Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Games chief has high hopes for our athletes

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland’s Commonwealth Games team have been tasked with making this country proud as they enter competition in Glasgow today.

After last night's star studded opening ceremony at Celtic Park, when world champion cyclist Martyn Irvine was the flagbearer for Northern Ireland, all eyes will be on the athletes themselves from here on in until Sunday week, with sports stars such as pole vaulter Zoe Brown, triathlete Aileen Reid, boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan and squash star Madeline Perry determined to bring home medals galore.

In the 2010 Games, in Delhi, Northern Ireland won 10 medals, our best return since 1994 and given this year's squad of 116 is the largest ever to represent the country there are hopes that total could be overhauled.

While the chairman of the NI Commonwealth Games Council, Robert McVeigh, insisted he would not put a figure on the expected medal tally in Glasgow, he stated that he wanted the team to make the people back home sit up and take notice of their achievements.

Commonwealth Games medal standings

“I want the team to make Northern Ireland proud and I believe we can do it that. We want everyone back home to get behind us,” said McVeigh.

Asked specifically for the desired medal count, McVeigh stated: “I'm disappointed that this question always crops up. The Commonwealth Games is about so much more than medals.

“If I were to say a figure and we didn't achieve that number it would be considered a failure so I'm not going down that road.

“What I will say is that we are looking for good performances from all our athletes here and we are hoping they can all reach personal bests.

“There is a great team spirit in the camp and everyone is very supportive of each other, which should help. We are very pleased with the set up and the preparation for the athletes and now we are looking forward to the action beginning.”

McVeigh, in his second Games as Chef de Mission, added: “It's tremendous to have so many communities across the country represented in Glasgow which recognises the impact sport is having right now in Northern Ireland.

“There has been a huge amount of work to get so many athletes here to Glasgow. This is a great opportunity for all the athletes to represent and market themselves and their country. We have the best competitors from their sports on a great stage taking on a third of the world's population.

“I would love to see someone emerging from these Games that we have not been expecting to deliver and hopefully everyone will enjoy the experience.”

Cycling star Irvine certainly relished leading the team last night inside Celtic Park.

The Northern Ireland squad received a warm reception from the full-house crowd as they walked around the track along with the other competing nations.

Irvine, who will compete in the 20k Scratch and 40k Points races this weekend and the Road Race next Friday, said: “I was honoured to be the flagbearer considering there were a lot of other athletes in the team with bigger CVs than me.

“There are very few chances to represent Northern Ireland in my lifetime so to do so close to home in Glasgow in front of friends and family was a real honour.”

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, in Glasgow, added: “Every athlete here is an ambassador for their sport, for their community and for themselves. They are an inspiration to us all.”

Belfast Telegraph

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