TEAM NI: Swimmers bidding to make a medal splash in Glasgow

Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games 2014 swimming team
Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games 2014 swimming team

Four years ago Sycerika McMahon competed for Northern Ireland at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi as a 15 year-old.

The Portaferry swimmer was there to gain experience and use that to help further her career.

McMahon ended up making an individual semi-final and was part of the relay team that made their final.

Since making her debut at a major multi-sport event, McMahon, now 19, has medalled at both the European Long and Short Course Championships and represented Ireland at the London 2012 Olympics and has now just completed her freshman year at Texas A&M University in the USA.

“I mean four years ago I would never have dreamed this would be the case. I’m lucky to have all this experience under my belt. I have been in the Commonwealths in Delhi and it was a huge learning curve and London even more so. I feel like I’ve come a really long way in the past four years and even from two years ago, so much has happened, so many ups and downs. Last year was a tough year for me through the competition side of things. I really feel this is the time for me to really break through and I’ve a done a lot of work. I’m feeling very confident, so hopefully things will go my way and I’m just going to go out there to enjoy myself as usual,” she explained.

McMahon is one of ten swimmers from Northern Ireland heading to Glasgow. Following the retirements of established stars such as Andrew Bree, Melanie Nocher and Clare Dawson, this is young, developing team and only McMahon and Comber’s Michael Dawson have previous Commonwealth Games experience.

It is to these two individuals that the rest will turn for advice.

McMahon added, “Yeah, a lot of young people on the team, I’ve been there, been in their position, their shoes. I feel like I know what they’re feeling and how they are looking forward to the Games, exciting times for everyone. There are ten of us going from swimming, a very large team; hopefully we’ll do good things in Glasgow. It’s at home; in the UK and hopefully the younger ones will enjoy it too.”

So how young is this team? Jordan Sloan is the oldest at 21 years-old while Paralympic champion Bethany Firth (19) will swim against able-bodied swimmers.

Gemma Kane is only 15, Danielle Hill is 14 but the youngest member, not only of the swim squad but of the 117-strong Northern Ireland team is Lisburn’s Rachel Bethel who only turned 14 in March.

“It’s definitely nice to know at 14 I can go to the Commonwealth Games. It’ll set me up for hopefully a long swimming career, because I love swimming. So definitely it’s an achievement.

When I heard I was selected I was overly excited, but nerves started kicking in, because when you are told you are actually going, suddenly it’s a lot more real. I’m going to be competing against the best people in the world; they go to the Olympics as well. It’s definitely nerve wrecking it’ll be the best experience and I’m just really looking forward to it.”

Rachel was a finalist at last year’s Youth Olympics and will be looking for personal bests in the freestyle events.

“I definitely want a PB, in my 400m I’d love to get a PB but I’d love just to go and do my best, and not mess up and try to make my name known. Definitely be an experience to race against the top swimmers, it will be nice to say I’ve been in a gala with them.”

This is a team for the future and it’s hoped that they will all go on and compete in future European and World Championships and Olympics as well as the next Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast in 2018 and targets for Glasgow are being kept realistic. Finals would be superb and of personal bests can be secured then their selection will be more than justified.

However McMahon has bigger goals in her sights especially in the 50 and 100m breaststroke events.

“Well of course if you say to anyone you should win a medal, that’s a lot of pressure I’m not going to lie. I mean I know myself I just want to go out there and be the best, I think everyone in sport wants to be the best at their sport and I’m no different than anyone else, I want to be the best. A medal would be utterly a dream come true, but obviously I have to take it one step at a time. I feel this is my time to do well, at the end of the day I’m going out to enjoy myself, I’m going to relax, have fun, I swim best when I’m relaxed, I can’t wait I really can’t.”

She added, ”I’ll be happy if I finish every race with nothing more to give. Whether I walk away with a best time, top eight place or a medal, who knows? I know what I want, it’s very easy to guess what I want, but I’m saying nothing, hopefully it will be a lot of fun.”

The swimming programme gets underway on Thursday.