Date Published: 30-Jun-2011
SWIMMING in Galway received a significant boost recently when up and coming star David O’Sullivan was selected to represent Ireland at the European Youth Olympics Festival in Trabzon, Turkey at the end of July.
In all, over 4,000 athletes from 49 European countries will compete at the games, which are viewed by many aspiring athletes as a stepping stone to greater things. Indeed, for 15-year-old O’Sullivan, who will be part of a seven member Irish swim team, his selection represents an important point in his burgeoning sporting career.
“I have been swimming since I was three,” remarks the soft-spoken Junior Cert. student. “When I was 10, I started doing lanes and going to galas and stuff like that. I specialise in the butterfly and my favourite would be the 200m butterfly which, basically, would be eight lengths.”
Victories in a variety of swim disciplines in a multitude of competitions, including the All-Irelands, the Irish Schools and the Community Games have, no doubt, established O’Sullivan as a strong competitor, but it has been his inclusion in the Irish swim team for the forthcoming games that has marked him out as a prospect for the future.
To qualify, the Galway City teenager – who is currently the Connacht senior and junior record holder, Irish age-group champion and ranked No. 5 in Ireland and Britain in the 200 butterfly – had to achieve the top 12 average standard for the past four European Youth Games, which he did in his principal event.
While the Youth Olympics will certainly be the biggest stage he has performed on so far, it will not be his first time to represent his country. “I have already represented the Irish Schools, for the past two years,” explains the Bish student.
“Two years ago, I did the U-15 100m butterfly and I came sixth and then I came third in the 200m IM (individual medley). This year, though, I came third in the U-18 (butterfly) in Dublin. The competition consisted of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, so it was great to finish third in that.”
Still only 15 and already placed in U-18 international events, O’Sullivan would definitely appear to have the talent to make a name for himself in the sport: “The 200m butterfly is more about endurance, though,” says the modest swimmer. “A lot of people actually struggle to finish it.”
In any event, O’Sullivan is the first from Galway Swimming Club since 2003 to qualify for the games and for full-time coach Pearse McGuigan it signifies the progress being currently made at the club. “It is good for the club and it is good for the area,” states McGuigan. “It has been eight years since we had an international swimmer from the area and considering how difficult the times and the qualification criteria are to attain, it is even more of a feat.
“We have a club that has 120 members approximately and we have a teaching programme that can facilitate up to 300 swimmers. Basically, it is a breeding ground for potential stars coming through the system. We have 10 squads working within our club programme and we have six coaches. So, it highly structured and highly organised but it has taken plenty of time to develop and progress the club the way we want it to.”
The club, itself, is based out of three facilities, namely Leisureland, Salthill Hotel (Ocean Fitness) and NUI Galway Kingfisher. “All the facilities have been exceptionally kind to us in supporting the programme over the course of the years and more so now,” adds the Tyrone native.
McGuigan believes the sport is only recovering after the controversies of yesteryear, no more so than the child abuse scandals of the ‘80s and ‘90s. “It certainly didn’t help the sport,” continues the former Ulster 100m and 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley record holder. “It has recovered, but it has taken years to get it back on track again. I suppose, they (the controversies) did not stop people from swimming, but they did affect the profile of the sport.”
As it is, swimming – like other minority sports in the country – already plays “second or third fiddle to the big three (GAA, rugby and soccer), which is disappointing”, says McGuigan, who is currently undertaking a part-time Sports Coaching Degree at University of Ulster, Jordanstown. “If you read the papers, though, swimming, when it comes to world class level, it sells out. It is sold out in the Olympics already.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
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