Medals galore for local athletes at World Games

By Stephen Leonard

TEAM IRELAND hauled home a massive tally of 86 medals from the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles and there was certainly no shortage of local success.

On the closing day of competition, 16 medals were won by the Irish with the nation’s ladies basketball team capturing gold after recording a thrilling 19-17 point victory over Mexico.

Clondalkins Sarah Byrne resized

Following what was described as the side’s “best performance of the World Games” team member Sarah Byrne (pictured right) from Clondalkin said “I can’t believe it. It was my dream to get a gold medal.

“We went to sleep for a little while but towards the end our defence picked up and our shooting got a bit better” recalled the 18-year-old competitor who, along with Tallaght’s Michelle Stynes, were also flying the flag for Palmerstown Wildcats.

Also delighted with the performance of her team coach Vicki Ronning added “I am immensely proud of the girls and all the hard work they put in over the last nine months.

“Despite the strong competition they proved themselves to be the best.”

It was a tremendous campaign by the team which after beating Ecuador by five points last week, lost out by seven to the South Americans the following day.

That was quickly accompanied by a 31- 25 triumph over Mexico before they did it again, albeit by just two points on Saturday to secure gold.

In men’s 11-a-side soccer, Team Ireland finished on a high by pipping Iceland 5-4 on penalties at the Drake Stadium in UCLA to secure bronze behind winners Great Britain and second place Bangladesh.

Ireland Special Olympics Football team resized

It was a great achievement for the team which included four Cheeverstown House Special Olympics Club members in Francis Bilardi and Mark Duffy from Tallaght, Ballyfermot’s Thomas Caulfield and Lucan’s David Carrig.

“We had to play five games in five days” head coach Paul Martyn pointed out.

“In the final game we got the equaliser with three minutes to go. That just epitomised the determination to bring home a medal.

“The respect the lads showed after the missed penalty was sportsmanship of the highest order” he added.

In five-aside soccer both Stephen Joyce from Lucan and Omer Teko from Greenpark helped Ireland to a fifth place finish.

Keith Lawlor Dublin Airport resized

Keith Butler (pictured right) from Limekiln and Kilnaman-agh’s Gary McEnroe both did Ireland proud in swimming.

The former took gold in the 800m Freestyle after clocking a great time of 12:07.62 before he secured a fifth place ribbon in the 1500m Open Water Swim.

Meanwhile McEnroe helped make it a great start to the World Games for Ireland when he took bronze in the 25m Backs-troke after which he fin-ished fifth in the 50m Free-style and 4x25m Freestyle Relay.

Elizabeth Mair from Rathfarnham was one of the star performers in the Equestrian field for Ireland, going top of the podium in the Working Trails discipline.

This followed up on the gold medal win in English Equitation for the Festina Lente Special Olympics Club member a couple of days beforehand.

Speaking during the week Caroline Brennan, Head Equestrian Coach said “I feel very proud of the whole team.

“The athletes should all be exceptionally proud of their achievements here; their families are so happy and there were plenty of tears of joy.”

The 2015 World Games was undoubtedly an unforgettable experience for all involved.

An 88 strong Team Ireland competed in 12 different Olympic style sports over 10 days- their selection coming after four years of training and competition.

A 40-strong coaching and management team supported the athletes in Los Angeles, with 155 Team Ireland volunteers working at the Games.

What’s more, more than 300 family members also made the trip to the World Games to support the Irish athletes.

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