Northern Ireland’s Commonwealth Games team will return home from Delhi today with extra, glittering baggage, following the best performance in 16 years.
Three gold, three silver and four bronze medals saw Northern Ireland finish high up the medal table in 13th place.
There were also a number of personal bests, top 10 finishes, season’s bests, pre-Games targets and Ulster and Irish records achieved across a number of sports.
The medal target was five — conservative but not surprising considering only two silvers were won four years ago in Melbourne.
Instead the team has returned with 10 medals. Why?
Two words — co-operation and communication.
The Commonwealth Games combines the resources of a number of different parties.
The individual sports governing bodies are responsible for nominating and preparing the athletes.
Sport NI is primarily in charge of funding systems and athletes within Northern Ireland.
The Sports Institute NI provides support services to elite athletes, and the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council are in charge of selection and handling all the logistics of taking the athletes to the Games and looking after them while they are there — which they should be applauded for in Delhi because this was not an easy task.
That’s a lot of people from different perspectives with different opinions and making a lot of important decisions.
After Melbourne one of the recommendations in Sport NI’s post-Games report was to set up a committee of all relevant parties to try and improve co-operation and communication.
Four years on, Professor Eamonn McCartan, Chief Executive of Sport NI, had this to say: “Melbourne was a disappointment. As a result the committee was set up to provide an opportunity for SNI, SINI, governing bodies and NICGC to work together.
“We now have the beginnings of mature relationships where each organisation understands their role in the support of athletes and coaches.”
Chairman of the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council and Chef de Mission in Delhi, Robert McVeigh, commented: “Our relationship with governing bodies has remained good over the last four years and their preparation of the athletes has involved a lot of others such as SINI, funding from Sport NI and using other agencies to try and better performances.
“All of this combines to make success. What we did was bring everyone together, we developed a team spirit and perhaps that helped lead to the success we had. We are pleased with what we’ve done and what the governing bodies have done.”
Boxing was a terrific example of preparing a squad to compete at their optimum level at a major championships.
The team was chosen in July and the Ulster Boxing Council used its relationship with the Irish national set-up to send the boxers to the High Performances Centre in Dublin for five weeks.
When they returned to Belfast they were invited to avail of the support services and facilities at the Sports Institute to fine-tune their preparations before leaving for the Indian capital — co-operation and communication.
The hard work reflected in the results — gold medals for Eamonn O’Kane, Paddy Barnes and Paddy Gallagher and silvers for Tommy McCarthy and Steven Ward.
The cycling team was able to take the best from the British system as Wendy Houvenaghel represented her native country, winning a silver medal in the pursuit. There was also a bronze in the men’s team pursuit for Martyn Irvine, David McCann, Sean Downey and Philip Lavery.
There were bonze medals in shooting for David Calvert and Matthew Hall, with another bronze for bowler Gary Kelly.
Progress in Northern Ireland can be painfully slow but perhaps in terms of Commonwealth and Olympic sports we’re heading in the right direction.
Co-operation and communication — it’s the only way forward. The athletes deserve it.