Ireland’s Olympic stars soak it all in again at homecoming

Tokyo medalists have the chance to revisit their heroics at Dublin Castle on Friday

Show us the medals...

Which, invariably, is the first and last question any Irish Olympic homecoming event in Dublin may or may not end up asking. Perhaps even more so in the here and now, two and a half months after Tokyo 2020 (or 2021), as opposed to after Rio 2016.

Which is what also made the Tokyo homecoming event at Dublin Castle on Friday afternoon so unique and special, maybe a little more than two months since – all about the here and the now, and also about what may come in Paris 2024.

Ireland qualified and were represented by an unprecedented number of athletes for Tokyo, from 19 different sports to be exact, and 116 athletes in all, and in recognising that achievement, president of the Olympic Federation of Ireland Sarah Keane said:"These Olympics were not just about the performances but also about the experiences and an important part of that is the opportunity to welcome our Olympians home to Ireland after the Games itself.


“This is the first proper opportunity we’ve had to do this, and we’re delighted to officially recognise and honour the achievements of our 2020 Olympians, especially on the back of what has been a challenging year for everyone.”


Keane added: “It was almost miraculous that Tokyo took place this year, and Team Ireland members really were inspirational and filled the nation with pride. We are incredibly proud of all our Olympians, who all gave it their all and represented their country so well both away from and in their competition venues.”

As for those medal winners, rowing first, what Eimear Lambe said was this: “It is times when you are sitting here and it kind of hits you, like these kind of events.

“We are all around each other. We are a high performing group of people. You are always kind of comparing yourself against the next person – and there is always someone who is a bit ahead of you.

“It isn’t until you go to events like these, when it hits home and you can see the magnitude of what you achieved and what it meant to a lot of people. The main thing is when you realise what it meant to the people around you.”

For Emily Hegarty, her team-mate in that women's four crew who won bronze medals – a first not just for Irish rowing, but for the Irish team in Tokyo – that beautiful sinking-in feeling is still part of every waking day.

“Getting the slog of normal life you wouldn’t even realise it (the Olympic success),” says Hegarty, “and then when you meet someone new and they are like taken aback by it. It’s unreal and then you are kinda like actually ‘this is a big deal’. Over the summer everything was going on, it was so hectic. Looking back now it was really cool.

“It was incredible to see the amount of people who came out who had been supporting you and you wouldn’t even realise had got up in the middle of the night and they would never have taken too much heed of rowing and you won’t realise thet were following you. That’s one thing that hit home – the number of people that were supporting us the whole way along.”

And with that Lambe adds: “When I think back on it, it was such an outer body experience. Like I remember at the start (of the Olympic final) we were down straight away and I remember the only thing I thought of was my Mam and Dad watching it at home. I was thinking ‘Oh no’ and then I was thinking ‘the race isn’t over – keep going’.

“I am trying to really appreciate the journey since. I think the race itself we probably didn’t perform to our best but the result is more than we dreamed was ever going to be possible so it was a weird mix of emotions afterwards. We felt we could have done better in the performance but [with] the result like there was nothing not to be happy about.

“It’s hard not to think about it, Paris [2024]. It is the first question everyone asks. I was home from Tokyo about three hours when I was asked about Paris. It is in the back of our minds but because it is two and a half years away we have to enjoy this moment. We worked five years to get to Tokyo and to move on to the next thing so quickly would be a shame. We need to take a step back and appreciate it.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics