As a youngster, growing up in Newtownforbes, Darragh Greene never dared to dream that one day he’d be an Olympian.
However, the multiple national record holder swimming ace is poised to achieve the incredible feat when #TeamIreland treks to Tokyo for the rescheduled 2020 Olympic Games from July 23 to August 8.
“Even to think that you are going to be an Olympian is a big confidence booster. It is a dream come true,” beamed 25-year-old Darragh after he received official confirmation from Swim Ireland officials that his seat on the plane to Japan was assured.
He tweeted, “I am absolutely honoured and delighted to be nominated to represent Ireland at my first Olympic Games.”
He was overwhelmed by the local reaction and extremely grateful for the many messages of congratulations he received.
“It is one of those good news stories that people need or want to hear. At this stage, we are almost coming up on the year mark for lockdown. I know some people don’t really see the light at the end of the tunnel but there is something to look forward to. The Olympics is one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
“Even if there are spectators or not in Tokyo, people will be able to watch it on their TV and it will be unreal to bring a buzz of excitement. From Newtownforbes to Longford to Ireland, something good will be coming from it and it will raise people’s spirits.”
Son of Brian and Ann, his sister Aisling plays gaelic football for the county and his younger brother Rían is into basketball.
“I definitely come from a competitive family,” Darragh smiled. Brian lined out as goalkeeper with Longford Town FC and the county senior football team.
His family may not be able to make the journey to Tokyo but that is something Darragh chooses not to dwell on. “I can’t really take the focus off the main objective (competing). It is not something you can control and you can’t let it bother you in that kind of sense.”
He said previously it was mum Ann, originally from Ardagh, that put all three children “into swimming lessons, in Longford Swimming Club, to get us water safe when we were young.”
Darragh played plenty of team sports gaelic football, basketball, hurling and soccer, with St Mel’s and Clonguish GAA and actually didn't concentrate on swimming until Transition Year.
So were the Olympic Games ever on the radar of 10-year-old Darragh? “Not a chance,” he gasps.
He continues, “It is only in the last five years that I started to gain focus on the Olympics. When you are at a high performance level you really have to invest yourself, physically and mentally, into training every day. You can’t have a ‘what if’ or ‘if that’ frame of mind.
“It was a collective of people along my journey that helped me get to where I am now. The people you meet along the way that have had a positive impact.
“I think the big game changer was when I met with my coach Ben Higson who is a very accomplished swim coach, especially in breaststroke.
“He has coached world class breaststrokers. Once I was able to get to work under him, he made the thought into a possibility and it was up to myself then to be able to grab the opportunity with both hands and deliver.”
Darragh is immensely proud of his association with Longford Swimming Club.
“I swam with Longford SC for much of my career. When I joined, it was a competitive group, there was a serious standard. I won two Community Games national gold medals for Longford.”
He says his first coach Liam Deeley gave him a great start and in his early teens it was Mel Magan and Carmel Leahy who were his coaches, before he linked up with Ronan McNevin and Barry Hall when he was in Transition Year at St Mel’s College and began taking his swimming ‘more seriously’ and managed to secure a scholarship to UCD.
He has fond memories of his time at St Mel’s and also at Scoil Mhuire, Newtownforbes.
“I remember representing Scoil Mhuire in the All-Ireland swimming relays, on a team alongside Matthew Valentine, Darren McLoughlin and Ciaran Madden.”
Darragh says he didn’t find it difficult transitioning from team sports to focusing on swimming.
“Not at all. I prefer it. With swimming, it is a black and white sport. Whatever you give to it, you will get out of it. If you are only half arsed with stuff, you’ll get half arsed results and you can’t really expect anything more from it.
“But if you give it your all and you are dedicated and you are hardworking and mainly, you are patient. That is the one thing that was always said to me was to be patient with it, because I, in no way, was a top national junior swimmer at all. And taking time and persistence...
“You have a lot more failures than accomplishments and you have to learn from them and move on. That is definitely where I have gotten myself to today by reaching goals etc.”
With Covid-19 restrictions in place, Swim Ireland National Performance Director Jon Rudd suggested Darragh and his colleagues are enjoying ‘enhanced training’ in their bubble at the National Aquatic Centre.
Darragh concurs, “We’ve no outside distractions. Pre-Covid times we’d only have five lanes in the pool and public activity around us. Now we have the pool to ourselves and we create our own environment and we are all going for the one goal.”
Life in the swimming bubble, what is it actually like?
“The training schedule is the same, pool and in the gym. Train Monday to Saturday, two to three sessions a day. We have the pool to ourselves. It is only the safety precautions we take.
“When you wake up, you have to fill out a questionnaire to be able to get onto the campus to show you are healthy; and once you are in there and before you enter the pool you are getting a temperature check done.
“You walk around in a one-way system and you have your own little sectioned off part on the deck which is allocated for you to get changed, to stretch, roll out and get ready and then you're allocated a lane to train away.
“After that you are getting back to the house, to refuel and rest and recover ahead of the next session. In the bubble, it is not as different as it would have been but at the same time you are keeping your contacts low, as you could pick up Covid-19 anywhere and you can’t take any risks. It could happen to any of us.”
When he isn’t training, how does Darragh pass the time?
“When it comes to rest and recovery, you try to leave the training side at the pool because when you get back you’d only wear yourself out if you are thinking about training.
“So you flip the switch and focus more on rest and recovery. Before Covid times, it was meeting up with friends for a coffee or whatever, go to lunch. Now, it is a lot of Netflix watching, and doing extra bits of prepping for the next training day.”
Darragh achieved his Olympic qualification times in the 100m Breaststroke at the FINA World Championships in 2019 and 200m Breaststroke at the Irish Open Championships, also in 2019.
He became Ireland’s first swimmer to go inside the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Qualification time at the FINA World Championships, setting a new Irish 100m breaststroke record of 59.82 in the heats of the 100m Breaststroke in Gwangju, South Korea.
Darragh reflects, “It was very bitter sweet. I got the time and the Irish record but was placed 17th overall so I just missed out on the semi-finals.
“It was the first time in history that a swimmer sub 60 didn’t make it to the semi-finals and that shows the depth and high standard in breaststroke now.”
While winning that 200m national title, Darragh broke Andrew Bree’s 11-year-old Irish senior record in clocking 2:10.05. Bree set the record in the semi-final of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In 2018, Darragh beat Rio Olympian Nic Quinn in the 200m Irish Open Championship final.
The Irish 50m, 100m and 200m record holder will have little opportunity for competitive swims between now and the Olympics.
“I will compete in Budapest to help get the relay teams qualified. There is hearsay of competitions coming but that could change.
“I’m taking it day by day with training and we have a lot of race simulations where the coaches get the time pads in and we race the clock to keep sharp and see where you are at.”
Despite the ongoing challenges presented by the global Covid-19 pandemic, Olympic Federation of Ireland President Sarah Keane expressed confidence last week that the delayed Olympics will go ahead this summer.
Darragh, too, shares that view and his focus is entirely on performing to his optimum in Tokyo.
“The Olympics are on, full stop. And my training is geared 100% towards Tokyo especially now that I’ve got the nomination. It’s just focus on the big show now in the summer whereas other swimmers have to focus on April or whenever they get the chance to qualify. So it is good to have that reassurance and the box ticked.”
During the first lockdown last March, Darragh was at home and he ended up ‘doing everything and anything, whether that was zoom circuits, runs and gym work’.
He says he was fortunate enough to get some gym equipment from Coral Longford Leisure Centre, for whom he is an Ambassador and he thanked manager James O’Brien and Barry Hall.
He also expressed thanks to Senator Micheál Carrigy for helping set up the athlete’s grant, Longford County Council, Longford Sports Partnership and Kevin & John O’Reilly of O’Reilly and Sons Volkswagen for their support.
Has Darragh any advice for youngsters hoping to emulate him?
“Be patient and have fun. At the end of the day, the last thing to do is to forget to have fun. You have to remind yourself why you are doing it... you are enjoying it. And then whatever happens, happens.”
DARRAGH GREENE FACT FILE
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