Paracanoe athlete Patrick O’Leary, who is from Cork, during a recent training session ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Photos: Sportsfile

High hopes for Irish Paralympians

There could be more medals on the cards for Cork and for Ireland as the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games get into full swing.

Ireland has sent 29 athletes to compete in nine sports over two intense weeks of competition, two or three of which we can claim here in Cork.

Carrigaline native Niamh McCarthy is the 2018 European champion in women’s discus and will compete on Wednesday morning in the women’s discus throw final.

Considered one of the finest Paralympic discus throwers in the world, Niamh is a very real medal prospect for Ireland.

Having emerged onto the international scene in 2013, Niamh progressed quickly on the world stage, securing her first major medal at the World Championships 2015 in Doha where she took home a well-deserved bronze.

Her greatest achievement to date came in 2016 when she represented Ireland at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio where she produced a staggering throw of 27.05 metres to record a new personal best in the event with a silver medal to boot.

Leeside’s second athlete at this year’s games, Pat O’Leary, was the first ever athlete to represent Ireland in canoeing at the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016 when the sport was added to the schedule for the first time.

Pat performed brilliantly, progressing through the heats of the competition to reach the final where he finished sixth overall.

He will be taking to the water in the men’s kayak single 200m heat next Wednesday when he will be hoping to make the semi-finals taking place on Thursday and Friday.

Originally from Cork, Pat now lives in Galway with his wife and family where he lectures in organic chemistry at NUI Galway.

In 2019, Pat secured a slot for Ireland in para canoe thanks to a fantastic fifth placed finish at the World Championships in Hungary having secured his place in the final by winning his heat.

The father of two was canoeing for a long time before losing his leg in recent years and is coached by former Irish international Neil Fleming.

Not from Cork but studying at UCC, Mary Fitzgerald will represent Ireland in the F40 shotput as she enters the games in the best form of her life.

Mary won bronze at the European Championships in Bydgoszcz in June with a throw of 7.35 and now sits at fourth in world ranking in her category.

After making her Paralympics debut, Mary will start the final year of her occupational therapy studies at UCC where she receives a Quercus Scholarship for her academic and sport achievements.

Beyond the rebel county, one of the county’s strongest medal contenders is sprinter Jason Smyth who is officially the fastest Paralympian of all time.

Jason still holds the world and Paralympic records in T13 100m (10:46) and 200m (21.05), which he set at the London Paralympics in 2012.

He won double T13 sprint gold on his Paralympic debut in Beijing 2008 and retained them in London and in Rio.

Jason, who is visually impaired, is now chasing a sixth crown in Tokyo which will be his fourth Paralympic Games.

In 2010 he was the first Para athlete to compete in the European (able-bodied) Championships where he narrowly missed making the final.

His 10:22 time from 2011 also makes him the second fastest Irishman of all-time in any category.

Another strong contender for a medal is middle-distance runner Michael McKillop from Belfast has already won 12 medals at major championships during his 16 seasons in an Irish vest.

The first medal of Michael’s glittering career was the 800m gold at the 2006 World Championships. He has since added five more world titles, including double golds in 2015 and 2017 and was a double European champion in 2014.

In 2018, a groin injury and subsequent surgery side-lined Michael for a full year after which he returned in time for the 2019 World Championships where he failed to make the podium by just 0.4 of a second.