The Olympics have finished, but for some athletes the real Games are about to begin. Two of these athletes, Johnny Cronin and Tom Leahy, left Mallow Railway Station yesterday to join up with the 49-strong Team Ireland squad for a training camp in Coimbra, Portugal, and from there they leave on 28th August for London, where they will stay in the Olympic Village for the duration of the Paralympic Games which start on August 29th.

Johnny and Tom are no strangers to international competition in their sport of boccia. Indeed, Tom is competing in his 8th Summer Games, having won boccia silver in Atlanta in 1996 and discus gold at Sydney in 2000. Johnny is every bit as successful as Tom, his highlight being a gold medal win in pairs boccia at Sydney in 2000.

Johnny was accompanied on his journey yesterday by his lifelong friend Tony Sheehan who is a former FCA member and boxing enthusiast, and is well known to pupils at Scoil Ghobnatán where he works as a caretaker. Tony has been to many cities with Johnny including New York, Lisbon, Antwerp, Vancouver and Manchester, but it is his first Para-lympics. “I am really looking forward to London. It will be amazing to be part of the opening ceremony in Olympic Park, but then we will have to put our heads down and focus on the competitions in the ExCel [where Ireland’s boxers did so brilliantly last week]. My family Ka, Craig and Amber are excited that I have the honour of going to London, and I am grateful to Scoil Ghobnatan’s Principal, Michael Walsh, for allowing me to take time out from work for the Games,” he said.

For those who do not know what boccia is, this is a sport played by wheelchair athletes with cerebral palsy and related neurological disorders and is an extreme test of muscle control, accuracy and stamina. The aim of the sport is to throw or bowl a ball so that it lands as close as possible to the jack, with a point scored for each ball that finishes closer than an opponent’s best effort.