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A year on from his Tokyo despair, Jordan Lee is bouncing back

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High jumper Jordan Lee opens up to Adam Moynihan about last year’s Paralympic heartbreak and how he managed to rediscover his confidence in 2022

When Jordan Lee jetted off for Tokyo this time last year, his hopes were high.

The Killarney high jumper was heading east to compete in his first ever Paralympic Games and although he was still new to the sport (he had taken it up just three years prior), his performances up to that point indicated that he wasn’t just there to take part.

Sadly, that’s not how things played out for the then 21-year-old. He underperformed on the world stage and finished last in his field. It was a chastening experience for Lee and the ramifications were potentially huge as his funding from Paralympics Ireland was now – very suddenly - under threat.

“There was a lot of pressure on me to try and retain my funding,” Lee reveals. “I was very much on my last legs. Funding can be wiped away in an instant if you’re not performing. It’s very, very cutthroat. It was 50-50 [for me].”

Losing that financial support would have been life-changing for Lee, who has aspirations of competing at the next World Championships in Paris in 2023.

“If we’re going to call a spade a spade, I had some very poor performances last year. [But] it was just a poor season. I’ve shown consistency over the last four years, I’ve been going on the right trajectory – up until last year when things didn’t go my way.

“It would have been quite harsh to say, ‘he’s had a bad year, we’re going to strip him of his funding’. I think it was a fair compromise to allow me to have another year to prove myself. I have some really good people in my corner that were fighting for my cause.”

With the help of Tomás Griffin (coach), Alan Delaney (high jump technical coach), Shane O’Rourke and Ciarán McCabe (both strength and conditioning), the Kerryman has bounced back in a big way.

“Thankfully I’ve been able to produce a very solid year. There were some clear signs of progression. My best jump last year was 1.87 (metres). I’ve jumped 1.90 three times this year, which is a big improvement.

“Finishing second at the French Grand Prix was a highlight for me. I finished behind the Paralympic silver medallist as well. It was good to finish second at the first international comp since the Paralympics because the confidence had taken a bit of a hit. I’ve always been very confident so when Tokyo came it was a shock to the system.

“In France, I threw myself out there and I had the silver medallist on the edge. He had to pull some jumps out of the bag. It was important to build that confidence up again.”

Lee often speaks of his desire to be recognised as a good pro athlete – not simply a good disabled athlete – and he proved his point once again by winning gold at the National U23 Championships in July. In doing so he became the first disabled competitor since superstar sprinter Jason Smyth to triumph against able-bodied rivals at nationals.

“A lot of it is down to doing the basic things right again, and knowing that Tokyo is over. I can’t be dwelling on it. I’ve got to move on,” Lee says of his recent form.

“Being honest with yourself is important too. I realised that it couldn’t get lower from that point [in Tokyo]. I was actually in a very chilled out headspace all year.

"Provided that I’m training hard, giving it 100%, and being very diligent, I felt that things would get better. All that materialised into a very good season."

“Now I’m in a really good place to retain the funding again for next year. I’m third in the world and second in Europe in both high jump and long jump.”

The long jump is another nice string to Lee’s bow and, true to form, he has sampled immediate success in his new discipline. In his first competition, having trained for the event just twice, he jumped up to second in Europe. He will weigh up the pros and cons of potentially juggling both disciplines next year – the high jump is still his priority - but for now he’s ready to enjoy some downtime.

“It has been a hectic year so I’m looking forward to taking a break and doing normal 22-year-old things for once.”

The Killarney Valley AC man is actually heading to the host city of the next World Championships – Paris – in a couple of weeks, although he says it’s very much a holiday rather than a reconnaissance mission.

Before he signs off for 2022 he will attend the official opening of the Killarney Valley AC Arena tomorrow (Saturday). He and his clubmates will take part in an exhibition of athletics on the day as the club hopes to showcase both their new facilities and the talented young sportspeople who are now benefitting from them.

“It’s something that the club have wanted to do over the past couple of years but it couldn’t happen because of Covid,” Lee says. “We’re looking forward to having a great atmosphere down at the track with tons of people there.

“I know it’s a slogan and a hashtag that we use on social media but the club is legitimately ‘On the Rise’ over the past couple of years. This year alone we’ve won 106 or 107 national and provincial medals – that’s not including county competitions. That’s an insane number for what is a very new club, as such, in terms of moving into the track. It’s amazing to see it.

“Hopefully on Saturday everyone can get a good feel for what the club’s culture is like, get to see us in action and have some fun.

“It’s very hard for the general public to understand athletics, really. Jason Smyth, for example has run the 100 metres in 10.2 seconds. He competes against somebody who runs 10.9. The natural reaction for someone watching that is to think, ‘the guy who ran 10.9 is no good’. But 10.9 is ridiculously fast. That’s still an unbelievable time.

“I think speed and other physical attributes on the track aren’t really recognised by people. They don’t understand how good you have to be to run a certain time or jump a certain height.

“We have an unbelievably talented team right now. It’s hopefully going to be interesting for the people who come down on Saturday. I’m training this week so I can jump over a couple of people’s heads, just to put things into context.”

One of those individuals he’ll be clearing is his girlfriend and fellow para-athlete Madie Wilson-Walker. Or should we say, ‘attempting to clear’?

“We’ve already done it. We tested it out,” Wilson-Walker – who accompanied Lee for this interview – jokes.

Was there any flinching?

“Oh yeah, there was! He said he would do it off three steps and I was like, ‘I swear to God…!’”

“Three steps was bit dodgy,” Lee smiles. “That’s the pressure though. You either have to clear her or something goes wrong.”

As they say in show business, it will be alright on the night. Hopefully.

Lee and Wilson-Walker have been joined at the hip since reuniting post-Covid. The Canadian long jumper – a bilateral amputee who competes using blades - moved to Killarney in 2021 to be with Lee and properly resume their transatlantic romance.

Of course, Lee and Wilson-Walker won’t be the only international athletes on show. The Killarney club currently boasts a number of top-level performers and Lee says that, as a team, they are all pushing each other on to greater things.

“We have an amazing family dynamic in the group. We have group sessions but generally they will split up after the warm-up into different disciplines. Sarah [Leahy] will be doing her stuff with the sprinters, I’ll be doing my stuff with the jumpers, Oisín Lynch and Jason O’Reilly will be doing their own things with their own group of people… It’s great craic.

“The club had to work at the start to get people invested into athletics. Now we have an unbelievable team with athletes who are quitting other sports to stick with us. There’s evidence there to prove that it has worked, with Sarah going to the World Championships. I still don’t think that gets the recognition it deserves. To be competing against the Jamaicans and the Polish – the best in the world – and she’s training here with Killarney Valley…”

There must be a sense of pride there?

“Oh definitely. We always knew Sarah was incredibly talented it was just a question of consistency with her sessions at the track, progressing on bit by bit. She has done that, and she deserves all the rewards that she gets. She’s an incredible athlete.

“I think the likes of Sarah and Ciara Kennelly and myself have inspired the likes of Oisín Lynch and Jason O’Reilly, and hopefully other people in the club, to keep on progressing at a high level.”

It’s not all about the superstars who have Europeans and Worlds and Olympics on their minds, though. As Lee himself has shown through his own achievements to date, sport is for everybody.

“It’s good to have internationals around the place but nobody is held on a pedestal. That’s not what athletics is about. It’s about inclusion. We all have different goals that we want to achieve but the steps to get there remain the same for everybody.”

The official opening of the Killarney Valley AC Arena takes place tomorrow (Saturday) at 3.30pm.

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Paudie Clifford returns and scores wondergoal as Kerry dismantle Monaghan

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Adam Moynihan reports from the Fitzgerald Stadium

National League Division 1

Kerry 3-16 Monaghan 0-14

HT: Kerry 0-10 Monaghan 0-6

A spectacular second-half goal by surprise inclusion Paudie Clifford helped Kerry to an impressive 11-point over Monaghan in Killarney this afternoon.

The All-Star forward wasn’t named on the initial panel of 27 but when his name was called out as No. 26 before the game, a loud cheer rang out around the O’Sullivan Stand. Kerry fans had to wait until the 46th minute to see the Fossa captain make his first appearance of the season but it didn’t take him long to make his mark.

After soloing all of 80 metres, the elder Clifford dispatched a perfect finish beyond the reach of Rory Beggan to send Kerry nine points clear with 51 minutes on the clock.

In truth the game was drifting away from Monaghan before Clifford’s cameo but his sensational contribution made absolutely certain.

With two points on the board and David Clifford and Seánie O’Shea waiting in the wings ahead of Mayo away in two weeks’ time, Kerry manager Jack O’Connor will be a happy man leaving Killarney this evening.

GIFTED

Monaghan stayed in touch with Kerry for the first quarter, thanks in the main to a string of needless fouls that gifted the away team some easy scores.

Conor McCarthy broke the deadlock with one such free in the 6th minute and Tony Brosnan got Kerry off the mark two minutes later with a placed ball of his own.

The reliable Dessie Ward and Kerry’s bustling full forward Darragh Roche exchanged scores before Micheál Bannigan tapped over a free to re-establish the Farney’s early lead.

Kerry then went on a mini-run, instigated by a neat team move that saw Tony Brosnan and Micheál Burns combine to tee up the excellent Tom O’Sullivan for a close-in score.

Good work by Barry Dan O’Sullivan from a hop ball led to another Brosnan free, and then a high, skyscraper of a point from the stand side into the scoreboard end by Donal Down O’Sullivan gave the hosts a two-point lead.

However, two more avoidable fouls handed Monaghan’s free-takers McCarthy and Bannigan a point apiece and midway through the first half, the scores were level at 0-5 each.

The Kingdom finally began to inject some pace into proceedings in the second quarter with Dara Moynihan and Micheál Burns especially active. The All-Ireland champions scored five of the next six points with Roche, Brosnan (free), Moynihan, Donal Down O’Sullivan and Burns all hitting the target.

A tasty individual effort by Monaghan’s best forward, Conor McCarthy, left the scores at 0-10 to 0-6 at the break.

UNDONE

Monaghan’s good work in the first half was rather quickly undone in the second as Kerry exerted their dominance in all sectors. By the time Darragh Roche evaded Beggan and goaled in the 39th minute, the home side led by eight (1-12 to 0-7) and the result already appeared to be beyond question.

In fairness to Vinney Corey’s charges, they rattled off three unanswered points over the next 10 minutes – and they would have scored a goal but for a great save by Shane Murphy – but then Clifford’s introduction set the tone for the remainder.

Adrian Spillane’s goalbound effort was tipped over in the 49th minute (Spillane was the last of Kerry’s six forwards to score) and then Clifford gathered the ball inside his own 65, sprinted straight for goal, and finished emphatically to make it 2-13 to 0-10.

Things got worse for Monaghan four minutes later when Ryan O’Toole saw red for a high tackle on Stefan Okunbor. In the next attack, Tom O’Sullivan sauntered forward to drive a trademark outside-of-the-boot shot between the uprights and Kerry led by double scores (2-14 to 0-10).

Stephen O’Hanlon was one of Monaghan’s shining lights and he scored two of his three points in the final quarter, but they counted for little when all was said and done.

TG4’s Man of the Match Donal Down O’Sullivan capped a fine full debut with a nice goal in stoppage time as Kerry picked up their first league win of the season.

KERRY: S Murphy; G O’Sullivan, J Foley, T O’Sullivan (0-2); P Warren, T Morley, P Murphy; J Barry, BD O’Sullivan; M Burns (0-1), D Moynihan (0-1), A Spillane (0-1); T Brosnan (0-4f), D Roche (1-2), D O’Sullivan (1-3).

Subs: P Clifford (1-1) for Moynihan; S Okunbor for BD O’Sullivan; K Spillane (0-1m) for Roche, G Horan for Warren; R Murphy for A Spillane.

MONAGHAN: R Beggan; T McPhillips, K Duffy (0-1), R Wylie; C Boyle, D Ward (0-1), K Loughran; K  Lavelle, C Lennon; S O’Hanlon (0-3), M Bannigan (0-3, 2f), J Wilson; C McCarthy (0-5, 4f), K Gallagher (0-1), S Carey.

Subs: D Treanor for Lennon; G Mohan for Wilson; T McPhillips for Lavelle; S Jones for Carey; S Slevin for Wylie.

Attendance: 10,232

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Handball continues to shine in Killarney

By Con Dennehy Handball in the Killarney region can look back at 2022 as a year of continued progress, the promotion of handball in East Kerry and the introduction of […]

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By Con Dennehy

Handball in the Killarney region can look back at 2022 as a year of continued progress, the promotion of handball in East Kerry and the introduction of the sport to a new generation.

It has been a phenomenal and successful year for the Spa Killarney Club. At the Annual General Meeting of the club this week, one of the highlights of the year singled out for mention was the hosting and promotion of a One Wall National Tournament which attracted players from all over Ireland to the Killarney venue in March.

There was joy for the home club at the tournament when Currow native and Spa Killarney Club member Aoife Walsh had an impressive victory in the highly competitive Ladies B championship.

There was also an international dimension for the club in 2022 when four players took part in the European One Wall Tournament in London. At this event Eoin O’Donoghue won gold in the Open Doubles B championship where he partnered with John Joe Quirke from Glenbeigh and Brendan O’Donoghue won a silver medal in the Over 40 Doubles final.

“As a new club we were delighted with the success we achieved in 2022. In January Aoife Walsh and Sinead Moriarty took home silverware in the highly competitive She’s Ace competition in Tyrone. This really was our springboard for success during the year and resulted in some of our players competing in the One Wall national finals in Roscommon in July. We are looking forward to an exciting 2023 and hopefully welcoming new members to the club,” said Eoin O’Donoghue, PRO of Spa Killarney Handball Club.

The club rounded off a memorable year in October when they hosted the Munster One Wall championships and the Kerry Handball Board AGM in November where club members Kieran O’Brien was elected president of Kerry Handball and Brendan O’Donoghue was appointed delegate to the Kerry GAA Board.

Officers Elected for 2023/2024: Brendan O’Donoghue (Chairman), Sinead Moriarty (Vice Chairperson), David Gillespie (Secretary), Eoin O’Donoghue (PRO) and James O’Brien (Treasurer).

Open Night

Spa Killarney Handball Club will host an Open Night at the Spa GAA Club on Monday night (February 6). This will be an opportunity for attendees to savour the thrill of handball, have a taster game and meet the club players. It commences at 7pm and all over 18s are welcome.

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