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McGuigan hoping to bring home Northern Ireland's first Commonwealth games medal

Dempsey McGuigan believes his student stint in Mississippi can help him burn off his hammer rivals when he becomes the first of Northern Ireland’s 13 athletes to chase a medal as the track and field competition begins at the Commonwealth Games on Sunday.

The 24-year-old has jetted straight from the States, where he is his fourth year at the University of Mississippi, to take part in what will be the opening final at Carrara Stadium (Sunday 0500, BST).

The London-born hopeful decided to make the move across the Pond on a scholarship to launch himself into the intense sphere of NCAA competition. And even some recent throws indoors have him ready to make an impression in the sunshine of Gold Coast, he declared.

“I have a great training group and coach, which makes training easy,” McGuigan said. “The facilities are second to none and we have everything we need in terms of equipment and resources. I’m very lucky to be in the situation I‘m in, and will be forever grateful for the opportunity I received.

“Coming into Gold Coast I feel great. Training has been good, indoors went well and I’m looking forward to the getting my outdoors started. It'll be very different having such a big meeting so early in the year.

“But I've adjusted training appropriately, so I’m anxious to see where I am at. And I’m very excited to put on the Northern Ireland singlet again.”

His opposition here will be led by England’s Nick Miller, who extended his own British record to 78.29m in California last week. But McGuigan’s optimistic mood is a contrast from four years ago in Glasgow where he had to deal with the death of his long-time coach, hammer guru Alan Bertram, and the inexperience of the big stage.

“I was lucky enough to be selected without having gained the standard. I went in with no expectations other than to have fun and give it my best. I was within 20cm of my personal in qualifying and made it through.

“My coach had died the year prior, so my preparations were mostly by myself, but that day I definitely felt his presence with me.”

He will be joined in action on Sunday by Northern Irish sprinter Amy Foster who opens up in the first round of the 100 metres (0505, BST).

It is a third Games for the trainee teacher from Newtownards, who broke the Irish indoor 60m record during the build-up.

And the 29-year-old admits her three appearances – as a semi-finalist at Delhi 2010 and then Glasgow 2014 – have each been unique.

“My best memory of 2010 is the team atmosphere from being away with the team for three weeks and it was my first experience of Commonwealth Games,” said Foster, who will also compete in the 200m next week.

“2014 happened mid-season so it was a very different Games for me as I also had European Championships close after.

“My approach to the Gold Coast is a little different as I am much more aware of the level of competition involved. And I am working towards reaching a final.”   

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