Belfast Telegraph

Rhys flying the flag as he reflects on golden times

Leading by example: Gold medal winner Rhys McClenaghan carries the Northern Ireland flag at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games
Leading by example: Gold medal winner Rhys McClenaghan carries the Northern Ireland flag at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland's competitors are braced for an emotional homecoming after delivering medal winning performances on the world stage.

The team won 12 medals -their best haul in a Commonwealth Games held outside the United Kingdom.

Lifelong friends and memories have been made with the golden highlight undoubtedly being teenage gymnast Rhys McClenaghan's heroics on the pommel horse.

The Newtownards youngster, who carried his nation's flag at the closing ceremony, is clutching Northern Ireland's only gold medal on the Gold Coast and despite being only 18 years old he lit up the Games by stunning Olympic champion Max Whitlock.

All the hard work in the gym at Rathgael in Bangor led to a flawless routine and like many other athletes on the Northern Ireland team, Rhys will return home dreaming of even more success. "It was an honour to be the Northern Ireland flag bearer for the Commonwealth Games 2018 closing ceremony! Hard to believe its over," said McClenaghan, who knew he had to rise to the occasion as Olympic and world champion Whitlock hadn't lost in three years.

"Seeing my mum and dad's face in the crowd was incredible. The amount of pride I felt in that moment is hard to describe. I couldn't see them at first but they were frantically waving the Northern Ireland flag and to see the pride on their faces was incredible.

"It shows to everybody that there is a lot more to come from Northern Ireland and hopefully we will see a big spike in participation and performance level from our athletes."

As expected the boxers packed a punch and delivered six medals but there mixed emotions as the colour was silver.

Michaela Walsh felt she had done enough to win but just missed out on gold along with her brother Aidan, Brendan Irvine, Kurt Walker, Kristina O'Hara and Carly McNaul.

There were a few pleasant surprises with Gareth McAuley bagging bronze in the men's skeet shoot while Kirsty Barr toasted a shooting silver.

Leon Reid won Northern Ireland's first Commonwealth Games track medal since 400m hurdler Phil Beattie pocketed gold at the 1986 Games in Edinburgh.

David Calvert, however, was unable to sign of in style as he was unable to add to his eight Commonwealth medals.

There was also a first win in wrestling since Ivan Weir's bronze medal in 1978 courtesy of Sarah McDaid and a best ever result in weightlifting, a fourth place from Emma McQuaid.

And on the final day, in blazing temperatures, a fine fourth for Kevin Seaward in the men's marathon.

In the end the Northern Ireland team will return home with one gold, seven silver and four bronze, and 57 of the 90 athletes recorded top eight finishes.


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