Special Olympians fly out to Los Angeles Games determined to do country proud
They haven't run a metre or kicked a football yet, but already Team Ireland have been made feel like winners as they departed for the Special Olympic World Games.
The squad of 88 athletes and 40 coaches has left Ireland with dreams of bringing home gold and maybe meeting some celebrities in Los Angeles.
Ever since Ireland hosted the games in 2003, Irish people have had a strong affinity with the Special Olympics and the team want to do us proud.
Thomas Caufield (23) from Ballyfermot in Dublin, said he had been training twice every day in preparation and couldn't wait to get started.
"Our first match is on Saturday, we don't know who we're against yet but we hope to come back with medals around our necks," said the right-back.
The team will be in good company for the opening ceremony in the LA Coliseum on Saturday alongside 7,000 competitors from all over the world.
Ireland will be led out by John Treacy, who won a silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, actor Colin Farrell and Claudine Keane.
Matt English, CEO Special Olympics Ireland, said: "Each of these athletes has shown great motivation, discipline and tremendous skill in getting this far and it is worthy of real celebration.
"They are all winners and it is a truly remarkable achievement for all our athletes, their coaches, their families and Special Olympics volunteers."
Aer Lingus has flown the team to LA on a courtesy flight and they will hosted by the town of Downey.
Californian town lays out red carpet
Team Ireland can expect a huge welcome when they arrive in their Californian host town of Downey.
The local newspaper, The Downey Patriot, ran a frontpage yesterday emblazoned with the images of 130 Irish athletes and coaches.
The newspaper’s editor, Eric Pierce, described the coverage as a “no-brainer.”
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for us. It’s something that is never going to happen in Downey ever again, so we wanted to go all out and make sure all the athletes feel welcome during their time here,” he told the Irish Independent.
The city of 110,000 inhabitants was founded by John Gately Downey from Roscommon. In 1860, he became the only foreign governor of California until Arnold Schwarzenegger.