Joy of NI team on Commonwealth Games judo platform

The multi-sport show, which kicks off in the West Midlands at the end of July, is named after a seven-man squad.

“The closer you are to home, the more you can compete, which is always a good advantage,” he said. “And we don’t have many chances to get that, on the World Tour we’re literally all over the world … anything in Europe is a bonus for us.

“So having something like this so close to home is great in terms of preparing and preparing for the Olympics.

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Eoin Fleming (white) and Joshua Green (blue) in NI team judo training.

“Due to Covid, our qualification period ended at the end of March and it was extended from a two-year course to essentially a three-year qualification course…so it’s good to end up with seven qualifications and now it’s almost time to focus on summer.

“We’ve purposely set qualifying performance standards in line with previous Commonwealth Games top-eight performances, so we know they’re around that performance standard.

“The minimum we’ve talked about about qualifying is the Continental Senior Open medal, and they’ve all been able to achieve that and more.”

The teams competing in the Olympics are a mix of youth and experience.

“We have some very experienced players there, but it’s mostly a young team,” Ward said. “The program has been in the works for five years and most people join at 16 or 17, a sport that usually peaks in their 20s or 30s.

“It’s a young sport, but it’s nice to have more experienced players like Eoin Fleming and Nathon Burns who have played in the Commonwealth Games, Europeans or World Championships.

“The senior players in the program are the most dedicated and professional, and they really build the culture for the team, which always helps.”

Northern Ireland has won one silver and three bronze judo medals at the previous Commonwealth Games, and while Ward made no predictions for a podium finish in Birmingham, he believes the team will be in perfect shape.

“As long as I’m around, when you’re in this game, we know that all we can do is get people ready and give them their best performance on the day, and the Commonwealth Games is in this with any other The games are no different,” he said. “We know how to get people to be at their best physically and physically throughout the day, and that’s putting them in the same position technically and mentally to be able to perform at their best.

“We will be very excited if we get the best performance out of the seven athletes, and if there is a medal, there is a medal.”

Ward, who competed at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and four years later in Atlanta, hopes the Birmingham exposure will help the sport grow.

“Judo is definitely a minority sport and people on the World Tour are used to competing in front of 20,000 people in front of a huge TV audience,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to show people here judo because they might only see judo at the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics, so there’s a lot of exposure to the sport.”

The full lineup is as follows: Callum Nash (66kg, 22), Joshua Green (73kg, 22), Eoin Fleming (81kg, 27), Rachael Hawkes (70kg, 27), Nathon Burns (66kg, 33), Yasmin Javadian (52kg, 21), Sarah Hawkes (+78kg, 29).

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