Team NI joy at judo platform across Commonwealth Games

Performance lead Ciaran Ward is hoping that having a home Commonwealth Games in Birmingham will benefit the Team NI judo players,

By Ciaran Donaghy
Thursday, 28th April 2022, 12:30 am

A seven-strong squad has been named for the multi-sports showpiece which starts at the end of July in the West Midlands.

“It is always a good advantage the closer to home you can compete,” he said. “And we are not afforded that opportunity very much, on the world tour we are literally all over the world...anything in Europe is a bonus for us.

“So to have something so close to home is great in terms of preparation and the lead-up into the Games.

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Eoin Fleming (white) and Joshua Green (blue) in Team NI judo training.

“Our qualification period finished at the end of March because of Covid, it was elongated from a two-year programme to essentially a three-year qualification to finally get seven across the line was good and now it is just about focusing towards the summer.

“We deliberately set the qualification performance standard that would be consistent with previous top-eight performances at the Commonwealth Games, so we know they are in-and-around that kind of performance standard.

“The minimum standard we talked about around qualification was a Continental senior open medal and they have been all able to achieve that and more.”

The squad going to the Games is a mixture of youth and experience.

“We have some very experienced players there but it is largely a young team,” said Ward. “This programme has been going five years now and most of the guys on it joined when they were 16 or 17, it is a sport where you typically peak in the late 20s or early 30s.

“It is a young programme but it is great to have the more experienced players there like Eoin Fleming and Nathon Burns, who have competed at the likes of the Commonwealth Games, the Europeans or the World championships.

“It always helps that the senior players on the programme are the most dedicated, the most professional and they really set the culture for the group.”

Northern Ireland have won one silver and three bronze judo medals at previous Commonwealth Games and, while Ward isn’t making any predictions for podium finishes in Birmingham, he feels the side will be in perfect condition.

“When you are in this game as long as I am we know that all we can do is prepare people to give their best performance on the day and the Commonwealth Games will be no differenr to any other competition in that regard,” he said. “We know how to get people physically and physiologically in the best shape possible for an exact day to compete and it is about getting them technically and psychologically in the same place to be able to deliver their best.

“If we get the best performance from the seven athletes we will be absolutely thrilled and if there are medals then there are medals.”

Ward, who competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and again four years later in Atlanta, is hoping the Birmingham exposure will help the sport to grow.

“Judo is definitely a minority sport, the guys that travel on the world tour are used to competing in front of 20,000 people in front of a huge television audience,” he said. “It is an opportunity to present judo to the people here because they may only see it when it is at the Commonwealth Games or Olympic Games, so it is great exposure for the sport.”

The full squad is as follows: Callum Nash (66kg, 22 years old), Joshua Green (73kg, 22), Eoin Fleming (81kg, 27), Rachael Hawkes (70kg, 27), Nathon Burns (66kg, 33), Yasmin Javadian (52kg, 21), Sarah Hawkes (+78kg, 29).