Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Heroes' welcome for Paralympians

Double gold medal winner Jason Smyth arrives back into Dublin Airport

Ireland's double gold Paralympians shone with pride as they touched down in Dublin and vowed to defend their titles in Rio 2016

Euphoria filled the arrivals hall as more than 500 fans cried and cheered when a lone piper led Team Ireland in to their heroes' homecoming.

After years of training, weeks of competing, and carrying a haul of medals, Ireland's Paralympics stars admitted it was time to relax before the hard work starts again.

Clutching his two golds, Derry sprinter Jason Smyth, revealed his mind was already in Rio. "I have come back and I have achieved what I went out to achieve, the double gold," said the 25-year-old from Derry. "I did everything that was expected of me. Now I'm looking forward to Rio."

The 49 athletes from 20 different counties competed in ten separate disciplines - bringing home a total of eight gold, three silver and five bronze medals. They set three world records, seven Paralympic records, 17 national Irish records and 20 personal bests.

The Irish team finished 19th out of 166 countries, making them one of the most successful Irish Paralympic teams to date.

But Michael McKillop admitted he needs a break from the track after his outstanding performances. "I'm going to go away and have a break and try and get my golf handicap down a little," said the Antrim runner, who scooped two golds and an achievement award. "Then I'll feel like I want to run again. I can't wait to get on the track in Rio."

The party atmosphere in the airport started long before the team's late arrival, with family, friends and schoolfriends cheering and singing.

Mark Rohan's 10-year-old cousin Ava said they'll be having a big party for the double gold medal cyclist. "I'm really proud of him," she said. The 31-year-old competitor from Westmeath added: "I'm just delighted to be home and share the whole experience with everybody. "To see the look of sheer delight on people's faces is fantastic."

A Government reception will be staged for the athletes in Farmleigh on Friday, with President Michael D Higgins hosting an event at the Araslater in the month.