Special Olympics: ‘All I can say is bring on the next games’

It was apt that on Father’s Day, Pat McConnon could boast to being the proudest Dad in the land.

Special Olympics: ‘All I can say is bring on the next games’

His son Niall, at the age of 33, ran to glory at the Special Olympic Ireland Games, winning his first ever gold medal, nearly 25 years after medical experts said he would never walk properly, not to mind run.

Dedication to long hours training on the track paid off for Niall who won gold in the 400m and silver in the 3,000m.

“I am looking forward to a big meal at the Chinese restaurant. My favourite is sweet and sour chicken,” said Niall who was headed back to Slane, Co Meath for a hero’s welcome.

His delighted father, Pat said: “We’re over the moon and there will be celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic as our daughter, Fiona, who is married in Boston, has been on to congratulate Niall.

“I’d say he’ll be made a Freeman of Slane. Niall has worked and trained so hard down the years. He has great determination and is great to listen. I devised special drills for him.

“Athletics have been great for Niall as it’s very good to get him included in things, very good socially and for his morale. My wife and I are so proud of him.”

Tears and laughter flavoured the closing ceremony at the University of Limerick campus. Some left garlanded with medals. But everybody went home, enriched and uplifted by an experience which was the essence of that great Irish spirit.

Special Olympics CEO Matt English said: “It’s been a festival here. It’s been a festival of sport. It’s been a festival of celebration. It was outstanding and brilliant in every way, from the very start, with the torch run through the region before the games opening on Thursday night.”

The people of Limerick came out in great numbers to welcome the 1,500 athletes, he said, praising the commitment of the athletes and the work of the 3,000 volunteers.

Garda Sgt Michelle Moloney brought smiles to young faces with her fun arrest routine. She got some of the athletes to use her handcuffs to subdue rugby great, Keith Woods, one of the games ambassadors.

Sgt Moloney, a native of Kilmallock, Co Limerick, said: “The atmosphere over the past few days has been electric. The whole place is buzzing. People should be tired, but it’s electric.

“I have found it a very humbling experience and it’s great that our bosses in the force have encouraged us to get involved. I was one of the group who took part in the torch run around the region in the days leading up to the games and we really enjoyed it. All I can say is ‘Bring on the next games’.”

Sean Williams, 26, from Clonsilla in Dublin proudly showed off the gold he got for the 25m wheelchair race.

His aunt, Maura Penston, said: “We are having a super time and Sean is very chuffed and on top of the world with his gold medal. It has been a very uplifting experience to be here.”

Volunteer Martin Moore, from Co Waterford, said: “It has been a privilege to be here as a volunteer.”

Most of Limerick’s 2,000 hotel bedrooms were booked out for the weekend.

Hotelier, Sean Lally of The Strand Hotel said: “We estimate the Special Olympics was worth more than €10m to the local economy.

“But more importantly, Limerick was able to give a huge lift to these wonderful athletes and their families.”

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