Medal marvels: Paralympians return with record haul
TEARS, HUGS, singing, screams, signs and a sea of green greeted the Irish Paralympic team arriving into Dublin Airport's arrivals hall after 9pm last night. Hundreds of family, friends and supporters thronged the building.
From grandfathers in leprechaun hats to mammies in green Viking hats and babies in shamrock socks, the combined generations nearly raised the airport roof as 48 of the athletes - with an unprecedented medal haul of 16 medals, three world records, seven Paralympic records and 17 national records - paraded into the arrivals area led by a piper.
Double gold medallist Mark Rohan was "almost speechless" and "blown away" by the attention and support on the team's arrival.
"This is crazy - I never expected this. It's just great to be home, to share the whole experience with everybody," he said. His best moment was to seeing "the look of sheer delight and pride on people's faces" when on the podium.
Liam Harbison, Ireland's Paralympic chef-de-mission said it was an "amazing journey" and described the team as the "greatest Irish sporting success story ever".
Double gold winning Derry sprinter Jason Smyth appeared focused on Rio 2016. With his December wedding to fiancée Elise Jordan ahead, he had "a lot of thinking and decisions" to make, he said.
Also focused on Rio but looking forward to "golf and shopping" was Michael McKillop (22), who won gold in the 800m and 500m.
The Antrim native, who was awarded the Whang Youn Dai achievement award, said it showed the value in teaching "able-bodied kids in primary schools that paralympic sport is elite . . . It doesn't matter if you have a disability or don't: everybody wants to win a gold medal, that's what I've brought back to Ireland."
Equestrian winner Helen Kearney said she was going to take it easy when she got home to Dunlavin and thought the team bronze was a "real testament to how far equestrian dressage had come" in Ireland.
Silver medallist in discus Catherine O'Neill couldn't wait to see her seven-year-old son Calum after a five-week separation. Her medal was a "dream come true" and it had been "very emotional" to see the Irish flag raised.
Proudly holding his gold medal, swimmer Darragh McDonald (18) was greeted by a large crowd from his school in Gorey. He thought Paralympics was received even better by the public than the Olympics because of the back-stories that every athlete had.
Last night, supporters cheered for the achievements of medal-winners and those who did not win alike. Among them was, Ireland's youngest paralympian, Heather Jameson (15), who achieved two personal bests and showed her potential for Rio, her proud father said.
Looking towards Rio was Minister of State for Sport Michael Ring, who said the team had "lifted the county". He looked forward to their next games.