One of Ireland’s Olympic medal-winners is praying he can go further in the boxing ring at the London 2012 Games.
At the launch of the final line-up for Team Ireland in Dublin yesterday, Paddy Barnes, from north Belfast, said his personal target is to get into the final and take gold.
One of 65 athletes across 14 sports, the light flyweight bronze medal winner in Beijing in 2008 is a senior member of the six-strong boxing team.
“I’m happy with qualification. Anything more is a bonus,” he said.
“But I’d like to go two stages further – but liking it and doing it are two different things but I just hope and pray that I can.”
The boxing team includes world champion Katie Taylor, in training today rather than attending the launch as she prepares to compete as the Olympics hosts the women’s sport for the first time. Other medal hopes include Darren O’Neill and John Joe Nevin.
More than a fifth of Team Ireland are from Northern Ireland including Barnes, swimmer Melanie Nocher, west Belfast boxer Michael Conlan, Antrim canoeist Hannah Craig and sailor James Espey, from Bangor, Co Down, among others.
The team also has only the second Irish athlete to compete at the summer and winter games. Claire Bergin, on the women’s 4x400m relay team took part in the bobsleigh competition in Vancouver 2010.
Elsewhere, sisters Catriona and Joanne Cuddihy compete on the track, the golden girl of Irish athletics Derval O’Rourke will race in the 100m hurdles and 23-year-old gymnast Kieran Behan, who overcame a life-threatening illness, will achieve his Olympic dream.
The road racing cycling positions have yet to be finalised after national time trial and road race champion Matt Brammeier appealed against a decision not to select him. Tour de France riders Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche are expected to make the grade.
Chef de mission Sonia O’Sullivan refused to put a number on the medal target.
“I can only ask that anyone who goes to the Olympics that they will try their very best,” she said.
“I can only ask that the athletes reach and achieve the standards that got them to the Games. If they can do a bit more that’s fantastic, if they come home with medals that’s the icing on the cake.”
Team Ireland will travel out to the London Games from their various training bases over the next three weeks for what the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) has said is effectively a home Olympics.
Pat Hickey, OCI president, praised the support and assistance Team Ireland has been given by Locog, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and chairman Lord Coe.
“We were not supposed to have received any favours from the organisers but we received many favours,” he said.
“The team is the best prepared it could have been. The co-operation with the athletes, the Irish Sports Council, the national federations and other stakeholders has been the best ever. All is now set for an exciting and fruitful Olympic Games.”
Billy Walsh, head coach for Irish boxing’s high performance unit, said the target for his athletes was to take the Games one step at a time – the same approach as Beijing were his guidance helped return three medals.
“We’ve beaten fellas higher ranked than us and we’ve been beaten by fellas ranked lower than us so it’s about not taking our eye off the ball,” he said
“Our focus is on one fight, one round, one minute that’s what we worry about. We have one Olympic Games and that’s it.”
Sports Minister Michael Ring said: “Everything has gone well for this Olympics. They’ve never been better prepared.
“I hope we have two things in the Olympics – that everyone who competes will do so cleanly and anybody who can bring a bit of gold back we’ll welcome them with open arms. We need every bit of gold in this country.”