Ireland’s 49-strong Paralympic team will take to London’s packed arenas this week and next with good luck messages from luminaries such as Katie Taylor, Colin Farrell and the Munster Rugby team ringing in their ears.
Every Irish competitor was provided with a handbook to record their experiences over the course of the next 10 days and within it lay a plethora of best wishes from “everyone who is anyone back home”, according to a Paralympics Ireland spokesperson.
The entire team arrived here in dribs and drabs this week, most of them from a pre-Games training camp in Comibra in Portugal, and there have been no reported last-minute aches, strains or bugs, apart from swimmer James Scully who has overcome a mild illness.
So, it is all systems go for a team that has travelled with much confidence and most of whom paraded through the Olympic Stadium late last night after this city offered up yet another ceremony that was odd and yet exceptional.
Ireland’s Olympians brought back five medals from the British capital earlier this month — Taylor’s gold in boxing among them — and the target for their Paralympic colleagues is much the same, as London prepares to party again.
However, with a number of world champions and a selection of others holding realistic chances of making it to the podium in their chosen pursuits, one Irish bookmaker has already offered odds on the green team returning with a double-digit medal haul. That is not beyond the bounds of reason.
Drogheda’s Eilish Byrne will kickstart the Irish challenge when she appears in the equestrian Team Test at Greenwich Park some time after 9am this morning and members of the cycling, swimming and table tennis parties following suit.
The exploits of Taylor and others, Irish or otherwise, in the Olympics has primed Team Ireland, according to Scully, who will compete in the 50m freestyle S5 heats at the Aquatic Centre at 11.35am this morning.
“Even watching the swimming, it really brought it home for us that it was getting really close,” said Scully whose favoured event, the 200m freestyle, follows on Saturday. “Things like how big the venue actually is.
“It looks big enough in pictures but then when you see it full, it is even bigger and it is good to see the performances coming out of the Olympics. It is inspirational, I suppose. They are some of your heroes, those Olympians.”
Ireland’s Olympic team had to wait 13 days before it was officially listed on the Games medal tables thanks to Cian O’Connor’s bronze in the individual jumping event at Greenwich Park but the wait should not be so long this time.
Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop will both carry Paralympic gold medals, world records and tags of favouritism onto the Olympic Park track on Saturday evening but Ireland may well get off the mark as early as this evening.
The paracycling tandem pair of James Brown and Damien Shaw go in the individual pursuit qualifiers at the velodrome this morning and will be expected to emerge successfully from that and into a final, where they may just sneak a top-three finish. If not, fear not, the medals will come. Either way, prepare to be impressed.
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