TV View: It’s time to acknowledge devout Irish mammies for Olympic success

Candles lighting for Kellie Harrington as she forges ahead with medal already in the bag

Kellie Harrington: ‘The support that I’m getting from the community back home... I’ve heard that it’s lit.’ Photograph: John Cowpland/INPHO/Photosport

Kellie Harrington: ‘The support that I’m getting from the community back home... I’ve heard that it’s lit.’ Photograph: John Cowpland/INPHO/Photosport

 

When Ken Doherty won the snooker world championship back in the day, his mam Rose spent the night of the final “lighting so many candles she could have burnt five or six churches down”, as he told us.

Nearly 25 years on Eleanor Casey and Mary Hegarty, mothers of rowers Aoife and Emily, respectively, were lighting candles ahead of their daughters’ Olympic appearances, and they both ended up with a medal.

And when Kellie Harrington entered the ring in the wee Irish hours to take on Algeria’s Imane Khelif, her mam Yvonne was, she told Virgin Media News, “upstairs praying”.

We can give all the credit we want to the ability and resolve of our sporting greats, we can salute their mentors and their coaches, doff our caps to the clubs where their skills were honed, hail their psychologists and nutritionists and strength and conditioning people, but maybe it’s time to acknowledge the chief driving force behind their success: devout Irish mammies.

Yvonne’s pride in her daughter knew no bounds when she and her husband, Christy, did their chats after Kellie secured at least a bronze with her win over Algeria’s Imane Khelif, bleary-eyed as they might have been. “It was like when we were kids getting up to watch Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, ” as Christy told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

From sparring with shadows in a neighbour’s shed, because her local boxing club didn’t allow girls to join, to this, it’s been a journey like few others. Back when she won silver at the 2016 world championships, she talked about her wonder at even reaching the final when, as she put it, she was a “nobody”.

A ‘somebody’

She was already a considerable ‘somebody’ before Tokyo, but her joy at having “a bronze medal in my bag” was a very, very lovely thing. “She’s so relatable, she’s a beautiful, beautiful girl, so genuine, so honest,” said Kenneth Egan on RTÉ. That she is. Need it be said, you’d have wanted every 2020 Irish Olympian to come home with a medal of one colour or another in their bag, but Harrington’s success is especially sweet.

Tokyo 2020

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A year ago, when the sporting world ground to a halt, she was working as a cleaner in the newly opened Covid isolation ward in St Vincent’s Hospital in Fairview, and when she was off duty, she busied herself by entertaining the patients and staff with her shadow boxing to sundry tunes and getting involved in a campaign to help people deal with both the physical and mental impacts of the Covid-19 crisis. There can’t be too many 2020 Olympians who whiled away their lockdown hours in a similar fashion.

And now this, an Olympic medallist.

“I’m overwhelmed with emotion at the moment, sometimes you just think of getting here, I never think of getting medals or anything,” she said to RTÉ’s Joe Stack. “Sometimes I think I’m lucky. But I can’t be that lucky to be winning all these things and end up here, and have a bronze medal in my bag from the Olympic Games.”

“The support that I’m getting from the community back home... I’ve heard that it’s lit. I’m just so happy about this... to be able to give them something to be happy about, to sing and dance... I’m just one person lifting a little bit of a nation.”

“Hakuna Matata,” she said, “it means no worries for the rest of your days – that’s what I say, and that’s what the Lion King says.”

Fail

Until Kellie’s bout, the most unfortunate 2020 Olympic fail appeared to belong to Canadian diver Pamela Ware who scored a 0.0 in the 3m springboard competition when her approach experienced a malfunction and she entered the pool like a dart. Only the wrong way around.

But Khelif sticking her tongue out at Kellie and making odd sounds might have topped that 0.0 in the fail department. Don’t make Kellie mad, like.

“She was making mad grunting noises, like ‘whooooooooh’, and I was like, ‘oh my God, what is this?’ And she was smiling at me and sticking out her tongue. I was just smiling back, as if to say, ‘look, it’s all fun and games until my hand gets lifted’.”

And so it was.

Egan and Eric Donovan were chuffed. “I’m delighted for her parents, I’m delighted for Portland Row, I’m delighted for Kellie,” said Eric. “Medal secured, now it’s about changing the colour. There was a lot of pressure on Kellie to bring home a medal, now that she has it she can express herself more freely and just go for it.”

Candles lighting, go on Kellie, you good thing. But whatever happens, no worries for the rest of your days.

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