DARREN O’NEILL WAS singled out for praise again on Monday as Ireland’s athletes returned home from the London Olympics.
Though his own medal challenge ended in disappointing defeat at the last 16 stage, the Kilkenny middleweight was a key figure behind the scenes as captain of Ireland’s six-strong boxing squad.
In recognition of his contribution, O’Neill had the honour of carrying the tricolour into the Olympic Stadium for Sunday night’s closing ceremony.
As the team touched down in Dublin Airport Chef de Mission Sonia O’Sullivan thanked him again, but the 26-year-old insisted that his job outside the ring was an easy one — even if he didn’t fully understand what he was signing up to.
“I suppose you don’t ever really understand that,” O’Neill joked to TheScore.ie. “The boys and Katie were obviously so professional and brilliant at what they do that it was always going to be an easy job.”
“When I was asked to carry the flag I was completely surprised. I think it was given to me because of what they’re saying about my role as captain but it was easy for me really. All the athletes were great.”
Sunday night’s closing ceremony will live long in the memory, he added.
I was very honoured to be asked to carry the flag. I didn’t get to go down to the Olympic Stadium at all because the boys were still in competition. Any time there was a possibility of getting tickets there was someone boxing so I was obviously going to that.
It was an amazing experience, a packed stadium, and the show that the British put on for the closing ceremony was phenomenal.
Although O’Neill’s debut Olympics didn’t end with the medal he set off in search of, he was delighted to finally be back home after a long stint on the road.
“It’s strange. We’ve been away a long time. We were just saying when we were on the plane that it was all over very quickly but when you think back to the day we left, it feels like a few months back.
“It’s a little bit sad that it’s all over but at the same time you have to come back to reality and it’s great to be back and see family and friends.”