Not everyone believes in that theory about pooches taking on the personality of their owners, but Denny the Sausage Dog has most certainly taken on Ellen Keane's. When RTÉ dropped in on her family home in Clontarf on Thursday morning, hearts were pumping and nerves were jangling. Except for Denny's. Cool as a breeze, he was, despite having a little green hat strapped to his head.
In fact the only more chilled sight all morning came about half an hour later over in Tokyo when Ellen strolled into the arena for her breaststroke final like she was taking Denny for a walk in the park. And by the time she strolled out, Denny's human had a gold medal around her neck. One word: glorious.
“To those who’ve said I’m the calmest gold medal winner they’ve ever seen,” she tweeted later in the day, “I’m currently sitting in the food hall by myself having a little cry. It’s finally sinking in. Some dreams do come true.”
This one had been a lifetime in the making, as Natalya Coyle reminded us, while laughing at the notion that Ellen is regarded as a veteran: "She's only 26!" But it's half her lifetime ago that we began following her journey, when we saw her compete in Beijing as a 13-year-old. Thirteen, like. The biggest challenge most of us took on at that age was a five-piece jigsaw.
On Wednesday Natalya talked about her own Tokyo experience, when Constantin, that highly unco-operative horse, banjaxed her hopes of medalling. “Sport,” she said, “is filled with massive highs and massive lows – it is what it is, and that’s why we love it.”
Ellen, she told us, had experienced her fair share of highs and lows too, although considerably more highs through her career. But she wouldn’t rest easy, Natalya said, until she won Paralympic gold – that was what all those crack-of-dawn training sessions through the depths of winter were about.
And as someone who regularly trains with Ellen, Natalya was better placed than most to give us an insight to the work she had put in to make Thursday in Tokyo a reality.
An aside: Natalya Coyle needs to be on our tellies eight days a week talking about sport. She’s just an absorbing listen, as is Daráine Mulvihill with her effortless, easy hosting and probing questioning of analysts, that opens up fascinating debates. Like the one she had with London 2012 gold medallist Darragh McDonald, the now retired swimmer, their views on the impact of disability hugely contrasting.
She chuckled heartily, though, when she asked him to explain the different classifications in the Paralympics. “S6 is kind of the middle of the pack, S10 would be a minor impairment, missing a hand or something, S1 would be something more severe,” he said. “That’s what I love about the Paralympic Games,” she laughed. “You say just ‘a minor impairment’ - a missing hand!” No big deal.
Race time. "I told her to imagine Denny waiting for her at the other end of the pool and that would make her swim even faster," Ellen's Ma Laura had told us before, but after the first 50m it was New Zealand's Sophie Pascoe who got to Denny first.
The second 50m? Good Lord. “I have never seen her swim like that in my life,” said Laura. “My God, she was absolutely brilliant.”
That she was, digging to unimaginable depths to produce the swim of her life, a personal best, to hold off Pascoe and get to Denny first. The most golden 50m we’re ever likely to see.
The only sight to top it was footage of Laura and Ellen’s Da Eddie watching the race in their quite splendid shamrock-bedecked rigouts, and jigging and reeling around their livingroom when their girl made herself golden.
Come lunchtime, Denny the Sausage Dog was the proudest pooch in Ireland.
"Will he be aware of the magnitude of his owner's achievement," Eamon Horan asked Ellen. She hoped so. You could just picture him in the dog park later in the day, maybe having a chat with a Miniature Schnauzer.
“What did your human get up to this morning?”
“Ah, not much, apart from winning gold – like you do.”