The reaction to Rory McIlroy’s fantastic win in the US Open shows clearly the effect that a sporting triumph can still have on the mood of our country.
His skill, determination, nerve and courage – following his collapse in the final round of the US Masters in Augusta – were outstanding throughout his record-breaking four days.
Golf has rarely has as many fans in Ireland as it did on Sunday night and the prodigiously talented 22-year-old golfer from Hollywood also excelled in his humble and mature reaction to what should be the first of many majors.
It was a win that lifted the mood of a nation, as great sporting triumphs tend to do.
We’re spoiled for choice at the moment when it comes to sports. Wimbledon has just started and the GAA season is in full swing, but it’s in Athens, starting next Sunday, where the most remarkable Irish athletes will be action.
The Irish Special Olympics team jetted out to Athens this (Monday) morning, ahead of next weekend’s opening ceremony.
7,500 athletes from 185 countries will be taking part and Ireland is punching well above its weight, sending out 126 athletes (from 12-year-old Fergal Gregory from Armagh to 69-year-old Mary Quigley from Carlow) and 49 coaches – the tenth biggest delegation in the Special Olympics World summer Games.
They will be supported by 200 volunteers and more than 400 family members making the trip to Athens for the games, which take place from June 25 to July 4. These are the people who – without fuss or fanfare – keep the country’s many Special Olympics clubs going and providing such a vital outlet for their many members, only a fraction of whom are going to Greece.
Four athletes from Wexford Special Olympics Club are on the Irish team and the club has coaches and volunteers making the journey too. Wexford will be represented in badminton by Bernadette Kennedy from Gorey, in gymnastics by Carole Ryan from Newtown (just outside Wexford town) and in table tennis by Mary O’Brien from Duncormick and Ann Marie Talbot from Enniscorthy.
These athletes have dedicated a huge amount of time and energy to their respective disciplines and it would great to see them return home with medals. But, whatever the outcome, theirs is not a sporting triumph, it’s a triumph of the human spirit, which can’t be measured in gold, silver or bronze.
At a time when Ireland and Greece are making headlines all over the world for very different reasons and there’s sombre talk of huge challenges and insurmountable obstacles, we’d do well to keep an eye on sporting events in Athens in the days ahead, where there will be plenty of reasons to cheer and maybe just a little perspective on challenges and obstacles.
I spoke to Wexford gymnast Carole Ryan ahead of her departure.
My colleague David Medcalf spoke to Mary O’Brien and Anne-Marie Talbot.
And the Gorey Guardian’s Fintan Lambe talked to Bernadette Kennedy.