McDonagh aiming to trade silver for gold this time


PARALYMPICS AND OLYMPICS:BEIJING SILVER medallist Darragh McDonald sought to put perspective on his pool achievements of four years ago.

“I was only a boy back in Beijing,” said the 17-year-old Paralympian swimmer from under a mop of curls.

Strictly speaking he still is a boy but the 14-year-old from China 2008 has become the competition- hardened teenager with high hopes for London 2012.

“I was happy with silver but I’m a perfectionist and I want to win gold,” he continued.

Four years older and a lot wiser, McDonald will be part of an Irish team of 40 or so athletes to travel to the Paralympics from August 29th to September 10th. That number would have exceeded 50 but the football team didn’t qualify this time and the target was revised.

Despite that they go with greater confidence that they will bring home medals than the Olympic athletes do and in eight events the Irish Paralympic team will have the world champion competing. This summer’s target is five medals, three of them gold.

McDonald is one of the podium probables, with former Westmeath footballer Mark Rohan another, along with world record sprinter Jason Smyth, who remains in Florida training with the Tyson Gay camp. Hoping to qualify for both the Olympics and Paralympics in the 100 metres, Smyth is currently four one hundredths of a second off the Olympic qualifying time.

For Irish fans, the chance to watch live coverage of the Paralympics has increased as Setanta Sports have agreed to screen the event live and for free. Normally pay-for- view, Setanta will decrypt the Ireland channel for the entire Paralympics fortnight, with much of their focus falling on the Irish competitors. All viewers with Sky will have free access, whether they are a subscriber or not.

What the organisers hope to show is the savagely competitive nature of the Games. Anxious that the athletes be judged purely on their performance and not on their disability, misconceptions about them sparing themselves or each other once they cross the start line are unwelcome.

Rohan competes in the hand-cycle event. After a road accident on the way to a soccer match in 2001 left him paralysed from the chest down, he took up the hand-cycle, a race over 45 kilometres. This summer’s event, a road race and a time trial, takes place in motor racing’s Brands Hatch.

“In 2007, I bought the hand-cycle to cross train. There was something special about it, the motion,” says Rohan. “It’s hard to explain but confined to a chair, it’s a sense of freedom.

“I love the sense of speed of it and I kind of thrive on that competitive element. It’s dog eat dog. The road race is a hustle and bustle race and that’s why I love the event.”

Ireland had one bike competing in 2000, five in 2008 and hope to have seven going to London 2012.

It’s a far cry from the days when Boccia champion Johnny Cronin, one of the most charismatic athletes in the country, used a piece of Wavin pipe for his ramp (the chute down which he rolls the Boccia ball).

Rohan’s sponsored bike costs in the region of €11,000 and he travels to London as the current hand-bike world champion.

He and boxer Katie Taylor were the two Irish athletes chosen for a Sky scholarship deal last July. But Rohan will never forget what life was like before his accident for good reason. “No,” he says, “because I’m still based at home involved in the GAA and soccer and things like that. I’m at home on the farm as well. Very hard to forget where you’re from or where you have been when you get the smell of cow shit in the morning.”

Kearney makes history in qualifying in Judo for London

LISA KEARNEY made history in becoming the first Irish female athlete to qualify in judo for an Olympic Games. Pending confirmation next week, the Belfast 22-year-old will be officially qualified for London 2012. Kearney, who has taken part in a two-year-long qualification process, secured her place at the European Championships in Chelyabinsk. While she lost in the second round to Olympic champion Alina Dumitru, her two main rivals were both defeated, ending their opportunity to overtake her in the rankings.

In shooting, Derek Burnett also qualified in the clay pigeon event. The most experienced member of the Irish team, it will be his fourth Olympic Games, having also taken part in the Sydney, Athens and Beijing shooting events. In Athens he came ninth, his best placing, with 119 points. Specialising in the trap, the 41-year-old just missed out on a place in the top six, which would have put him into the final round of the competition.