The 2018 ISF World Schools Games Gymnasiade in Casablanca, Morocco, was to see Ireland enter a team in the swimming championships of the multi-sport event for the first time and return with an outstanding 13 medal haul. Six golds, five slivers and two bronze medals saw the eight-strong team finish second on the medal table.
Not only was this the first time that Swim Ireland had participated at the competition, but they were the only sport from Ireland to represent the nation at this year’s event. Led by coaches Mark Craig and Sinead Donagher, a five day camp in Marrakesh saw the team perform excellently over the three days of competition, particularly with seven of the eight team members focusing further into the season ahead with the LEN European Junior Championships in Helsinki on the horizon in July.
It was relays to the fore as the Female 400m Medley Relay of Maria Godden of Kilkenny (Backstroke 1:05.80), Niamh Coyne of National Centre Dublin (Breaststroke 1:09.70), Ellen Walshe of Templeogue (Butterfly 1:00.98) and Mona McSharry of Ballyshannon Marlins (Freestyle 55.81) breaking the Irish Senior Record to take gold in 4:12.29. One day earlier, the Female 400m Freestyle Relay (Godden 58.51, Walshe 58.13, Rebecca Reid of Ards 57.95 and McSharry 55.79) had taken the team’s first gold of the meet in a time of 3:50.38 – with Niamh Coyne admirably bolstering the team in the heats.
Jack McMillan (Bangor) was also in record breaking form as he set about the Male 200m Freestyle Irish Junior Record, dropping his own mark to 1:49.77 for a further gold. McMillan was also to take silver in the 100m Freestyle in 51.62. Mona McSharry was in further golden form in the individual events, taking top honours in the Female 50m Breaststroke in 31.18 and 100m Breaststroke in 1:07.36. Ellen Walshe was also to ensure further honours as she claimed gold in the Female 200m Butterfly, winning the event in 2:15.09.
Niamh Coyne was to complete a one-two in the Female 100m Breaststroke with team-mate McSharry, claiming silver in 1:10.26, having already taken an additional silver in the 200m Breastroke in 2:34.51. Cadan McCarthy of National Centre Limerick was in fine form to claim sliver in the Male 200m IM in 2:07.98, whilst Rebecca Reid was to add to her haul with silver in the Female 200m IM in 2:19.58.
Not to be left out in the relay stakes, the Mixed 400m Freestyle Relay (Jack McMillan 51.55, Cadan McCarthy 54.54, Mona McSharry 55.68 and Rebecca Reid 58.75) were to clinch a tightly fought bronze in 3:40.52, with Maria Godden completing the Irish medal haul with bronze in the Female 100m Backstroke in 1:04.44.
Ireland were to feature in nine further finals, with members of the team going agonisingly close to medals on five occasions, courtesy of Jack McMillan in the Male 400m Freestyle for 4th, Cadan McCarthy in the Male 400m IM for 4th, Mara Godden in the Female 200m Backstroke & 200m Freestyle both for 4th and Rebecca Reid in the Female 50m Backstroke, again for 4th.
The Mixed 400m Medley Relay of Sean Scannell of the National Centre Dublin (Backstroke 59.40), Niamh Coyne (Breaststroke 1:09.96), Ellen Walshe (Butterfly 1:01.44) and Jack McMillan (Freestyle 52.83) were 5th, as was Scannell in the Male 200m Backstroke, later taking 8th in the 50m version of the event.
National Performance Director Jon Rudd was on hand to witness the racing and was clearly delighted with the results. “This was a worldwide event, with over 40 nations competing in difficult circumstances. None of our athletes see this as a benchmark meet for the season and so for them to produce such fine performances, race hard and deal with inter-continental travel so well is testament to them and the team staff. Thirteen medals is an excellent haul, particularly as three of them were in relays. When you look at our finishing position on the medal table and which nations we headed in this regard, we can safely assume that we have a strong crop of young talent now starting to find their way a little more in world swimming.”