A medal haul that equals the number taken home by athletes from the 1956 Melbourne Olympics has been the superlative achievement of Team Ireland who returned from London 2012 on Monday to a heroes' reception at Dublin Airport and other places around the country.
A gold, silver and two bronze medals won by our boxers, in addition to a bronze captured by showjumper Cian O'Connor, has been a great return for the Irish Olympic team and eclipses the performances at all recent Olympic Games.
And even those who failed to get medals have done themselves and their country proud, with the performances of Rob Heffernan in the 50k Walk and Annelise Murphy in sailing coming to mind. A fantastic performance, too, by Tara's Natalya Coyle saw her finish ninth in the modern pentathlon at her first Olympic Games.
The 66 athletes who returned from London this week have thrilled and inspired us and provided the country with moments of drama and tension which culminated in the outpouring of joy when boxer Katie Taylor captured gold in the boxing ring.
This strong Olympic showing is all the sweeter as it has come after a disappointing European Championship soccer tournament, where the Irish team slumped to three consecutive defeats and became the first side to exit the tournament. At a time when the country is still struggling to emerge from a deep recession, such enjoyment of sporting success can play an important psychological role in lifting hearts and minds, albeit temporarily.
After they arrived back on home soil on Monday, the home towns of the medal-winners all got a chance to turn out and fete the country's Olympic heroes. Some 20,000 people thronged Bray to pay tribute to golden girl Katie Taylor, while Mullingar turned out in huge numbers to welcome home John Joe Nevin, who won a boxing silver medal. Similarly, Belfast accorded bronze medal-winning boxers Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes an official reception yesterday (Tuesday).
Most disappointingly, on such an historic sporting occasion, no such official homecoming honour has been bestowed on bronze medal-winner Cian O'Connor in his home county of Meath. Granted, the showjumper has been in the midst of preparations for the RDS Dublin Horse Show this week but it appears officialdom in Meath has missed a wonderful opportunity to allow local people express their appreciation and admiration for one of the great sporting success stories of 2012. The Ward Union Hunt and Tattersalls, have, however, stepped into the breach and are planning a homecoming reception in O'Connor's home town of Ratoath this Sunday.
O'Connor only secured his place on the team on the eve of the Olympics when Denis Lynch was dropped a short time ahead of the Games because his horse had a hypersensitivity issue at a recent Nations' Cup event. He just missed out on qualifying for the final, but was called up as a first reserve after the withdrawal of a Swedish competitor. He then missed out on a jump-off for the gold medal by a tiny time fault and just lost out in a jump-off for silver. It was still a remarkable result by any measure.
O'Connor has spent the last eight years since Athens 2004 shaking off the controversy which saw him having to hand back his gold medal after his horse failed a dope test. The FEI, the international governing body for all Olympic equestrian disciplines, subsequently accepted the substance administered to his horse was not a deliberate attempt to improve its performance, but a zero tolerance policy in a sport which has sometimes found itself bedevilled by doping accusations meant he was stripped of the gold nonetheless.
It has been a hard road back for O'Connor but his performance in London has shown conclusively that he remains a top equestrian performer.
Hats off to London, too, for the truly remarkable and captivating spectacle of the past fortnight, from the magnificent opening ceremony to wonderful performances at all the venues. Britain has managed to inject a new enthusiasm into the Olympic ideal while underscoring just why it is that this global sporting gathering has the power to keep the world on the edge of its seat every four years.
London 2012 also marked a new maturing in the relationship between Britain and Ireland, at least in a sporting sense, and it was especially heartening to see how Irish sports fans cheered on Team GB athletes while that mutual respect was reciprocated by British supporters at the ExCel Centre, in particular, as our boxers advanced to the final stages.
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