Paralympian Barry McClements is desperate to capitalise on the rare chance to represent Northern Ireland and make his mark this summer, writes Tum Balogun.
The former Ards swimmer was part of an Irish squad that competed at the Paralympics in Tokyo, with a best finish of seventh in the S9 men’s 100m backstroke.
Though proud of that achievement in his first Paralympic Games, the 20-year-old is hungry for more success in Paris after first seizing the opportunity to pull on a Northern Ireland vest this summer in Birmingham.
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With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games set to inspire people and communities across the country this summer, McClements hopes sharing his story will give others motivation to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality.
“It’s a very big deal for us,” he said ahead of his second Commonwealth Games.
“I feel like for us you either represent the whole of Ireland or Great Britain, but you never just get Northern Ireland.
“It makes you sort of excited and want to make the country proud and give it more praise and put it on the map.
“It’ll be very good to have a big crowd there so close to home as well, my family and a lot of my friends get to come over.
“That's the first time in a long time so it makes it more exciting.”
This summer, Team Northern Ireland, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will compromise over 100 athletes, and having secured his place on the squad, McClements is looking for medal success.
The County Down star comes into the Games in a rich vein of form, having made a habit of securing personal best performances when it matters most.
McClements narrowly missed out on the Paralympic final in the S9 men’s 400m freestyle, despite posting his quickest time at that distance, and posted several personal bests at last month's World Championships in Madeira.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph last year, former coach Davy Johnston labelling him one of the best swimmers he had ever coached.
Yet, neither that praise nor the weight of expectation on his young shoulders fazes McClements, a quality he puts down to his mindset.
“In the last 25 [metres] in my final I just said, ‘I'm not going home without a PB’. It's sort of a mentality thing.” he said of the 2022 World Para Swimming Championships. “Just finding that extra gear and the extra drive and not knowing when to give up really.”
McClements' talents have certainly been noticed and the swimmer is widely tipped to secure major championships wins in short order.
Though concerning this summer, he will not be drawn on a specific target beyond securing a maiden Commonwealth medal.
He added: “I don’t really like to set external goals that I can’t control.
“A medal would be good but before that I want to swim the best race I’ve ever swam.”
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