Northern Ireland stars set their sights on medal success at Commonwealth Games

Competitors from Northern Ireland arrive with flag bearer Martyn Irvine at the 2014 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony at Celtic Park
Competitors from Northern Ireland arrive with flag bearer Martyn Irvine at the 2014 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony at Celtic Park

Martyn Irvine flew the flag for the Northern Ireland team at Thursday night’s Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

It was a richly deserved honour for the Newtownards cyclist who began his impressive track career four years ago with a bronze medal in the team pursuit at Delhi 2010.

Now the world champion from 2013 has realistic chances of winning gold in the points and scratch races that take place at the weekend.

However, there are high hopes that Northern Ireland could get on the medal table on the first day of competition with two Olympians leading the way.

The first medals of the Games will be awarded in the women’s triathlon at the Strathclyde Country Park where the starters will have little chance to enjoy the scenery as they take part in the 1500m swim, 40km cycle and 10km run.

Londonderry’s Aileen Reid has shown with her success in the past that she has the ability to make the podium and despite an injury that curtailed her winter training she has been showing glimpses of running into form at the right time.

The 32-year-old has not competed in many Olympic distance triathlon’s this year but could be saving her best for today’s race.

“I think to represent Northern Ireland is special for me because we are a small nation and not many people get to say they represented Northern Ireland so I’m very proud,” explained Reid.

There is real strength in depth in triathlon among the Commonwealth countries and England’s Jodie Simpson, Andrea Hewitt from New Zealand and a trio of Australians headed by Emma Jackson will be tough to beat but it’s a wide open competition.

“I’m going to try and execute my race the best way I can and if I can come away from the race and say I did everything the best that I can then we’ll see what happens and what kind of outcome there will be.”

Reid will be joined in the women’s event by 20-year-old Emma Sharkey who was 13th in the World Junior Championships last year.

In the men’s event Northern Ireland will be represented by Conor Murphy, Russell White and Harry Speers with the Olympic gold and bronze medalists – Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee expected to dominate for England.

Judo makes its return to the Commonwealth Games at Glasgow 2014 after a 12-year absence.

In Manchester 2002 Lisa Bradley won a silver medal and it’s another Lisa who has a big opportunity today to emulate her.

Lisa Kearney has World Cup medals to her name and in the – 52kg class has no one to fear as she attempts to win a medal.

In the quarter-finals she faces Sinothando Mva of South Africa and is potentially two wins away from the final.

“To be honest I don’t really think about the results and getting a medal. When the time of the tournament comes I’ll be so focused on the day and what I have to do I won’t even be thinking about medals or results,” she says.

“I more or less know the nations and some of the athletes who are competing.

“I don’t think the weight category will be big, but I think the competitors there will be good.”

A little bit of history will be made when the Northern Ireland netball squad step onto the Commonwealth Games stage in their group match against Malawi (ranked 5th in the world).

It will be the first time that Northern Ireland will have been represented in a female team sport at a Commonwealth Games.

The last time this squad competed in a tournament of this scale was in the 2011 World Championships held in Singapore.

Northern Irish captain, Hannah Willis, is hoping that they are able to achieve a similar result in Glasgow.

The Larne Grammar PE teacher, who has 11 years of international experience, acknowledges that Northern Ireland aren’t expecting to be among the medals at the Games, but states that the team has a “stretch target” of finishing fifth.

“We know exactly how people play and how people react to things, which is important when you are away from home together, living together and dealing with a highly pressurized situation,” explained captain Hannah Willis.

There are always strong hopes of medals for the bowlers and Neil Booth, in his fifth Games, skips the men’s triples team with Paul Daly and Neil Mulholland in their opening group games against Kenya and the Cook Islands.

Catherine McMillan is Northern Ireland’s representative in the women’s singles and has Kenyan and Jersey opposition in day one while Ian McClure and Martin McHugh face Malta and Malaysia in the men’s pairs.

The women’s four – Mandy Cunningham, Donna McCloy, Barbara Cameron and Jennifer Dowds have only the one game with Fiji.

Northern Ireland’s youngest competitor, 14-year-old swimmer Rachel Bethel will be in action in the pool along with team mates Danielle Hill, Gemma Kane, Curtis Coulter and Conor Munn but all eyes will be on Olympian Sycerika McMahon in the heats of the 50m breaststroke.

In the mixed badminton doubles the brother/sister partnership of Sinead and Ciaran Chambers could meet the England husband and wife team of Chris and Gabby Adcock.

On the squash court Madeline Perry begins her fifth Commonwealth campaign against either Dorothy Boyce (Papua New Guinea) or Sharon Chimfwembe (Zambia) in the last 32 while Michael Craig faces Harinder Pal Sandhu from India in the last 64 on the men’s singles.

The table tennis men have group matches in the team event against Guyana and India while the women play the number 1 seeds Singapore.

Local hockey player Iain Lewers and Mark Gleghorne, part of the England team, open their campaign against Trinidad and Tobago.