Ireland can boast at least half a dozen genuine medal contenders as the first-ever European Games gets under way in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Katie Taylor, Ireland’s flag-bearer for the opening ceremony tonight, will be hot favourite to add a European Games gold to her Olympic, World and European titles.
Her fellow Irish boxers Darren O’Neill and Adam Nolan, both London 2012 Olympians, will also be looking for podium finishes. Aileen Reid, meanwhile, is the highest-ranked European in the women’s triathlon.
In badminton, Ireland has three realistic chances for a medal.
Dubliner Scott Evans is the highest-ranked European in the men’s singles, some 15 world ranking spots clear of Israel’s Misha Zilberman, and must be hoping for an outright win.
His Olympian colleague, Chloe Magee, and her brother, Sam, also top the mixed doubles rankings – and Chloe herself is ranked sixth in the women’s singles.
Essentially a mini-European Olympics, open to all 50 European National Olympic Committees, more than 6,000 athletes will compete over 17 consecutive days at Baku 2015. Sixty-three Irish athletes, 36 male and 27 female, will feature across 14 sports.
Katie Taylor, who will lead out the Irish team, said: “To be representing Team Ireland is a great honour and being selected as the flag-bearer for both the European Games and Team Ireland will be a truly unforgettable experience.”
Badminton star Evans added: “This European Games has been a long time coming and is sure to be a fantastic event. I cannot wait to get there and step on court and be a part of European history.
“I am sure the European Games will grow to be as big as the Olympic Games someday and I want to say I was there from the beginning.”
The badminton tournament starts next week, with the first matches taking to the court on June 22. A total of 160 players from 33 countries will compete across the five different disciplines - men’s & women’s singles, mixed, men’s & women’s doubles. Ireland will represented in all five events, with the Irish team being rounded out by Sam and Joshua Magee in the men’s doubles, and Sara Boyle and Rachael Darragh in the women’s doubles.