“There's definitely some future superstars there”

By Stephen Leonard

CANOEING Ireland’s new Canoe Sprint Development Coach, Jon Simmons is confident Ireland will soon boast a new batch of young competitors pushing for Olympic qualification.

The fiancé of Ireland’s top female kayaker, Jenny Egan from Lucan, Simmons has played his part in developing a strong junior section at Salmon Leap Canoe Club since his appointment as Head Coach there back in 2014.

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Canoe Ireland Sprint Development Coach Jon Simmons with his fiancé and Ireland’s top female canoeist Jenny Egan

Now hoping to replicate that same growth and development nationwide, Simmons, who finished seventh in the 2012 World Championships and fourth in the Europeans the following year in the K2 division, is confident his new role can help provide him with the means to achieving just that.

“I've been at Salmon Leap since 2014” Simmons told The Echo. “Since then the junior scene has developed hugely. So we've got over a hundred junior members now at Salmon Leap, so it's a big thing, it's a big deal.

“When I first started I think we only had about 16 athletes and now it’s grown up to what we have now.

“But it's not just happen-ed through myself, it's happened because of the club committee and  Jenny has been a great ambassador for our sport.

“The new committee at Salmon Leap are absolutely brilliant. COVID has been a really hard time. I have goals for every single level, from Jenny competing at the very top level and aiming for Tokyo down to athletes just getting into the boat.

“In Ireland we're doing really well, producing great athletes within the sport.

“It's not just down to myself or Jenny. It's the committee and it's Canoeing Ireland, the hard work they're putting in to really make this happen.

“Canoeing Ireland have been so good. Our CEO Moira Aston has been fantastic and Jon Mackey, the High Performance Director, he's been absolutely fantastic too.”

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Head Coach Jon Simmons overseeing a training session

This combined effort, Simmons believes, will bring about an influx of more young competitors into the sport, many of them capable of competing at international level.

“There are some athletes  that are currently around 14-16 years old and they're definitely going to be the stars for Ireland in the future. Hopefully, with the new role that I've got, within the next year, when we can start travelling again, we'll start finding more of those stars.

“That's one of my roles as well. It's not just about expanding the numbers, it's also about finding the next Olympic hopefuls as well.

“There's nothing wrong with just being involved in the sport. Everybody has a place in sport. Sport is a big part of everyone's life.

“I have to be really open minded with my athletes. With Jenny, every millisecond counts, but with teenagers they've just got to enjoy it and make improvements happen without them even realising it's happening.

“There's definitely some future superstars there. It's just about keeping them involved in the sport.

“One of my concerns with the shutdown was how many athletes I was going to lose, but thank-fully, it's actually made them fall in love with it more than anything.”

Simmons is not deterred by the challenges presented by COVID-19 despite taking up his new position just as the lockdown came into place.

“I started [the new role] at the beginning of March. It was pretty bad timing unfortunately, but there's been a lot of background work going on, just planning for what's around the corner and how we're going to put this in place.

“All our competitions have been cancelled now, so it’s about 2021. We've pretty much got the athletes for 2024.

“They're all on the pathway and in the eye of Sport Ireland, but it's about finding the next ones for 2028 and onwards” said the double World Cup bronze medallist.

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