Heroes’ welcome for group that beat all expectations

Preparations are under way to welcome back an Irish Paralympic team that raised the bar of expectation here and across the sporting world.

As the two-week Paralympics ended last night it saw the London summer games, which will forever be etched in the country’s sporting psyche, quench its flame for a final time.

The Irish team attended the ceremony in celebratory mood after finishing an incredible 19th on the medal table despite having a team of just 49 competitors.

These athletes will land in Dublin Airport this evening with the added weight of 16 medals and a host of new world records.

Similar to the international acclaim earned by Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor, the team produced some of the stars of the games.

The sensational Jason Smyth won our final medal with his second sprint gold of this games, his third world record of the week, and a distance between him and his nearest challenger.

Michael McKillop was one of only two athletes selected by the Paralympics sponsor, P&G, to receive the Whang Youn Dai award to recognise his commitment to the movement beyond his exploits on the track.

The middle distance runner, who has cerebral palsy, blitzed the competition in the 800m and 1,500m T37 events at the London track but received his additional medal for his work helping young school children.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny led the tributes to the team. “The team’s phenomenal performance has made the whole country proud and inspired the nation,” he said.

“I wish the athletes a well deserved chance to rest and spend time with their families after their extraordinary achievements.”

However, his comments came as his Government came under fire for failing to send a Cabinet member to represent the country at last night’s closing ceremony.

The Government was instead represented by the ambassador to London, Bobby McDonagh.

As the team celebrated to the sounds of Coldplay in London’s East End, planning had already begun for the next Games in Brazil.

Chief executive of Paralympics Ireland Liam Harbison said it would be holding an open day to entice people to consider training for the next Games to replenish the squad.

“The challenge now is to move it on from here and how we do that. The first thing is to try and identify new talent. We will have a spate of retirements, as we always do, and we will have to look at the structure of our own organisation and move with the times,” he said.

Junior sports minister Michael Ring will be at Dublin Airport this evening when the plane carrying the team arrives at about 7pm.

This will be followed by a homecoming reception.

The Government avoided last month’s controversy by arranging for an official reception for the team. This will take place on Friday, ahead of a separate event with President Michael D Higgins next Monday.

* Read more:

‘This must be Ireland’s greatest ever team’

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