Community Games competitors strive for excellence in Athlone

Athletes gather for national competitions that span the world of sport and beyond

Aoibhe Deely from Co Galway in the Girls U14 80m Hurdles at the weekend. Photograph: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Aoibhe Deely from Co Galway in the Girls U14 80m Hurdles at the weekend. Photograph: Seb Daly/Sportsfile


Hay bales and yard brushes were not used to clear up the odd torrential downpour that hit the Olympic Games in Rio but they did the trick at Athlone Institute of Technology during the Community Games finals.

Athletes gathered at the midlands venue over the weekend for national competitions that spanned the world of sport and beyond – including athletics, art, basketball, dance, rounders and judo.

There were smiles and tears, heroics and consoling hugs as competitors from across Ireland proudly donned their county colours.

Keelan Kilrehill (15), from Dromore West, Co Sligo, took gold in the marathon (7km) after overcoming a serious injury sustained just two days before last year’s race. He fell off his bicycle, broke a vertebrae and fractured a bone in his neck, which resulted in him having three pins placed in his back.

At one stage his running days appeared to be over so his parents Brendan and Ann and sisters Shauna and Lisa were delighted to have a chance to cheer him on yesterday.

“Our fear last year was that he would never walk again. That was in the back of our minds,” said Brendan.

‘Toughest race’

Keelan, who hopes to compete in an Olympic marathon in future, said: “It was probably the toughest race I have ever run”.

Iarlaith Golden (13), from Balla, Co Mayo, won the under-14 80m hurdles – a source of delight for him and his family having had an 18-month lay-off with a knee injury.

“Sitting on the sideline for 18 months wasn’t enjoyable,” he said. “I never thought I would be here this year, but it’s great to just be back.”

Iarlaith said the performance last week of 400m hurdler Thomas Barr, who was narrowly pipped to a medal in Rio after overcoming a major injury, was a source of inspiration. “Everyone wants to do what he did,” he said.

Mary Hanlon, from Dangan in Offaly, saw her daughter Orla reach the semi-finals of the under-10 200m. She said the Community Games were about much more than winning and losing.

“It is great for children to meet others, get involved in the community and try something different. It’s not about winning,” Ms Hanlon said.

‘Super proud’

Edel Byrne, from Gorey, Co Wexford, saw her daughter Saidhbhe (11) lose out in the semi-final of the under-12 100m race but was “super proud”.

“Community Games is great. It brings everyone together. We said to her, ‘Do your best and see what happens’,” she said.

While the games are very much about the 7,000 athletes, their families and trainers, the event couldn’t go ahead without the hundreds of volunteers, who range in age from 16 to 80.

Tanya Kelly, from Riverstown, Co Sligo, has lent a hand since she was a child as her parents were both involved in the games for decades.

“You get stuck in and you do what you have to do,” she said. “It’s about the camaraderie and the friendships. I have made lifelong friends here. It’s a little bit of giving back.”

Community Games chief executive John Byrne said participants in the competitions were focused on their events but many were also paying close attention to matters surrounding the Irish Olympic ticket saga in Rio.

“It’s unfortunate those events have overshadowed the success of the O’Donovans, Annalise Murphy and some of the other outstanding performances,” he said.