Judo ace Fleming is out but not down
Teenage judo star Eoin Fleming has had a taste of big time competition and is now hungry for more after just missing out on a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games.
The 19-year-old from Belfast was hoping to follow Northern Ireland team-mate Lisa Kearney and win a medal in Glasgow, but was denied when South African Jacques van Zyl won by an ippon, having secured Fleming in a headlock.
It was the Queen's student's fourth fight of an eventful day in the -73kg class when he showed enormous potential, suggesting bigger and better things to come.
Yesterday morning in the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre he defeated Naddy Jeanne from the Seychelles, before losing to England's Danny Williams, who would go on to win gold.
Fleming picked himself up from that by beating James Ganzo from Kenya in the repechage bout to set up the bronze medal match, where ultimately his more experienced opponent proved too strong.
Fleming, an accomplished gaelic footballer with Antrim club O'Donovan Rossa, was disappointed but not too downhearted.
"Fighting for a medal was what I wanted," he said.
"I trusted my ability and with all the training that I put in I thought there was something here for me.
"Winning my first fight settled some nerves and then I gave Danny Williams a really good fight. I was happy with how I performed despite the defeat.
"To work my way through the repechage and get to the medal fight was important.
"I really hoped that I was going to win a medal and match Lisa's result from the other night, but it wasn't meant to be.
"I didn't execute my plan fully but this is a learning curve and hopefully I'll be in many more big fights.
"I'm only 19 and am still a junior in the sport. You have to get over defeats and now my aim will be to compete at another global event."
Ideally that would be an Olympic Games.
"The Olympics is the hope for everyone who wants to go far in our sport and now I have to focus on what I have to do to get there," said the articulate Belfast boy, who hails from the same Yamakwai club as medal winner Kearney.
"At the moment judo isn't in the next Commomwealths in Australia.
"Before Glasgow it was 12 years since it was last in the Games and the show all the athletes have been put on illustrates that judo should be a regular event in the Commonwealths."
Fleming studies maths and finance and says he intends hitting the books to swot up for exams in August, paying tribute to the university for their understanding about his sporting ambitions.
"Queen's have been great. They have given me good support this year and next year I'm on their Elite Athlete programme which will help me when I need to go away and compete or go to training camps.
"Next year hopefully being on the Elite Athlete programme I can push on and take it further and this won't be the highlight of my career."
With his dad's encouragement, Eoin, a bronze medal winner at World Cup level last year, first took up judo when he was seven and is now under the watchful eye of coach Ciaran Ward.
"Jimmy Ward, Ciaran's father, was my coach as a kid and when Jimmy passed away Ciaran took over and has brought through three of the players from one club who have been fighting here in the past few days," said the former pupil of Rathmore Grammar, who are represented by several Team Northern Ireland athletes here in Scotland.
The competition on the mat was not all that Fleming enjoyed. He admitted, being a passionate Celtic supporter, that Wednesday night's opening ceremony will live with him forever.
"I really enjoyed Parkhead. The atmosphere was great. It was fantastic to be part of it all, especially because I am a big Celtic supporter," he said.
"I used to have a season ticket and have been to quite a few matches but I've never been on the pitch at Parkhead before, so that was brilliant."
While Eoin was busy yesterday, his colleague Caoimhih Thompson, also competing in the -73kg category, lost his first bout to England's Jan Gosiewski while Kirsty Kee (-63kg) was beaten by Beatrice Valois Fortier from Canada in her opening contest.
As for Englishman Williams who won gold, it was quite a comeback for the heavily tattooed 25-year-old.
He was out of action for six months last year with an elbow injury and was a late call up to the squad.