London is the place to be this Summer, as the Olympic Games grab the attention of the world. Kilkenny’s James Carew has called the city home for the last few years, and tells the ’People just how England’s capital is gearing up for the games.
THE London Games are being called a home Olympics for Ireland and there is certainly something very familiar for Kilkenny sports enthusiasts. Once again, the county will be represented at the greatest show on Earth.
Darren O’Neill and Joanne Cuddihy are the latest to join an illustrious list of Kilkenny Olympians.
Maeve Kyle, Mick Dowling, Sinead Delahunty, Emily Maher, Marion Hughes, Adrian O’Dwyer and Eileen O’Keeffe are among those from the county to compete on the world stage. It’s a quite extraordinary achievement that we should consistently produce so many international-calibre athletes.
I’ve been living in London for three and half years now and while there’s a great camaraderie among the Irish when it comes to sport this is different. You can feel the anticipation building here with the Games just days away. Despite the problems and cynicism that has dogged the build-up, there is a real sense of excitement as tourists and athletes begin to flood into the English capital.
For the last year, every commuter paper has carried a daily update on the event as have the news bulletins. Not to mention the impending dread of how the transport system will cope. The expected upsurge in journeys has every Londoner fretting about travel chaos.
Yet complaining about transport is nothing new for the natives. Most Londoners avoid the city centre at the best of times, preferring to socialise where they live. These Games will be a celebration for the city’s immigrant population hailing from every corner of the world.
The buzz is building around the city. Shopping mecca Regent Street is adorned with the flags of every competing nation, with the Irish tricolour fluttering close to the famed Hamley’s toy store.
Even the weather has finally improved this week and for Irish ex-pats, there is a sense of something special about to happen here, spearheaded by Katie Taylor and the Irish boxing squad which includes our own Darren O’Neill.
Kilkenny’s O’Neill suffered heartbreak four years ago when losing in the national championships to the late Darren Sutherland and thus missing out on the Beijing Olympics. While many sport stars are guilty of flying off the handle in post-match interviews, Darren spoke so earnestly of his disappointment but was magnanimous in wishing his friend Sutherland all the best in China. In recent weeks Darren has also repeated how the spirit of Darren Sutherland spurs on the Irish boxing squad. The Paulstown man is a class act, in and outside the ring.
If Kilkenny lose an All-Ireland, they have less than 12 months to wait before they’ll be involved in the shake-up again. For O’Neill it’s been four long years but when Darren takes to the ring at the ExCel Centre he’ll fulfil a life-long dream of becoming an Olympian.
Ireland’s golden girl Katie Taylor will be boosted by the presence of her father in her corner but O’Neill can also call on the unwavering support of his father Ollie, who has always played a huge part in his training.
As the Olympic Stadium in Stratford prepares to welcome the world’s stars on Friday night, Kilkenny will have a strong presence in the parade of nations.
Joanne Cuddihy will compete in the 400m as the Irish champion. Injury scuppered her hopes at the Beijing Olympics four years ago but she’s back on the world stage and hitting form at the perfect time.
Joanne is also is part of the 4x400m relay team. She put in a spectacular performance at the recent European Championships in Helsinki. Taking the baton on the second leg of the semi-final the Kilkenny City Harrier was in seventh place but by the time of the handover she had taken the Irish quartet into second. As it turns out the Irish team were disqualified but the result was academic. Previous qualification times were enough to send the squad to the London Games.
Younger sister Catriona was initially named in the relay team but has been caught up in an unseemly selection storm. Joanna Mill’s appeal saw Cuddihy omitted before submitting a counter-appeal. It is a messy situation so close to the Games and at the time of writing Catriona had not yet learned the outcome of the appeal. However, she is certain to ensure Kilkenny participation on the international stage in the future.
London is gearing up to put on a hell of a show. Big screens are being erected all around the city in locations like Hyde Park and Victoria Park, while countries are busy preparing hospitality centres at various sites. Ireland’s will be located in the Big Chill at King’s Cross.
There is a real sense of excitement among the Irish community here, not least with the anticipation of a potential gold medal for Katie Taylor in boxing. Our own Darren O’Neill is preparing for the biggest couple of weeks of his life. As a member of Ireland’s Elite Performance squad, make no mistake about it, he is in the Premier League when it comes to international boxing and is a potential medal hope.
While the track is a notoriously difficult place to score success, Joanne Cuddihy is hitting peak performance at just the right time with recent brilliant showings in Australia, Japan, and Finland. She is also part of an Irish relay squad determined to do something special. They go into the competition ranked 16th in the world.
On Friday night, the Irish Olympic team will march out behind the Tricolour in East London as the eyes of the world watch on. Among them will be two athletes clad in green, but with black and amber running through their veins. Let the Games begin.