Ireland's Paralympians arrive home with 16 medals11/09/2012 - 00:30:52
Ireland's most successful Paralympic team ever touched down tonight with 16 medals en tow, receiving a rapturous reception from the thousands of well-wishers at Dublin Airport.
Led by Chef De Mission and Paralympics Ireland CEO Liam Harbison the 49-strong team of athletics and the backroom staff touched down in Dublin Airport on Cityjet flight AF5119 from London City Airport shortly after 7.45pm.
All of the athletes received the welcome they deserved, but there was a special welcome for double Gold medallists Jason Smyth, Michael McKillop and Mark Rohan.
Paralympics Ireland had set a goal of taking five medals, including three golds from the Games, but the medal haul in Dublin tonight far outweighed expectations.
"It has been an amazing journey over the last four years," Harbison said.
"Within the team we always knew that we had the potential for success. The target was five medals including three Gold. We secretly believed that we could get up to double figures. But, to come back with 16 medals is beyond our wildest dreams. Every single athlete here whether they won a medal or not contributed to the success of the team, whether it be personal bests or seasons bests - the whole team performed outstandingly."
Double Gold Athletics medallist Michael McKillop claimed the 'Wang Yung Dai Award' for those athletes who epitomised the 'Paralympic Spirit' during the games.
"It means something very special. It's not one of those things you expect. Liam Harbison nominated me and I got to the last three which was super," he said.
"But when you are alongside Oscar Pistorious in that three it shows that not only my reputation from athletics is good across the world, but also in terms of the amount of effort I have put into Paralympic Sport across Ireland and teach able-bodied athletes in schools that Paralympic sport is elite.
"It doesn't matter if you do have a disability or you don't, everyone wants to win a medal and that's what I've brought back to Ireland today."
On his short-term plans the 22-year old is keen to take it all in his stride for the next few weeks.
"I've got a couple of weeks off now to concentrate and let my body rest. In a couple of weeks time I will feel I wanted to run again," McKillop said.
Jason Smyth is glad to be back on Irish shores.
"London is fantastic but it's great to be home," he said.
"Getting back to the silly things like getting into your own bed tonight and getting back to the comforts of your mums cooking," he said. I'm delighted to be home and I'm looking forward to getting a day or two to myself and chill and do nothing."
Swimmer Daragh McDonald claimed Gold in the 400 metres Freestyle.
The Wexford Leaving Cert student was overwhelmed with the support.
"There was a lot of people saying in England that it almost overtook the Olympics with the coverage and interest it got," he said.
"I've no words to describe the feeling when I won that Gold medal. I've a funny feeling it will hit me when I am in bed. Just being a part of this team is a huge honour and the most successful sports team that has come out of Ireland."
Boccia competitor Padraic Moran from Bray was proud of the achievements of all the Irish athletes.
"It is pretty special to be part of such a team," he said.
"The team just went from strength to strength and we just carry each other.
"I think that bond really helps also. To think that we have been a part of one of the most successful Irish sports teams ever is something that I will never forget. Hopefully in years to come that can be replicated again and hopefully Paralympic sport stays in the mainstream now and gets the coverage that it has got in the last 12 days."
Comedian and local North Dublin resident PJ Gallagher was also in the Arrivals Hall to lend his support to the athletes.
"It's unbelievable. I live down the road from here and you just feel like a kid asking the guys for a picture," he said.
"It's amazing and the atmosphere here is brilliant. I grabbed a picture with Jason and Michael which was great. I've been glued to the games on the TV and it's been super. I don't know what we were expecting too be honest. Then we won a Gold medal and then there was another one and another one. Then there were doubles and silvers and you start realising this is Ireland's greatest sporting moment ever.
"This is the best games we've had in anything ever and then you start to get a bit carried away. That's why you start feeling like a teenager all over again."
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