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Heroes' welcome for 'Superhuman' athletes who made the nation soar

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From left, gold medal winners Jason Smyth, Mark Rohan and Michael McKillop, on their arrival home from the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Dublin Airport, yesterday

From left, gold medal winners Jason Smyth, Mark Rohan and Michael McKillop, on their arrival home from the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Dublin Airport, yesterday

From left, gold medal winners Jason Smyth, Mark Rohan and Michael McKillop, on their arrival home from the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Dublin Airport, yesterday

THEY are dubbed the Superhumans -- and no wonder. With true heroes' grit, they defied all odds, scaled impossible heights and soared to achieve beyond their wildest dreams.

And last night, exhausted but radiant, the Irish Paralympic Team -- the greatest Irish sporting success story ever -- arrived home laden with medals to a euphoric welcome at Dublin Airport.

Hundreds of people turned out, with banners, flags and voice power to welcome the athletes home after their unprecedented triumph in London, with 16 medals as well as new world records and a host of personal bests.

From early evening, crowds were gathering at the arrivals gate and long before the plane from London had even touched down, the chants of 'Ole, ole, ole, ole' were rising in volume and excitement.

And when the Superhumans themselves finally began to appear, the shouts, whoops and rapturous applause nearly lifted the roof off Terminal 1.

Their City Jet flight had been sitting on the tarmac at London City Airport for 45 minutes because of a lost bag, it emerged.

But when they landed, despite a gruelling two weeks at the London Games, any delays had been forgotten, once they saw the reception that awaited them.

They knew they had made history.

Their supreme efforts helped ensure that the London 2012 Paralympic Games will go down in history as the moment when people began to truly look at the ability over the disability.

Those with disabilities will never again be viewed within the same narrow confines.

Now the main things on the minds of these athletes were the simpler pleasures of life.

For discus silver medalist, Catherine O'Neill, it was the prospect of picking her son Calum (7) up from school today.

For sprinter Michael McKillop, it was golf and shopping and for cyclist Mark Rohan, it was simply cheesecake and whiskey.

"I'm going to take a couple of weeks off now and let the body recover and rest. I want to spend some time doing anything other than running until my body tells me that I want to go back. I want to do some golfing and get my handicap down. I want to go shopping -- anything other than running," said Michael McKillop, his two gold medals swinging from his neck.

Jason Smyth said the Games had proved that if you are willing to work and make sacrifices, anything is possible.

He also has a lot to look forward to.

He is getting married in December and must look for a new coach. After that, he is looking forward to training for Rio.

Most of the athletes are already setting their sights on the next Paralympics.

"When you came looking for funding, you promised me you would deliver and you did deliver," Minister of State at the Department of Sport Michael Ring declared with relish to the Paralympics Ireland officials.

Chef de Mission Liam Harbison said it had been "the most amazing journey" over the past five years.

"The target was five medals but we secretly believed we could get up to the double figures," he said.

This has been the "greatest Irish sporting success story ever", he said.

He personally thanked every athlete for "making my life easier" than it had been in Sydney or Beijing and went on to say that he hoped they could continue the drive to keep Paralympics sport in Ireland on the map forever.

Meanwhile, cyclist Mark Rohan said he had been absolutely blown away by the support he received in Brands Hatch.

"This is crazy -- I'm just delighted to be home and delighted to have had the experience with everyone. The look of sheer delight on people's faces -- it is fantastic," he said.

Amongst the 500 people who had gathered at arrivals were Mark Rohan's parents, Carmel and Denis Rohan from Ballinahown in Co Offaly.

Carmel recalled how the extent of Mark's injuries from an horrific car crash had meant they wondered if their son would ever recover.

The first two years had been the hardest-- and then their son, a former intercounty footballer, turned back to sport.

He went from archery to tennis to basketball before he turned to cycling as a way to build up his strength.

"He only got into that to help him with the basketball," said Carmel.

She said she had been very emotional watching him at Brands Hatch, thinking "he so deserves this."

Irish Independent