The Irish Paralympic Sport Exhibition takes place on Saturday
Last September, Ireland's Paralympics team won 11 medals in Brazil. Four golds, four silvers and three bronze medals were the reward for the team, who returned home having comfortably beaten their pre-Games medals target.
This Saturday, the road to Tokyo 2020 and beyond truly begins with hundreds of athletes expected to attend the Irish Paralympic Sport Exhibition in Blanchardstown’s National Indoor Sports Arena. Athletes of all abilities will be able to sample some of the twenty Paralympic sports available to them.
One person who will be keeping a watchful eye over the event is Dave Malone, the Paralympics Ireland Performance Director. Malone, a four-time Paralympian and gold medalist in 2000 is hopeful that some of Saturday's attendees can go on and represent Ireland at international level.
"It’s an opportunity to showcase the wider range of Paralympic sports, with the long-term goal of introducing new people into the sports," Malone told Newstalk.com. "From our perspective, it can give athletes an opportunity to realise their potential in a sport that may be suited them. Ultimately it may lead to them being part of the Paralympic team in Tokyo or in 2024."
Dave Malone after winning silver in the Men's 100m Backstroke Class S8 at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donal Meghen
At a similar event four years, Cork athlete Niamh McCarthy was introduced to the discus. In Rio, she won a silver medal in the F41 class and has also won a bronze medal in the 2015 World Championships. McCarthy’s story shows that events like Saturday’s one have proven beneficial for Paralympics Ireland.
Malone represented Ireland at four Paralympic Games from Atlanta in 1996 to Beijing in 2008. Events like the one taking place in Blanchardstown did not take place when the Dubliner was competing. He admitted the lack of an identification programme halted his original progress.
"When I got involved there was no events of this type of scale. I got into swimming by chance, because my friends were involved in the sport. I didn’t even know what the Paralympic Games were in 1988. I joined my local swimming club, and from there it was a lot longer to be discovered, because the opportunities available today were not involved then.
"Maybe I would have been discovered a bit faster and possibly would have had an avenue to develop the skillsets to become an international athlete. Having an event like this brings the Paralympic community under one roof."
Two of the sports that will be demonstrated this weekend are wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby. Ireland did not have teams in either sport in Rio, and Malone said he hoped by giving the two sports a public platform, it may help the sports increase the participation numbers, which will help increase the quality of Team Ireland at future Paralympic Games.
Paralympics Ireland Performance Director Dave Malone
"We had a football 7-a-side team who competed in Rio. A team sport bring a new level of stimulus into Team Ireland. It’s our way of helping and bringing new sports onto an elite level."
Saturday’s event is open to athletes of all ages and abilities, with the hope that some stars of the future may be unearthed.
"It’s a free event," Malone confirmed. "It’s open all day. My role as a Performance Director is to manage the performance aspects of our organisation towards Games success. We are very conscious in order to find the next generation of athletes that will represent Ireland at future Games beyond 2020, 2024 and 2028.
"This provides people a chance to get involved in sport initially. Whether it’s for health and well-being or not, there is now an opportunity for athletes to develop their skills to compete as an international athlete."
While the event will be primarily for athletes to try the event, there will also be Paralympics Ireland staff on site to educate those taking part. Specific sports will only be suitable to athletes with certain disabilities, meaning athletes may not qualify for sports they hoped to compete in.
"Our role on the day is to provide information and guidance toward what sports best suit an athlete to fast-track them towards competing for Ireland."
Registration will be open on the day, but any athlete can pre-register here ahead of the event.