Our high-flying sporting heroes land in Dublin

Tue, Aug 14, 2012, 01:00

FAMILY, FRIENDS, ground staff and a mass of media turned out yesterday afternoon to greet the most successful Irish Olympic team since 1956 as they touched down at Dublin airport.

A Tricolour hanging from the cockpit window of the Aer Lingus Airbus St Aidan was the first sign that Team Ireland had landed. As the aircraft slowly rolled to a halt, a cheer went up from the tarmac when gold medallist Katie Taylor appeared at the cockpit window, smiling and waving to the crowd.

There was a brief delay while lesser mortals left from the rear of the aircraft. Then the team appeared at the front door and descended the steps, led by medal winners Taylor, John Joe Nevin, Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan and Cian O’Connor. Along with the media snapping the sporting heroes, airport staff in yellow bibs had gathered with their camera phones, eager to capture the moment.

The athletes were led to a private reception in Pier E, where they were greeted by the rousing playing of the Airport Police Fire Service Band.

The medal winners, along with Rob Heffernan and Annalise Murphy, who finished fourth in their events, sat by the podium while speeches were made. The rest of the athletes sat in reserved seating, their families and invited guests behind them.

Among those in attendance were John Treacy, chief executive of the Irish Sports Council, Lord Mayor of Dublin Naoise Ó Muirí and his Fingal County Council counterpart, Cian O’Callaghan.

Andrew Staunton, deputy head of mission at the British embassy in Dublin, was also present, along with former Olympic competitors and officials from the Olympic Council of Ireland.

Council president Pat Hickey praised the athletes and Britain for “putting on an outstanding Games”. He gave his personal thanks to chef de mission Sonia O’Sullivan.

“It was wonderful to have her experience in the Olympic Village,” he said.

An emotional O’Sullivan thanked the athletes, coaches and medical and support staff.

“The commitment by each member of this team must be remembered and acknowledged,” she said.

Many of the athletes would be back to fulfil their Olympic dreams in four years’ time.

“On behalf of the team I would like to acknowledge the overwhelming support we all felt from the Irish people here and abroad,” she added.

Minister of State for Sport Michael Ring said the State had never sent a better-prepared team. “You lifted the souls, the minds and the hearts of the people of Ireland and they are delighted to see you all home doing us all so proud.”

He also praised the parents and families of the athletes.

“I as Minister for Sport have a job to go in and negotiate for funding every year . . . any Government Minister, whether he is in finance or any other department, cannot but give me more money now after the success we’ve had,” he said.

Before being escorted on to coaches, the athletes spoke on an informal basis to the media.

John Joe Nevin said he did not realise what great support he had until he spoke to his father. “My father was telling me the town at home was amazing, really brilliant,” he said.

He was looking forward to getting back there.

A tired Katie Taylor said she had not expected such a reception. “I’m a bit overwhelmed by it all really,” she said.

Having not slept much, she said she might nap on the bus to Bray.

“I didn’t sleep too well over the last few days, just being wound up with the excitement.”

She was looking forward to a rest and to seeing her family and friends. She thanked God for her success and for “the most incredible two weeks” of her life.

Her father and coach, Peter Taylor, spoke of his pride in his daughter and said she would be supported in whatever decision she made about her future. But she had not surpassed his expectations.

“I always knew,” he said.