Rhys McClenaghan ready to raise level to defend Commonwealth title

Rhys McClenaghan ready to raise level to defend Commonwealth title

Rhys McClenaghan knows he needs to lift his game to defend his Commonwealth Games pommel horse title.

McClenaghan edged out double Olympic champion Max Whitlock in the Gold Coast four years ago and followed up a few months later by winning the European title in Glasgow.

Whitlock is absent from Birmingham, as he prioritises the World Championships in Liverpool later this year, but it could be one of his England team-mates that challenges the 23-year-old from County Down.

McCleneghan scored 14.350 to finish second in qualifying while England's Joe Fraser, a world champion on parallel bars, produced a brilliant routine to score 14.650.

Fraser's involvement in the Games was in major doubt after a burst appendix and fractured foot but McClenaghan insists there is no need for concern.

"I’m happy enough with the performance and I know I can improve a lot on that and that is exciting for me," he said.

“I feel like I can add a full point onto that score and I look forward to Monday’s final.

“Especially having the crowd there it makes that finish of a routine a little more relieving and a little more exciting the fact that the crowds are right with you, I’m glad to be back in an arena that is packed out and an arena where I can put on a good show.

“It is still a little bit of a fresh new routine that I am putting out there and the construction of it has changed over the past few months, I am glad that I am still able to get through it from start to finish and that is what you want to see.

“I’m not sure if I felt extra pressure but I always feel a certain level of pressure and I feel that comes more from myself rather than the crowd watching me. I’ve done my job and I’m excited for the finals."

McClenaghan had been told he wouldn't be able to defend his Commonwealth title after the International Gymnastics Federation ruled the Northern Ireland team couldn't compete because previous performances for Ireland at world and European level.

It led to a storm of protest, with Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland accusing the FIG of having ‘completely disregarded’ the Good Friday agreement with its actions.

However, McClenaghan’s team-mates took advantage of their U-turn, Eamon Montgomery reaching the floor final as the second best qualifier while Ewan McAteer advanced to the vault final.

National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes.