Belfast Telegraph

The stage is set for Northern Ireland

By Steven Beacom

In 2006 Team Northern Ireland arrived home from the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne with just TWO medals.

Serious questions were asked.

They were answered four years later in Delhi, when our sportsmen and women had 10 pieces of treasure hung around their necks.

So, four more years on, what can we expect in Glasgow?

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, chairman of the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council, Robert McVeigh, refused to say.

He stated he didn't want to get into a numbers game for fear that if the athletes in Glasgow didn't reach a figure suggested, the Team would be deemed a failure.

Playing a straight bat may be a sensible approach, but it's not the way England, Scotland and Wales have decided to go.

For your interest Wales want 27 medals, the host nation are looking for a minimum of 34 and England are demanding 130 to 145.

Failure to hit those targets and underperforming sports and competitors can expect to have cuts in their funding.

Those numbers give the other home nations something to aim for and the public an idea of what to expect.

Team Northern Ireland will have their own figures I'm sure, but unlike others they don't want everyone to know.

That's a pity because I genuinely believe the 116 strong group from Northern Ireland — our largest ever team at the Commonwealth Games — could handle it.

Most of them compete around the world with high pressure stakes and have belief in themselves that they should be picking up medals, not just plaudits for achieving personal bests.

The brilliant bloke who carried the Northern Ireland flag at last night's opening ceremony is a World Champion in his field for goodness sake!

Newtownards cyclist Martyn Irvine has been there and done it and made the podium at top level on several occasions, and, even after an indifferent season, if he hits form on the track over the weekend he could do it again.

My own opinion is that Northern Ireland should be setting their sights on improving on what was achieved in Delhi when three gold medals, three silver medals and four bronze medals nestled on top of green vests.

After the nightmare of Melbourne, the delights of Delhi provided what at the time seemed like a perfect 10.

Now let's go for more. I like the Rory McIlroy philosophy. He's not satisfied with three majors. The Holywood hero wants more and more. It should be the same for our Commonwealth Games performers.

Michael Conlan told me months ago that he expected the Northern Ireland boxers to be big time winners in Glasgow. That's what we want to hear. No fear. In Scotland, the brave shall triumph.

With his attitude, Conlan could be one of them. His best mate and fellow 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes is another who should deliver.

Steven Ward could make it a treble and other unheralded names may turn up the heat in the ring too, as was the case in India when the boxing squad won five medals on their own.

The 2014 boys will be helped by the fairer sex with female boxing in the Games for the first time.

Michaela Walsh fancies her chances of making the podium and seasoned observers of the fight game will tell you she has every chance. Alanna Audley-Murphy also has the ability to become an overnight sensation.

The joke goes we are always good at fighting and shooting. It is so true. It's not unreasonable to think that the great David Calvert, competing at his 10th Commonwealth Games, can't add to the eight medals he has won previously.

Bowls has also brought Northern Ireland success in the past. There is a strong team here with Martin McHugh and Neil Booth leading the charge.

Females such as squash ace Madeline Perry, swimmer Sycerika McMahon, triathlete Aileen Reid and judo star Lisa Kearney are also possibilities to finish in the top three, while pole vaulter Zoe Brown is in confident mood because she enters the competition in the form of her life.

There is fine work going on at Sport NI and the Sports Institute at Jordanstown with our athletes. This is the time for them to show it.

The last occasion the Commonwealth Games were held in Scotland (Edinburgh 1986), Northern Ireland won a whopping 15 medals, the most ever for our wee country since this competition started as the British Empire Games back in 1930.

Could be something in the air again. Sure, it'll be difficult because in many events the best on the planet will be up against our stars, but if we box clever in the ring and elsewhere, this can be a successful Games for Northern Ireland.

Here's to Danny Boy being played over and over again.

Belfast Telegraph

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