Tuesday 18 June 2019

O'Brien makes the pace to strike Community Games gold

Colm Carney from Bohola competing in the Freestyle Under 16 and Over 14 Boys event at the Community Games Festival. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Carney from Bohola competing in the Freestyle Under 16 and Over 14 Boys event at the Community Games Festival. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Cathal O'Brien wants to be the next Henry Shefflin or wear Irish colours at the Olympics - and for a youngster accustomed to overcoming obstacles, the sky is the limit.

The 11-year-old from Piltown in Kilkenny won gold at the Aldi Community Games Festival in the University of Limerick yesterday. One of four brothers competing in the pool, O'Brien was victorious in the U-12 breaststroke, eight years after he had a pacemaker inserted.

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"My mam and dad have been great," said O'Brien. "I'm very happy with the medal. I really enjoy swimming but I play hurling and soccer too. I want to play for Kilkenny when I grow up or maybe go to the Olympics."

Oran O'Brien (7) won silver in the U-8 freestyle, Dáire O'Brien (9) came fourth in the U-10 freestyle while Cathal teamed up with older brother Niall (12) in the U-13 relay and finished third. All four brothers, from the Carrick Dippers club, are typical of the thousands of families who get to enjoy the games each year.

"You have to dream, if you don't dream there is no point," said mother Noelette O'Brien. "It is super to see Cathal out there. He is a type of child who is very serious and determined. He is gutsy and will drive on as best he can.

"Whether it will go against him in the future who knows. But at the minute he has that personality, he is a real fighter.

"Cathal was diagnosed with a heart block, which meant he was missing beats, particularly at night. His heart rate was dropping to a very low level.

"The thinking was that if he put in a pacemaker it would pace his heart. The type of block he has, his heart wouldn't stop, but he certainly wouldn't be able to do what he is doing. It was scary back then but he went through everything and anything and we move on."

Around 3,600 participants are involved this weekend, with nearly 10,000 spectators, before the Aldi Community Games Festival gets going again on August 17 and 18.

And Noelette O'Brien was just one of hundreds of parents cheering their children on.

"I would be in tears, actually in a silly way," said O'Brien. "I'd be the one screaming. It would be to the point that you have to talk to yourself and take a step back. It's massive for them and for us. You are egging them on to do the best that they can. Youngsters like that will remember this for the rest of their lives."

Yesterday began with swimming, basketball, handball, handwriting, choir, art, model-making, solo dance and singing at 9am.

Kerry dominated the individual events in the marathon, where Oisin Murray and Shauna McCarthy claimed gold in the boys and girls sections respectively. Cork's Tony Murphy came first in the boys U-10 handwriting and Rachel O Shea from Kilkenny won the U-16 solo dance.

After a morning of sunshine, the clouds returned yesterday afternoon. But the University of Limerick was packed, something which delighted Donegal man Gerry Davenport, who is in his eighth and final year as president of the Community Games.

"We have tried to regenerate the Mosney feeling," said Davenport. "We have that with the villages and a lot of families have made it a weekend and come here with family members. It's the second year here and we are progressing. We were delighted to come here because the facilities are excellent.

"I'm delighted people have made the choice to make it a weekend rather than when it was more of a one-day event.

"There were people here from Thursday evening, they came for Friday and you will see them right up until Sunday evening."

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