Phil Healy will be one of Ireland’s athletics stars.. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

It’ll be ‘off the rails’

“We are the best sporting county in the whole world, don't mind Ireland!”

That’s according to passionate Leeside Olympic medallist Rob Heffernan who said that the public are in for a very special Olympic games this summer.

By today, most, if not all of the 116 Irish Olympic team have touched down in Japan to begin final preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Rob, who represented Ireland five times in the Olympics in race walking, says he expects a certain “x-factor” from competition-starved athletes.

“I think the 5k record could go; I think the 10k record could go. I think the standards of this Olympics is going to be massive. It's going to be off the rails in every event,” he said.

This year’s Olympics, which were scheduled to happen last year, will take place without live attendance, something Rob says won’t have too much of a negative effect on competitors. “There's just a sense of appreciation and gratitude from the athletes that the Olympics are happening that is definitely making up for the void of not having supporters.”

Rob, who insists that he is Irish but is primarily from Cork, said his home county’s passion and mental strength are two of the reasons why 19 out of 116 competitors in this year’s Irish Olympic team are from the Rebel County.

“From road bowling to athletics to soccer to rugby to rowing, our passion for sport in Cork and our mental standard for sport is so high,” he said.

Of the 19 Corkonian athletes representing Ireland, ten are on the rowing team, and of these ten, six are from Skibbereen.

“They have a good system down there; they have a good culture and there's a conveyer belt of athletes coming through,” said Rob. “I think what Cork has with the rowing, we shouldn't take it for granted. There should always be massive investment pumped into areas of success. Long may it continue.”

Turning to medal prospects, Rob said he has a good feeling about rowers Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy.

He also backed Latvian-born Sanita Puspure in the Women’s Single Scull and boxer Kellie Harrington to take home golds for Ireland.

Asked what message he has for the 19 Cork Olympians competing, Rob said they must use their county’s love and support as motivation to compete.

“For every single Cork athlete, they need to realise that, when they come back home to Cork, that everybody here is so proud of them. Once you give it your best shot, you can always hold your head high when you come home,” said Rob.

Live Olympics action begins on RTÉ2, RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ Player from 1.30am on 23 July as rowers take to the water with the Opening Ceremony following from 11.30am.