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Swimming: No home comforts for hardy Irish squad

Venturing outside from the comforts of home and the warmth of the fire won't have featured too highly on most people's priority list last Saturday but, as the sub-zero temperatures and difficult driving conditions hampered weekend plans, there was one group for whom dark, cold mornings and frosty conditions are par for the course.

These are the young Irish swimmers of the Swim Ireland National High Performance Programme who took part in the first training camp of 2010 at the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin.

Arriving at the NAC at 7.30 on Saturday morning, these young athletes, their coaches and some very dedicated parents had travelled from all four provinces in the dead of night to be present for training. This is a group for whom nothing will get in the way of the goals and dreams as they prepare for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Leading the squad training over the weekend was Patrick Miley, the highly-respected Aberdeen-based coach who has produced several world-class swimmers, including his own daughter Hannah, a finalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 400m individual medley.

Hannah spent the weekend training with more than 30 members of the Irish squad, including Grainne Murphy, Sycerika McMahon and Portmarnock's Karl Burdis, who is home on holidays from the University of Minnesota in the USA.

Irish swimming has been going through something of a revolution since last May, when Peter Banks was installed as high performance director.

The NAC is now also home to Irish swimming's second high performance centre. Led by head coach Paul Donovan, the programme involves 15 swimmers training on both a full and part-time basis.

Donovan is hoping to replicate the success being achieved in Limerick by his counterpart, Ronald Claes. To that end, he is looking forward to April when Greg Troy, coach to multiple Olympic champion and World record-holder Ryan Lochte, will conduct the next special training camp.

The major international competition this summer is the European Long Course Championships, which are scheduled for August in Budapest.

Banks is hopeful that 16 or more Irish swimmers will qualify, building from the squad of 13 who competed at last year's World Championships.

Other major meetings include the European Junior Championships and the first staging of the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.

Judging from the level of commitment to training shown by our young swimmers this weekend, Irish success is a real possibility.

Irish Independent