Golden welcome for Paralympic team

A TRIUMPHANT Irish Paralympic team received a rapturous reception at Dublin Airport yesterday when they came home with three silver medals and one bronze.

The team was led out by the four medallists; Derek Malone from Whitegate, Co Clare, David Malone from Dublin, Conall McNamara from Mayo and John McCarthy from Cork.

It was a special day for one of the athletes, who saw his newborn son for the first time.

Ian Mahon from Cloughan, Co Offaly, competed in the cycling event while his wife Barbara gave birth to their son Cathal.

“It was a bit hard to concentrate on the event when this had happened. But it’s absolutely fantastic and well worth the wait,” he said.

The Paralympic team were handed bouquets of flowers and greeted by celebrities such as former Republic of Ireland striker Niall Quinn and Olympic rower Sam Lynch.

The Paralympic Council technical director Neil Harbison said he was delighted with the team’s performance.

“We have to be happy.

“We really had six medal chances and we got four of them. We also had seven or eight personal bests and a world record.”

He said the Paralympic Council would be putting its four-year plan for the Beijing Olympics in place next January.

“It’s something we have to do because the rise in standards from the Paralympics in Sydney to the Paralympics in Athens was phenomenal.”

The Paralympic team received €500,000 from the Irish Sports Council, which allowed them to bring the team to training camps around the country and twice to Cyprus.

The Paralympic team will be given an official reception in Arás an Uachtaráin next Tuesday by President Mary McAleese.

Noel Brennan from Tullamore, Co Offaly, who was involved with the preparation of the team, said the athletes were all proud of their achievements.

“One thing they don’t like is the condescending air. They are athletes with disabilities, not disabled athletes. They train as hard as anyone and most of them even took time off work for their training.”

The athletes were met at the airport by their delighted families, which included Ann and Dermot Malone from Whitegate in Co Clare. Their 24-year-old son Derek won a bronze medal in the 800m race.

Ann Malone said: “I was in Athens for the Games and just came home yesterday. It was brilliant to be out there and to see them work so hard.”

Her husband Dermot said he had always encouraged his son, who has a mild version of cerebral palsy, to take up running.

Derek Malone also achieved seventh place in the 400m final, two seconds ahead of his personal best.

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