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For the glory of green, white and orange


Sonia O'Sullivan in Marrakech in 1998

Sonia O'Sullivan in Marrakech in 1998

Sonia O'Sullivan in Marrakech in 1998

On the track, in football stadia across the world, ringside, poolside, on the golf course - you name the sporting arena and the chances are that at some stage over the last century our sporting greats have worn and waved the National flag there with pride after victory.

We spoke to five Irish sporting icons and asked what the National flag means to them. Here they relive moments when they wrapped themselves in the green, white and orange amid euphoria:

Sonia O'Sullivan

World Champion Athlete and Olympic Silver Medalist (2000)

"Grabbing the flag and running a lap of the track was never something that I thought about until it actually happened. It was one of those instinctual moments after winning a race when the whole stadium was buzzing.

When you stand on the podium and the stadium falls silent as the flag goes up and the national anthem is played you get goose bumps.

In 2000 I was the official flag carrier in the Irish Olympic team. I remember the flag was heavy and we had a little pouch to put the flag pole in but that didn't feel comfortable - so I had to take the initiative, when Ireland entered the stadium I waved the flag as proudly and wildly as I could while still maintaining composure as leader of the team.

As I live away in Australia now it definitely gives me a lift when I see an Irish flag flying."

Eamonn Coghlan

World Champion Athlete

"I recall two of Ireland's greatest athletics supporters, Harry Gorman and Sean Callan roaring at me after I won the World Championships in Helsinki in 1983 as I rounded the first bend on my victory lap.

They passed me their Tri-colour flag over the fence. I still have that flag in my possession and it means so much to me.

Seeing the Irish flag hoisted and listening to the National anthem being played is one of the greatest feelings any sports person can experience.

It is the moment of your coronation and, confirmation that a lifetime of sacrifice, hard work, blood, sweat and tears was worth it all.

You feel like bursting with pride and crying with joy. It's a time when the anthem means more to you than at any other time you may have heard it."

Pat Bonner,

Former Republic of Ireland goalkeeper (at Euro' 88, Italia '90 and USA '94)

"Walking out onto the pitch in Stuttgart in 1988 I, and all my teammates, were immediately hit with this wall of green, it was hugely motivational.

For the first time we were up there amongst Europe's football elite.

We started a trend at the time turning to face our National Flag in the stadium when usually players just faced forward, we broke protocol in a way but the trend caught on and now a lot of countries do it.

For those few minutes standing looking at our flag and having the National Anthem played we all stood with huge pride that we were representing our country.

And during that famous penalty shoot-out against Romania in the 1990 World Cup in Italy I looked around to see Irish flags dominating - they were everywhere around the stadium.

I recall running out onto the pitch at the Giants' Stadium in New York expecting the Italian fans to dominate but just seeing unmistakable Irish green everywhere and flags all around the stadium. Again that fed through to the players, we felt we and the supporters were one.

The flag means so much to me because I felt we were respecting it and representing Ireland in the right way - we took the flag in the right context and our brilliant supporters embraced all opposing fans they came up against."

Ronnie Delany

Olympic Gold medalist over 1,500 metres, Melbourne 1956

"In my era when you won a race there was no running around with the flag afterwards on the track, it just wasn't the done thing - we were more reserved and they were more meagre times.

I do recall though standing to attention when the Irish flag was raised - it was a powerful moment and one I will never forget.

Our National Flag fluttered in the Melbourne breeze above the flags of Germany and Australia and was only the fourth time ever and the first in 24 years that we had won a gold medal at the Olympics.

It's hard to put into words what seeing the green, white and orange flag meant to me really, we were an emerging little country with lots of difficulties and to have achieved on the world stage like this was a boost for everyone I think.

About 50 years later the Irish Defence Forces' then Chief of Staff Dermot Early somehow rediscovered the very Irish flag used in my medal ceremony and I was presented with it - I couldn't believe it.

As a former Irish army cadet, before I left to pursue a running career, I presented the flag to the cadets school in the Curragh as a mark of respect and they have it displayed there now."

John Treacy

Two-time World Cross Country Champion and Olympic Silver medalist

"Even if I had wanted to I couldn't have carried out any kind of lap of honour after finishing second in the marathon at the 1984 Olympic in Los Angeles.

For one the race was still ongoing and other competitors were entering the stadium on the track but secondly my legs just would not have obliged! They had seized up, I could barely walk at that stage after such a grueling race in severe heat. I don't think I had any opportunity to put the National Flag over my shoulders.

But the medal ceremony more than made up for that.

It took place on the night before the Games' closing ceremony and so our podium was placed in the centre of the stadium - it was just an amazing feeling to see our flag hoisted and the anthem played.

Athletes work all their life for these very moments and so of course it was a very emotional time."

Irish Independent