Saturday 17 March 2018

The fighting and diving Irish: 'Best team ever' set for record medals haul

Carrying our medal hopes: diver Oliver Dingley. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire.
Carrying our medal hopes: diver Oliver Dingley. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire.

Ryan Nugent

The stage is set, mosquito protection nets are in place and Team Ireland are on the move - expecting, rather than hoping, for a medal haul that will eclipse every other Olympic Games they've competed in.

In London they took home six - one gold, one silver and four bronze.

Carrying our medal hopes: boxer Katie Taylor. Photo: INPHO
Carrying our medal hopes: boxer Katie Taylor. Photo: INPHO

And while Irish officials are predicting we'll take home four medals, the word within the camp and from the experts is that anything less than six will be a failure.

Most of these will be achieved from boxing.

Ireland's warriors in the ring believe they have their strongest team yet.

It is the largest boxing team Ireland has ever had.

In fact, the team are feeling so confident this time around that they're hoping to secure eight-out-of-eight medals.

Golden-girl of Irish sport, Katie Taylor (30) will be heading to Rio wounded but determined to defend the gold medal she won in London.


Bray native Taylor has twice been beaten in recent months but her dominance over female boxing in the last 10 years means she's still our number one gold medal hopeful.

The next gold could come from bantamweight, Michael Conlan (24) from Belfast - who picked up world and European gold in 2015.

He medalled bronze in 2012, but insisted nothing less than the main podium spot is sufficient this time around.

"It's the pinnacle of sport, the Olympic games. It's going to mean a lot more to me now, because I've went and I've won gold in every other tournament that I could win gold in.

"There's only one left so it's going to be special," Conlan said.

"The gold medal is all I want. I'm only there for gold and I really don't want anything else but gold and I will be very disappointed if I don't get gold," he added.

Asked how many medals the boxers would take home in total, Conlan was buoyant:

"In boxing I think the full eight," he said.

There is always plenty of talk of the winning spirit within Irish sporting teams and according to Conlan - it's no myth.

"It's amazing, because everybody pulls together and supports each other, it's really inspiring to see," he said.

"We're all Irish at the end of the day, we'll always stay together, we'll always have fun and be cheering about something."

Avid sports fan got a glimpse of the camaraderie in the camp when Conlan's room-mate, Paddy Barnes sent Rory McIlroy a tweet, mocking the golfer's decision to withdraw from the Games over Zika virus fears.

Barnes sent a photograph of his net- protected bed, telling Rory it all would have been fine.

Belfast boy, Barnes(29)along with Portlaoise's finest, Michael O'Reilly (23) and Westmeath man, Joe Ward(22) are all in the frame to join Taylor and Conlan on the boxing podium.

Meanwhile, hoping to dive his way into Irish folklore will be Oliver Dingley (23) - Ireland's first diving representative in 68 years.

Not since 1948, when Eddie Heron headed to the Olympics in London have we had someone jumping off the board.

Dingley, hailing from Yorkshire in the North of England has firm Irish roots, his grandmother coming from Spike Island in Cork.

Not only does this provide Dingley with the platform to compete in the Olympic Games, but it gives him an immense sense of Cork pride.

He used to root for Ireland in sport when the rest of his school-mates were firmly behind England.

"It's an interesting place (Spike Island). I'm learning every day, I'm always finding out something new and exciting," Dingley said.

"I was always very proud of my Irish heritage growing up, always very proud of the Irish team," he added.

Dingley almost represented Great Britain in 2012 - a lifetime ago, he explains.

Now he's doing his ancestor's country proud.

On their day "anyone of the divers can perform well enough to win a medal", Dingley says.

Irish Independent

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