of Thomas's club, Ferrybank AC, in The Cove Bar on Waterford's Dunmore Road, Becky was defiantly proud of her brother.
"He ran the race of his life. He couldn't have done anything more. I'm so proud of him. Everyone is so proud of him," she said.
Thomas's older sister Jessie, who competed at the London 2012 Games, was inconsolable.
Her brother set a new personal best and a new Irish record but still missed out on a medal.
"It was such an incredible race... he ran his heart out but he just needed another metre or two at the finish. If he'd had that he absolutely would have taken third," she said.
But Jessie couldn't hold back the tears for her brother in an overwhelming mixture of immense pride and deep frustration.
Five days after Waterford's hurlers lost to bitter rivals Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final, the Déise were once again left agonising over how unfair sport can be.
Three national champions from Ferrybank - Cara Kennedy (hammer), Ben Kiely (400m) and Niall Tuohy (800m) - gathered in The Cove to roar on Thomas, who they had trained with since he was just eight years old.
Cara watched the race with her mother Madeline and her 15-month-old daughter Abby.
"She is Thomas's youngest fan. We put her in a special 'My Olympic Hero' T-shirt in Thomas's honour," she said.
Ben Kiely, who won gold at the European Youth Championships in Turkey in the 400m hurdles, said Ireland should be very proud of Thomas as he watched the race with his mother Linda.
Niall Tuohy, who trained for almost 15 years alongside Thomas and his sister Jessie, said the hurdler's true strength was his spirit and his passion.
"I'm on the same University of Limerick team as Thomas and he is a superstar not just because of his talent at the 400m but because of his spirit, his passion and his commitment."
Ferrybank AC coaches Bríde and Alan Golden said the club was immensely proud of Thomas and his Rio heroics.
Also immensely proud for Thomas but deeply frustrated for the athlete on a personal level were his aunt and uncle, Jackie and Jim French, and his cousins Isabella (13) and Layla (11).
Thomas was also supported by a major event in UL attended by his coaches, Drew and Hayley Harrison. The athlete will be back in UL on Friday next for his conferring.