With all eyes on our rugby heroes as the World Cup draws near, Arlene Harris meets other sportsmen and women who fly the flag for Ireland but remain relatively unknown
Playing for your country is undoubtedly the highest achievement for any athlete but there are many sportspeople who make enormous sacrifices as part of an Irish team but receive little or no kudos as their sports are considered minority.
In the water, on the pitch or in the court, these people are the best in their field but because they play a less popular game, their success often remains unknown.
We met with four such athletes and asked them what motivates them and how they feel about their fellow boys in green as they face into the 2015 Rugby World Cup:
Alan O’Brien is a triathlete and represented Ireland for the first time at the European Championships earlier this year. Working in Shannon for an automation company, he has just left for Chicago for the World Championships and says nothing beats the thrill of participating at international level.
“Representing my country was always something I wanted to do.
I took part in my first sprint distance triathlon in April 2013 and was instantly hooked. Then I competed in a couple more races that year, before realising that consistency is key in endurance sports so I joined GoTri Triathlon Club with Stephan Teeling-Lynch as my coach and began training up to 18 hours a week.
“This July I finally put on the green and black Irish tri suit at the European Championships in Geneva. I was never so proud and looking down and seeing IRL and my name on my suit gave me goose bumps.
“I’m off to compete at the World Championships in the windy city of Chicago this Saturday and I’m sure there’ll be a large contingent of Irish athletes and supporters over there too. I love the way everyone gets behind the Irish team during events like the Rugby World Cup – provincial rivalry goes out the window. And I think as triathlon becomes more popular and more people take up the sport, this support will follow. I’d like to see more Irish triathletes compete at the highest level on the ITU stage as I think this gets the younger generations interested.”
Garda Senan Dormer from Limerick is a member of the Irish softball team. He travels to Dublin every week to train and says he would love to see more recognition for his own sport.
“Softball isn’t really a big deal in Ireland – our native sports are the main ones followed by soccer and rugby and we also have a proud tradition in athletics. So softball is seen mainly as a recreational sport. I have been playing since 2003 and during the season I train most weekends as the games are played midweek. When I was growing up in Clarecastle, Co Clare, rounders was one of the main games we played in my village. It is widely believed that Irish immigrants took rounders with them to America and from this baseball was developed. Softball then came from baseball as a recreational sport.
I played for Ireland in the European co-ed’ slow pitch championships in 2013 in Paradubice in the Czech Republic – we finished 4th and it was a really great experience to represent my country. This year I also took over as manager of the national team and we competed in the European championships in Dupnicia in Bulgaria where we won the bronze medal. Our final tournament of the year is next weekend in London. But I hope to be the manager again for the next European championships. There really is no better feeling than putting on the green and white jersey. So in relation to events like the rugby World Cup- I will be one of those people who are right behind the team. But I would love to see more support for the wonderful game of softball so we can grow our sport and get more players and teams into the future.”
Niamh Murphy is the Irish netball captain. Living in Wicklow with her husband Ross, she works as a physiotherapist in the Mater hospital and when she is not busy commuting, also trains and competes with the squad. She has been representing Ireland for the past 10 years and says nothing makes her more proud than togging out in green.
“I play in the Leinster league and train once a week with my league team St Anne’s in Ballinteer and I also train for the Irish team five days a week.
I have represented Ireland across the UK, Singapore, Malta and Gibraltar as well at tournaments hosted in Ireland. The next major tournament is the European Championships in England next May.
“I’m very proud to have represented my country for over a decade; it’s not something I ever take for granted as not many people get the chance to pull on the green jersey. It’s also a great opportunity to travel, meet new people and play the sport I love. We have a great team spirit across the squad and I’ve made friends who will last a lifetime. I’m a huge sports fan and supporter of all of Ireland’s national teams. It’s fantastic when the nation gets behind any of our teams at global events.
I can appreciate how much athletes have to sacrifice and they deserve all of the recognition and support that they get. I’ll be in Cardiff cheering on the rugby team in a few weeks.
Netball is a growing sport in Ireland, however in other countries like the UK and Australia it is a semi-professional and a televised sport and we aspire to get to that level in Ireland some day. We are in the process of getting recognised by the Irish Sports Council which hopefully will increase exposure and funding.”
Chloe Magee from Donegal has been playing badminton since she was a child and has been a member of the Irish badminton team since she was 17, representing the country at European and Olympic level. While she often feels disappointed that her sport doesn’t get much coverage in the media, she will be cheering on the rugby team in the World Cup.
“I started playing badminton when I was about 4 or 5 and have represented the Irish senior badminton team since I was 17 – including two Olympic Games (Beijing 2008 and London 2012) and in the First European Games in Baku 2015.
“That feeling of being chosen to play for Ireland is something that is always, and will always be, very special to me.
“I am a sports fanatic and love when big events like the Rugby World Cup are on – because the feeling of everyone getting behind our team is amazing. It’s sometimes disappointing that badminton doesn’t get as much coverage but I really believe if people saw the game live they would love it – because with the speed and technical level required it is a very exciting sport. When we travel in Asia to tournaments and you see the fans going crazy for their players, it’s quite sad that Europe can’t be the same but it’s getting bigger each year.
“Like anything, the more people see of a sport, the more inclined they are to follow it. .”
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