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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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'I want three medals around my neck': Ireland's dynamic duo gunning for track glory

All eyes will be on Rio’s Velodrome over the next few days as Ireland’s cyclists go in search of Paralympic success.

Dunlevy and McCrystal go through their practice session yesterday.
Dunlevy and McCrystal go through their practice session yesterday.
Image: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

– Ryan Bailey reports from Rio de Janeiro 

WITH THEIR FIRST Paralympic event on Friday morning, cyclists Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal watched last night’s Opening Ceremony with a set of rosary beads by their side.

“Katie’s mother made them in the colours of the Irish flag,” McCrystal explains. “It’s like having another mother-in-law, having to wear them for her.”

Joking aside, the pair are very much in tandem both on and off the bike. Over the course of three years Dunlevy and McCrystal have forged not only a working relationship but a friendship which is built on trust, hard work and a close bond.

Their stock has soared to such an extent that they go into Friday’s Individual B Kilo final — the first of three events they’ll compete in — harbouring genuine hopes of a medal. That’s where the rosary beads come in.

The pair have enjoyed unheralded success during this Paralympic cycle having instantly found a winning formula both in the Velodrome and on the road. Now it comes down to the variables on the day — and a good chunk of luck.

“I want three medals around my neck,” McCrystal says. “I’m going to be honest, that’s what we’re aiming for. That’s what we’ve worked so hard for, we never missed a session unless we were sick and that was very rare.

2016 Paralympic Games - Previews Day - 1 Source: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

“I think we deserve it but it’s racing it doesn’t always work out that way. We’re prepared for both scenarios but really what we’re going for is three medals which we know we’re capable of getting. You need luck on your side too, so with a bit of luck you never know.”

Right on cue, Dunlevy adds: “We’ve worked so hard and preparations have gone really well. We have medalled at World Cup and World Championship level over the last number of years and I feel we’ve moved on and progressed in the last 12 months.”

In that time, McCrystal — a proficient triathlete in her own right — has taken temporary leave from An Garda Siochana to fully concentrate her efforts on achieving what both know they’re capable of this week.

“I hope it’s all worth it,” the Dundalk native says. “I had no choice with two young kids to take a year off. We really just have to do our best on the day and have a bit of luck. We’re trying to be positive all of the time.”

Wednesday’s session in the Olympic Velodrome was short and sweet but also was a final chance to fine-tune the preparations. Nothing strenuous, nothing tactical but working on the little things that might make the difference.

And it is somewhat ironic that Ireland’s first medal of the Games could come in the Velodrome, a facility our country’s cyclists have been deprived of on home shores.

So it is the reality that Dunlevy and McCrystal have spent a considerable chunk of the last three years abroad in Majorca and Portugal, away from their families whilst expending every last sinew to achieve success for Ireland.

Damien Vereker and Sean Hahessy have faced a similar situation ahead of their first international competition as a pair.

“I personally would love to see a Velodrome in Ireland,” Hahessy says of the issue. “I think it is the way forward in terms of getting the youth involved. Sport is about dealing with the hand you’re dealt rather than moaning about the hands your opponents are dealt.”

2016 Paralympic Games - Previews Day -1 Source: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

2016 Paralympic Games - Previews Day -1 Source: SPORTSFILE

It is a discussion for another day but at least one podium finish over the next 10 days would add to Cycling Ireland’s bargaining power when it comes to the development of a high-performance facility.

Even still, to have a team of this pedigree, also including three-time World champion Eoghan Clifford, in Rio speaks volumes of Ireland’s strength in the sport. You get the feel there’s a story or two waiting for us inside Rio’s Velodrome.

But you also have to be realistic. Later today, Vereker and Hahessy ride in tandem for the first time and it’s widely considered that a top eight finish would be a good result for them in the Men’s B Tandem Individual Pursuit.

“Normally we would have nerves but actually we’re really, really confident,” Hahessy, a Tipperary native, explains.

“There are no nerves, I am 100% excited, can’t wait for it, can’t wait to get up tomorrow and just go through the motions again. We have done it in training and want to go out and absolutely smash it.

“Our target for Thursday is a four minutes and 16 seconds for the 4km. I think that’s very close to a medal. The guys who win could be two seconds faster. Second to eighth place will be separated by a second or two. We just have to make sure we are on the right side of that.”

As yesterday’s session came to an end inside the Velodrome, organisers were going through a final practice run of the medal ceremonies.

How we would dearly love to see the tricolour raised here at some point, and maybe even an appearance from the rosary beads too.

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Ryan Bailey

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