SEAMUS O’Connor may only be 24  but the halfpipe snowboarder is already a two-time Olympian and the eminence gris of Irish snow sports.

Raised in California, with paternal grandparents from Drogheda and Dublin, he made history in Sochi eight years ago when he wasn’t just Ireland’s first Olympic snowboarder but also, aged 16, the youngest snowboard competitor, finishing 15th in the halfpipe and 17th in slopestyle.

Despite a bad knee injury in 2016 that lost him a full season he got back in time for PyeongChang in 2018 and, after such disrupted preparation, just concentrated on halfpipe where he finished 18th of a field of 30.

He started university in Westminster College in Salt Lake City four months later and has spent the last four years mixing study and snowboarding in nearby Park City but is taking this semester off completely to concentrate on his sport.

Studying a double major in psychology and sports management he wants to specialise in sports psychology when he graduates later this year. His father Kevin grew up in England and his mother is Russian so he’s hoping to do his next studies abroad.

“I’ve wanted to move to Europe for a while now because of my family ties and personal preferences plus the level of education. I have my Irish passport and feel very connected to Europe in a lot of ways so I think it would be a great opportunity.”

Seamus’ interest in sports psychology is not surprising given his own background.

He was a snowboarding prodigy who got his first sponsor when he was just 13 and had a lot of pressure to deal with as a teenage athlete.

“It’s a scary sport and injury is always in the back of your mind but I only worked with a professional sports psychologist once before and I think that (more) would have helped me with my progression.

“I remember being young and setting all these goals in my mind. Looking back now some of them were probably a bit unrealistic to live up to. So then I had to deal with falling short of those and thinking how to re-group and still accept that I was good at the sport.

“It definitely got difficult but my main knee injury in 2016 came at an interesting time. I’m still thankful for what it taught me because it allowed me six to eight months of reflection that I think I needed. It allowed me to re-set and think about what is my main motivator.

“After that I understood just how much passion and love I have for the sport and then it became a lot easier to go out there and just do the sport for me.

“To recognise that regardless of results or sponsorships or what anyone else thought or invested into me, that as long as I was enjoying it and progressing at a level that made me feel good, that was what was most important.”

He’s had to keep pace in a young sport that has progressed rapidly.

Halfpipers are now doing 1440s (quadruple spins) and even making an Olympics has got harder, with just 24 halfpipe spots available in Beijing (February 4-10), six less than in 2018.

He has also been hampered in the run-up by another knee injury, suffered in training in Austria in November.

“The dream would be to make the top 15 but right now I’m concentrating on staying healthy and enjoying the journey. I’m not sure if I’ll be going for another Olympics after this so I’m trying to soak up every minute as this could be my last competitive season.”

He may still be just a student of sports psychology but the practical insight and experience he’s already amassed should prove a huge help to his teammates in China, especially those making their Olympic debut.

“My advice to anyone is to try to stay in the moment. The Olympics are overwhelming, eye-opening and non-stop, totally different from anything else you’ll ever experience in sport,” he explains.

“First up you have the Olympic Village. There’s designated transport to take you to your venues and a massive dining hall two minutes from where you live, filled with the best athletes from all over the world.

“On top of that, for those few weeks, the entire world is watching you and that matters in how you compete and represent Ireland, in how you conduct yourself at all times.

“You’re no longer doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for your family and the people of your country back at home. So you have a responsibility to them to be the best that you can be, in competition and out of competition. I don’t think there’s any other competition in sport that requires that of you.”

Welcome to the first Performance Update of 2022. The team are already in Year 2 of a compressed Olympic cycle leading to Paris 2024 (with the sailing taking place in Marseille).

Quick recap - Finishing 2021 in style

2021 ended on a high with Finn Lynch winning Silver at the Laser World Championships in Barcelona in November. His result at World championship level is the best achieved by an Irish sailor in any Olympic discipline.

"Finn delivered an impeccable regatta and realised his full potential after years of dedication and hard work," commented James O’Callaghan, Performance Director with Irish Sailing.  The result came hot on the heels of Finn’s 7th place at the EurILCA Senior Laser European Championships in Bulgaria in October.

It was also a busy year end for Eve McMahon who moved up from the Irish Sailing Academy to officially join the Senior Irish Sailing Team on the back of her 15th placing at the senior European championships.  In December, Eve finished 4th in the Women’s ILCA6 (Laser Radial) at the Youth Sailing World Championships in Oman, just missing a medal.

Earlier in December Aoife Hopkins achieved a personal best outcome at the women's Laser Radial (ILCA6) World Championships in Oman and finished in 17th overall.

And at the 49er Sailing World Championships in Oman at the end of November, Robert Dickson and Seán Waddilove ended in 8th place overall, with a 20th place overall for the new Cork pairing of Séafra Guilfoyle and Johnny Durcan marking a strong debut performance.

A short but restorative break

Given the intensity of the year which did not let up until late December, a break was well deserved. The team got a chance to recover and catch up with family and friends. But by January 1st the team were once again scattered across Europe for training.

The 49ers (Robert Dickson and Seán Waddilove, Séafra Guilfoyle and Johnny Durcan) are now in Lanzarote with coach Matt McGovern training alongside the Dutch team and will remain there until mid March. Johnny took the chance to join the laser fitness camp in neighbouring island Fuerteventura, making sure he is in good shape for the windy conditions expected in Lanzarote.

The Laser Men (Finn Lynch and Ewan McMahon) started the year with a fitness camp in Fuerteventura before travelling on to Malta with coach Vasilji Zbogar for the rest of January. Joining them are Jamie McMahon (Ewan and Eve’s brother) and Tom Higgins with coach Sean Evans. In February they will move to Cadiz.

Aoife Hopkins (Laser Radial) and Greek training partner Vasileia Karachaliou are in Cadiz with Head Coach Rory Fitzpatrick. They will be joined when the school timetable allows, by Eve McMahon.

Revitalising the Academy

A pipeline of strong talent is at the bedrock of the Irish Sailing Performance Pathway Programme. This was probably the area that suffered most due to COVID so we are making efforts to kickstart it. A group of seven sailors are on trial in the Academy until April. Full membership will be confirmed after the 2022 Youth National Championships.  Jonathan O’Shaughnessy will now be joined by Sophie Kilmartin, Stephen Cunnane, Rocco Wright, Fiachra McDonnell, Luke Turvey and Oisin Hughes. They will be coached by Croatian sailor Milan Vujasinovic who rejoins the Irish Sailing coaching team having led the Academy between 2011-2013. Training will be based out of Valencia for the next three months as the athletes travel between Spain and school in Ireland.

2022 Youth National Championships

Ireland’s biggest youth regatta for almost 200 young sailors will be hosted this year by Ballyholme Yacht Club from 21-24 April. Competitors will compete across four different classes: the420, Topper, ILCA 4 (Laser 4.7) and ILCA 6 (Laser Radial). They will be joined by the 29er and Optimist classes.

Upcoming events

More details to follow on events this quarter, but so far include:

Follow us

You can follow the team’s progress on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

A SPECIAL childhood memory and the introduction of his sport into the Winter Olympics meant Brendan ‘Bubba’ Newby (25) achieved his childhood dream in PyeongChang  four years ago.

“My dad took me to a couple of the events at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City and since then I always wanted to be an Olympian but the sport I chose (freestyle halfpipe skiing) wasn’t in the Olympics. That all changed in 2014 and suddenly it was an option.

“So to do it, with my whole family there in PyeongChang, was surreal. It took me a few months to understand it really happened, for it to sink in,” he says of finishing 22nd in the halfpipe on his Olympic debut.

“Then I definitely had a slump because there’s that element of ‘I’ve already done the best I can do, what do I do now?’ I took up dirt-biking and took my dog fishing and kept busy, instead of reminiscing.

“Back then I thought I wouldn’t try for Beijing but I had such an outrageously good experience that I wanted to do it again if I could and now here I am four years later.”

Not only has the 25 -year-old from Utah qualified for a second Winter Games, he goes to Beijing with a new coach in a particularly unique pairing.

Bubba was born in Cork 25 years ago when his father Van, a professor of economics, spent two years teaching in UCC.

His new coach, Ian Burson,  has much more distant but some particularly meaningful connections to Ireland.

“Ian is a great skier who almost made the US team but apart from being a great man he is also a Chocktaw native American and has told me about their connection to Ireland.

“He’s explained that right after they got kicked out of their own land here, they collected a bunch of money and sent it to Ireland to help the Irish people during the potato famine.”

The Choctaw Nation were indeed remarkably generous 175 years ago when they collected $170 and sent it to Ireland to help starving families.

A sculpture of nine eagle feathers now marks their generosity in Midleton, Co Cork and its name - ‘Kindred Spirits’ – seems appropriate for this Irish Winter Olympics duo.

An excellent first run in 2018 saw Bubba lying 13th after the first round of freestyle halfpipe but he fell on a landing on his second run.

“I think I’m skiing a lot better now than I was back then,” he says of pulling off his first ‘double’ in Austria in November.

“It’s a left double flare, like a double side-flip. It’s been in my head, just giving me nightmares, for seven to 10 years and was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done so it was nice to finally do it.

“I’ve also added a really good switch (backwards) Cork Seven which is two spins with a ‘cork’ so upside-down, and also a right Cork Nine, which is two and a half spins forward with a flip.”
Qualifying for Beijing was difficult because he took most of the 2019 season off, not knowing that, due to Covid disruptions, that would backfire on him.

“I just did one competition in 2019 to retain my place on the World Cup. I spent the rest of the year skiing with my friends to get the love back but now it’s turned out that they’ve included results from 2019 for Olympic rankings. It’s usually just the previous two years.”

That’s just given him an intense qualification period of four back-to-back World Cups in the past month but he finished inside the world’s top 30 in each of them and secured his qualification with a 27th in Mammoth on January 8.

“To do a snow sport for a country that doesn’t have snow, and to be accepted and supported so well by everyone in 2018, that’s a big reason why I decided to go again,” he explains.

“If any Irish kids can see me and say ‘that’s possible’ and get into it, that would be the coolest thing in the world for me. That’s kinda what happened with me and Seamus (O’Connor, Ireland’s Olympic snowboarder.)

“I saw him competing for Ireland  in 2014 and thought ‘oh, could I do that too?’ so I went for it and now I want to be that person for someone else.”

ALEC Scott’s Irish grandad Thomas taught him many invaluable life lessons and sport skills except in the one in which he now excels.

“My grandpa is honestly the fittest man I know. He was born in Dublin but grew up in Belfast and moved to Australia when he was around 21.

“Right into his 80s he was running and swimming daily, a real fitness machine. We are very close and he taught me how to ride a bike and kick a soccer ball and would always say ‘do your best at everything you can’.”

That’s what his 24-year-old grandson is now doing on the world’s ski-slopes for Ireland, even though becoming a ski racer was an unusual choice for a kid born in Melbourne, almost five hours from the nearest slopes in Victoria.

Scott was three when he first strapped on a pair of skis on a family holiday. With his parents and sister Zoe also hooked, their visits to Falls Creek increased to spending the Winter there.

He joined the local race club at eight and, within a few years, was training and racing in Europe whose ski season coincides with Australia’s summer. “I’d sometime miss the start of the summer term but my school was pretty good about it.”

His breakthrough moment was finishing fourth, in Under-16 slalom, at the 2013 Trofea Topolino in Folgaria, Italy.

The Topolino (now called the Alpecimbra FIS Children’s Cup) is skiing’s most prestigious underage competition and has been the launch-pad for multiple world and Olympic champions.

In 2018, when Scott was lying fourth after his first  Giant Slalom run at the World Junior Championships, he looked around and noticed “it was all the same guys I had raced at the Topolino.”
The first training club he joined in Austria, as a teenager, was the Racing Centre Benni Raich, named after the local superstar and former Topolino winner who went on to win five Olympic titles.

Scott went straight into competitive skiing after school and is now based full-time in Pitztal, about 45 minutes from Innsbruck, training and racing across Europe with a multi-national group called Team Global Racing.

He’s ranked just outside the world’s top 100 (#116 at the moment) in Giant Slalom (GS) which qualifies him to race on the World Cup series (for the globe’s top 150) and he also has dual ambitions ahead of the upcoming Beijing Olympics (February 4-20, 2022).

Part of his motivation when he switched to represent Ireland three years ago was to help build a stronger national team. A crash in a race in France at the end of 2017 meant he needed a full ACL reconstruction on his right knee and he has even gone as far as having stem cell injections, the latest medical innovation in sports’ injuries.

“Skiing is a pretty rough sport on knees, especially putting in a full World Cup season,  but I was thinking about trying to grow back that damaged cartilage for life after skiing as well,” he reveals.

“You get fat taken from your body and eight weeks later it is injected into the damaged area. You get a second one three or six months after.

“I had it done a year and a half ago, I don’t honestly know yet how well I’ve benefitted but anything to give myself a chance and it was definitely very interesting learning all about it.”

Scott competed on the World Cup circuit, and had hopes to visit his relations in Belfast over Christmas where he previously watched Ulster rugby in Ravenhill and met boxer Carl Frampton.

“I really want to score more World Cup points because that means you are the real deal but my biggest goal is to represent Ireland at the Olympics and not just participate but get some good results, show what we can do. I think I can break into the top 100 before then because training’s been going well.”

Most ‘holiday’ skiers prefer groomed slopes and get the collywobbles at the sight of the ‘bumps.’

When you enter a slope with bumps or ‘moguls’, turns come thick and fast and you pick up speed swiftly with little room to control it. If your technique is poor there is usually only one way it ends – a bruising wipe out.

So Claire Dooley (18) is well used to people asking; “Moguls? Are you mad?”

“I get that question a lot,” she laughs. “I started out racing but, as a 12 year-old, moguls are a lot more fun than going down a straight hill.

“I love moguls. It combines all the best parts of skiing for me. It’s got speed, you get to do aerials and jumps so there’s also a fear factor, and it’s super technical because you’re scored on your technique. It’s got it all.”

Dooley was born and raised in Brisbane, but her ski-obsessed family used to go to Canada for their ski holidays and have a holiday home in Whistler which hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics.

That’s where she is now based and having a coach who is friendly with the Canadian team coach means she can train and compete with them.

“I grew up skiing in Canada so all my peers were in Canada and I never went through the Australian pathway or was part of their programme,” she explains.

There was never any doubt what country she would represent when she started competing internationally from the age of 15.

Her paternal grandfather Dr Tom Dooley is from Kilkenny city and her late grandmother Jan was a legendary, matriarchal figure in the Irish community in Australia, especially in Queensland.

“We’ve always been a fairly patriotic family because they ran a chain of Irish pubs. My grandma used to organise the St Patrick’s Day parade in Brisbane so we would always be in the carriages going through the city. Whenever my Irish relatives come to Australia they also stay with us for long visits.”

Dooley’s demanding training schedule involves not just ski training and fitness work but daily practice on trampolines. Mogul skiers also use water slides and giant air bags to develop the two aerial elements that make up 20% per cent of their marks. The rest is marked on turns (60%) and speed (10%).

She’s currently working to perfect a straight back flip with a full twist in her 40-second runs that go by in a flash.

“It’s a super-technical sport but that’s probably why I like it so much, I’ve a Type-A personality.”

She reckons that also explains her decision to combine medicine with elite sport, currently studying pre-Med, via distance learning, at Bond University.

“We train in three week blocks because it’s so tough on your body and then have a week off in the gym so I do a lot of study then but also have to fit it in if we’re on camp.”

Her demanding academic choice also has deep family roots and not just because her Irish grandfather is a pre-eminent sports doctor who worked with the Australian men’s rugby and cricket teams.

She is the eldest of three children and her only sister Catherine (16) was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour when she was four.

She spent two years in America getting a form of ground-breaking radiation but then, at 13, had another set-back when she developed residual vascular problems that gave her stroke-like episodes.

It took five operations to solve it and doctors took muscle from her neck and sewed it on to the surface of her brain.

Her big sister describes her as “a miracle child!. She’s great again now and she also skis moguls and wants to study medicine.”

Claire currently competes at Europa Cup and Nor-Am (North America’s version of Europa Cup) level.

Finishing her secondary education (she self-schooled the final year), some illness and Covid disruptions means making her Olympic debut in Beijing in February 2022 is a long-shot for the talented Brisbane teenager but she’s mature beyond her years and in no rush.

“When I competed in Sweden last month it was really just a pre-season (warm-up) but it was my first major competition since World Juniors in 2019 and I feel like a very different athlete now. “Competing for Ireland still feels a little bit like a dream. When I finished my runs I said to my coach that I honestly don’t think my life could be more perfect right now. You grow up imagining these things and now it’s a reality.”

Eve McMahon of Howth has finished in 4th place in the Women’s ILCA6 (Laser Radial) at the Youth Sailing World Championships in Mussanah, Oman.

A 3rd, 6th and 8th place in the final three races secured Eve’s 4th place in the fleet of 46.

Her result rounds off a highly successful year of competition, winning the 2021 ILCA6 (Laser Radial) Youth World Championships in Italy; U19 Silver Medallist, EURILCA (European region of International Laser Class Association) U21 European Championships; and Silver Medallist, EURILCA Laser Radial Youth Championships.

Over in the Men’s ILCA6 (Laser Radial), Cork sailors Jonathan O’Shaughnessy finished in 34th place, with Ben O’Shaughnessy and James Dwyer Matthews finishing in 12th place in the 29er class.

Irish Sailing Laser Coach and Team Leader Vasilij Zbogar said “Eve finished 4th in tricky conditions – very light winds, choppy – she was struggling, and then the last two days we made a solid plan which she executed well. She’s had a fantastic year and still has another year of youth sailing competition left. I’m very happy with the 29er boys – they’re super young and talented, and this week has been a huge learning for them”.

The Youth Sailing World Championships are the last in the trio of world events hosted in Oman over the last two months where Ireland has had some great success with the 8th place achieved by Robert Dickson and Seán Waddilove at the 49er World Championships, and the 17th placing by Aoife Hopkins in the Laser Radial World Championships.

Full results here: https://worldsailingywc.org/results/

The Bull Run /Walk is an annual fundraising event and is suitable for all the family. The Irish Amateur Wrestling Association along with Dollymount Sea Scouts are once again delighted to announce our St Stephen's Day Annual Fun Run/ Walk 26th December 2021 on the Bull Island Dollymount, Dublin.

This event is suitable for all levels from walkers to novice and serious runners and why not bring the dog too! It is always a fun event regardless of the weather!

The link to sign up for the event is on eventbrite here

https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/bull-fun-run-walk-2021-tickets-222719830007

The full information is available on our event page here

https://www.irishwrestling.ie/downloads/events/Bull-Run-2021.pdf

THE odds against Maggie Rose Carrigan becoming a competitive snowboarder, never mind chasing Olympic qualification were astronomical when she received some devastating news in her childhood.
Up to then her life in Steamboat Springs, Colorado was idyllic.

“In winter it’s like a snow globe, a dream. We call it ‘hero snow’ because it’s so perfect you can do anything you want on it. I grew up on a lake too so, in summer, we’re water-skiing and wake-surfing and always outdoors.”

Her sister Tory was on the USA half-pipe team and her brother Lex was a junior world champion. They are twins and 10 years older so she inevitably followed in their sporty wake. But at age 10 Maggie Rose was diagnosed with scoliosis. She had to have two 14-inch rods inserted into her back and was repeatedly advised to quit.

She had to sit out all activity for an entire year but found another way to pursue her passion.

Flips and jumps were no longer possible but she could still ride if she switched to alpine snowboarding, the sport’s speed discipline which has no aerial element.

“On my 12th birthday the owner of a board company who was friends with my dad sent me an alpine board and I found I could still get the speed and adrenaline.

“I couldn’t even bend down to buckle my bindings the first day I got on it but I quickly got into the groove and from then on it’s always been ‘alpine’ for me.”

Alpine snowboards are longer and narrower to harness speed. Riders wear hard boots and bindings similar to skiers and race, parallel in pairs, on slalom and giant slalom courses.

“People often confuse our boards with mono-skis but giant slalom was actually the first Olympic snowboarding sport,” Carrigan explains.

Within four years of switching she’d won her first North-American championship (Nor-Am).

“That opened up a whole other level. After I finished high school I went to Switzerland for a year to compete in Europa and World Cups, competing with riders that I had watched on TV for so long.”

But failing to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics proved a set-back: “I had to decide if I wanted to quit or come at it another way and that’s when I transferred to compete for Ireland.”

She had obtained her Irish passport three years earlier and is particularly close to her paternal grandmother Margaret:

“I am called after my grandma and her sister Rose, who was my father’s godmother.”

Her grandmother was a Shine who grew up in the townland of Drumlosh, on the banks of the Shannon on the Roscommon side of Athlone.

Margaret and several of her eight siblings emigrated to America where she met her second-generation husband at an ‘Irish dance’.

She is now the matriarch of their large Irish-American family in Newark, New Jersey and Maggie Rose has accompanied her to Ireland and been to visit the family grave in Clonmacnoise.

“My dad grew up in New Jersey but he loved ski-racing and when he was 18 came out here to study business at the Colorado Mountain College and runs a company selling ski gear now.”

Maggie Rose had heard of Irish snowboarder Seamus O’Connor on the grapevine so when she wondered if she could represent Ireland he was her first port of call.

She feels it’s no coincidence that she got her best international result – a 22nd in parallel slalom at the 2018 World Cup in Cortina d’Ampezzo (Italy)- after joining Team Ireland.  She was also 25th at the 2019 World Championships in Park City and ranked inside the world’s top 40 that season.

She has since obtained a degree in primary teaching and, off-season (April-October), teaches tots in the Holy Name Pre-School, resulting in some very tiny and cute cheerleaders whenever she races locally.

“It took me four years to complete my degree because I’ve been training and racing  but it was worth it. I’m as passionate about education as I am about snowboarding so I will have that when I retire.”

Right now she is totally focussed on Olympic qualification. She opened her World Cup season in Bannoye (Russia) at the start of December and will race in two more (Carezza and Cortina’ in Italy) before she gets home just in time for Christmas.

After everything she’s been through she is particularly keen to advocate for sport and Scoliosis awareness.

“If I didn’t catch it, it could have been so bad yet, if I had caught it earlier, I mightn’t even have had to have surgery so it’s really important to publicise it. A young girl in my school was getting the surgery and I was able to talk to her, show her my scar and explain everything. Helping others to understand it is huge for me.”

Nicci Daly has announced her retirement from international hockey following 200 caps and playing a dynamic role in the Green Army’s golden period since making her debut in 2010.  

It included that famous 2018 World Cup silver medal, five European Championships and this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo while her goal against South Africa in 2015 in Valencia will be forever remembered as one of the greatest ever in an Irish outfit.   

It is a career that the now 33-year-old scarcely envisaged during her school days. Introduced to the sport at The High School in Rathgar, her earliest years were spent more around the track at Mondello with her father Vivion and uncle Derek who were among Irish motorsport’s leading lights.  

Indeed, she only had a fleeting engagement with club hockey at Diocesan while she also played ladies Gaelic football to a high level, playing with the Dublin senior panel.   

But Graham Shaw suggested she had far more potential than she ever realised and nudged her in the direction of Glenanne – scoring on her Leinster Division One debut – and then on to Loreto where she was soon tearing it up with her raw pace and stick-speed.  

That unique threat brought her to the attention of national coach Gene Muller, making her debut in 2010.   

“I was awful; I really don’t think I touched the ball once - not with my stick anyway,” she remembers of the time and her first beginnings in the team.  

“It was important though because at that time, I thought how am I ever going to be able to make this team? Now I can look back and know that it was the start of a really exciting journey and that it takes time to get where you want to go.   

“The first big high for me with the team I feel was 2014. It was the Champions Challenge in Glasgow in 2014, we were the second lowest ranked team and we finished second - a bit like the World Cup”  

“The year before, we had been relegated from the A division Europeans and didn’t even make the second round of the World Cup qualifier so this really was a turning point for the Green Army. It was all down to the coaching of Darren Smith when we started to play some really good hockey.”  

Wins against higher ranked South Africa and Korea were formative moments and they carried that belief into the 2016 Olympic qualifiers where they would initially top their group.  

In that run, Daly’s breathtaking goal against South Africa typified that new-found swagger.  

“That goal was so important for me, not just because it was a good goal but because of the deeper meaning of it. I struggled with confidence as a player and had struggled to unlock my potential in games.   

“Leading into the Rio Olympic qualifier, it was my uncle Derek who helped me. I knew I was better than I was showing.   

“Derek gave me a book called ‘Performance Thinking: Mental Skills for the Competitive World’. It was about understanding and training your mind for better performances and it helped me so much. That goal felt like the moment it all clicked for me and gave me the confidence and reassurance I needed to believe I was good enough.”  

From that pinnacle, though, came the crash as the width of a post put the Olympic dream abruptly on hold.  

“Then came the rock bottom low when we didn’t qualify for Rio. It was devastating because we were making the most progress we had seen and we achieved things that had never been achieved before.. It felt like it was our time and to lose out the way we did was just heart-breaking.   

“I remember feeling like I gave everything I had and another cycle seemed impossible. I struggled with it and took the opportunity to go to the States to explore my other passion, motorsport. It was definitely the break I needed.”  

 It helped Daly rejuvenate, recalibrate and play an ever-present role in the Green Army’s groundbreaking 2018 run to World Cup silver on those hazy summer days in London.  

“London was a fairytale. Second lowest ranked team and in the World Cup final. It’s dreamland stuff but we went in knowing we could cause an upset (maybe just not quite as big as the one we did). It was great to put hockey on the map back home and inspire a whole generation at the same time, that’s been our legacy I feel, showing the youngsters that anything is possible and that if they can see it they can be it”  

She did entertain the notion of stepping back at that stage, finishing on an incredible high, but there was still one ambition very much still to be fulfilled.  

“The dream was always the Olympics, ever since the first training camp I went to, when Gene Muller told me hockey was in the Olympics. I didn’t even know that it was an Olympic sport at that stage [in 2009], but hearing my name and the Olympics in the same sentence was the only thing I remember from that conversation.   

“Scoring a goal in the shootout against Canada during the Tokyo Olympic qualifier was another important moment for me, not just because of what it meant for the team. It gave me a feeling that I could still offer something, and gave me a boost when I really needed it the most.”  

With qualification achieved, the Covid year was a rough one. While her inspiring skills videos were blowing up on social media, managing a niggling knee injury and the time stuck up the Dublin mountains was another big test to get right for a huge 2021.  

“It’s been a battle for the last few years. This year was one of the hardest between the injuries and the level of competition within the squad.   

“It’s at that point you think – I can either choose to make excuses here or I can continue to take on the challenge and do everything I can to put myself in contention.   

“I have so much respect for every player in the squad who took on the same challenges and made that choice to give it absolutely everything and, whatever the outcome, at least we know we gave it everything.  Being selected for Tokyo really was the dream come true.” 

Her 200th cap came in the final game against Great Britain in the closing fixture of the group stages, the closing chapter to her international career.  

In the time since then, it has given plenty of pause for thought about what it meant to be part of the Green Army.  

“When I reflect on my career, there were definitely an even share of highs and lows both personally and collectively with the team.  

“There are so many things I could talk about over the 12 years but I think one of the most important things I can take away is how much sport can teach you about yourself. It forces you to discover who you really are.   

“You learn to understand how you behave when you’re challenged, how you deal with your emotions under pressure and how you choose to approach those challenges.   

“You have to be honest with yourself; you have to be willing to have a growth mindset so that you’re always learning and always growing not just as a player but as a person.   

“That’s one of the biggest takeaways I can take from my career. How it forced me to discover who I really am and why I was doing it.  

“It wouldn’t have been the journey it was without the group and the team of players around me. The different coaches provided something different and I either learned something about myself or my hockey from each of them.  

“I have made some of the best friends over the 12 years and I couldn’t have kept going without them pushing me and supporting me along the way.  

“My family and very close friends have been the backbone of my support system. I could not have done it without them, especially my mother who shows me what resilience really is.   

“I like to think I get my drive from my dad and my strength and resilience from my Mum. My uncle Derek was hugely influential, having had a career at the top level himself, I trusted him and looked up to him. He helped transform the mental side of my game and I am so grateful for his support. A special mention to my nana, an unrelenting energy and inspiration.   

“A massive thanks to all our sponsors and individual sponsors who supported and continue to support me.   

“It has been a special journey and I feel so lucky to have been part of such a great team for as long as I have. I won’t miss the sore body and aching joints, but I will miss the team and the feeling of walking out to represent my country. 200 appearances and every single time I got butterflies when the national anthem played.   

“It’s been special, it’s been emotional, and it’s been a dream come true.   

“Thank you 💚”  

Nicci Daly was one of the athletes who helped reveal the kit for Tokyo 2020

JACK Gower’s dad Richard had no idea what he let himself in for when his son called him at the start of the 2020-2021 ski season to ask for some help.
Covid had made life difficult on the international circuit where teams were tightly constrained to their own  bubble and Jack’s arrangement to join a training group had suddenly fallen through.

International skiers need daily video analysis, courses set-up, ski maintenance and logistical aid so a second pair of eyes and hands are not just a help, they are a necessity.

“I asked him to come out just to help me one weekend but it ended up being a whole year. My poor father ended up travelling the world with me after turning up originally with one pair of boxers and two t-shirts!

“Still, looking back I’m pretty happy that I got that time with him,” he reflects.

Gower (27), who switched  from GB to represent Ireland last summer, won the world junior title at giant slalom when he was only 16.

But the past few seasons have been challenging, not least because so many restrictions on travel and mixing left it hard to find good training locations and partners.

Representing Ireland has provided him the free agency to find a new coach and training group ahead  of Olympic qualification for Beijing (February 4-20) and he is delighted with his new set-up.

He has been reunited with his former coach, Canadian Christian Hillier who helped him win that World Junior title in Crans Montana a decade ago.

“Christian coached me between the ages of 14 to 19, we had quite a lot of success together before we amicably parted ways.

“He’s a very successful coach and has taken a huge pay-cut to work with me this year so I’m very grateful to him. He’s been incredibly generous, especially as he has a partner and one-year-old baby who stay in the apartment in Zell Am Zee (Austria) that we’ve rented.

“We are training with the Swiss Ski Team (second tier) and being able to do that is one of the brilliant things about being Irish. They’re one of the best in the world and because I have decent world rankings myself and my Christian joined them and we’re currently training in Davos.”

Home is Chichester, on England’s south coast but Gower’s late grandmother  (her maiden name was Swayne) was born in Dublin and raised in Skibbereen  where she met his grandfather.

“He was visiting Cork with the British Navy and when they married they got posted to Chile. That’s where my dad was born but he and all my uncles and aunts spent their summers in Skibbereen.”

His sporty family includes David Gower, the legendary British cricket player and commentator. “He’s my dad’s first cousin but we’ve always called him ‘Uncle David.’”

Gower competes in skiing’s speed disciplines and is best at Super-G (super giant slalom).

“In Super-G we’re going 120km an hour, downhill is more like 150km. There’s big jumps in downhill and more turns in Super-G. I love downhill but it’s much more like Formula One in that it’s a lot about technical aspects of the boots and skis.

“I came from giant slalom which is more technical skiing so it was a natural transition into Super-G where I’ve had most success.”

He has been ranked as high as 38th in the world Super-G rankings and has won prestigious titles like the US Nationals and the 2017 South American Cup which he likens to the equivalent of Formula Two “because all the top World Cup skiers use it for pre-season training.”

It’s a physically demanding sport that involves months of off-piste training and testing before getting back on the slopes in Europe every November and his first big races this season are in Val Gardena (Italy) in early December.

But it’s a high-risk sport where injuries can interrupt progress.
At the start of the 2019 season he broke his leg and dislocated his hip training on a glacier in Austria.

Over his career he has broken both collarbones, dislocated his right shoulder twice, suffered three leg breaks and had ligament damage to both knees, as well as one serious concussion.

“But I love the freedom of going fast, I love competing and we do it in incredibly beautiful places all around the world. I also love thinking about how I can improve. It’s a lot of fun.”

By Cliona Foley

Aoife Hopkins managed to retain her overnight 20th place after a three-race day at the women's Laser Radial (ILCA6) World Championships in Mussanah, today (Sunday 5th December 2021).

The Howth Yacht Club sailor opened the day with a 39th place before regaining her footing with a 23rd and 19th places in the 63-boat fleet on the penultimate day of racing.

A tenth race of the series on Monday will allow a second discard to be applied across the scoreboard.  This will allow Hopkins’ 39th place to be dropped though other competitors currently ranked behind her have worse scores to discard so a shake-up of the standings is likely.

"This was another challenging day afloat for the entire fleet where calling wind-shifts could pay dividends - or take a toll," said James O'Callaghan, Performance Director with Irish Sailing.  "Once again, Aoife showed her mettle by moving on from a bad score and rebuilding her form in the following races."

Tokyo 2020 Gold medallist Anne-Marie Rindom regained the overall lead of the championships with two second places for the day coming after a 13th for the opening race.

Despite more problems with light winds at women's Laser Radial (ILCA6) World Championships in Mussanah, Oman Aoife Hopkins placed 15th in the 63-boat earlier today (Friday 2nd December 2022) marking her best score of the series so far.

The light breeze that arrived for the day came after a delay of two hours and only permitted one race before darkness fell.

Hopkins is currently 27th having improved overnight thanks to her 15th place today.

Three races had been planned to get the event back on schedule but now organisers hope to have extra races on Saturday to catch before Sunday and Mondays' final races.

"Aoife set herself on an improving trajectory on Thursday and today’s 15th place continues that trend" said James O'Callaghan, Performance Director with Irish Sailing.  "The whole fleet is eager to get off the line as can be seen by ten black flag disqualifications for the single race today."

Belgium's Emma Plasscheart won the single race and has a narrow lead over Germany's Julia Buesselberg who was one of the disqualifications.

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