Qualification is over, the athletes have travelled and it's time (finally!) for the Tokyo Olympics to began. Ireland has qualified more athletes in more sports than ever before and it isn't bias to suggest there are more medal opportunities than ever before too.
A lot of the predictions will be way off, but if you don't know anything about some of the sports, treat this as a guide for who you should look out for. It's been the strangest couple of years in world sports and all athletes at these games have had limited opportunities to show their form. It could be an Olympics filled with surprises.
We're going to start with the sport where we have the most genuine medal contenders.
Paul O'Donovan/Fintan McCarthy - Men's lightweight double sculls
Paul O'Donovan is by some distance the best lightweight rower in the world. He's won gold at the last 4 world championships including this event in 2018 & 2019.
That last gold was won with Skibbereen club mate Fintan McCarthy in the boat beside him. They've only raced twice this year, winning the European championship and the World Cup regatta in Lucerne.
Their main rivals will be Germany, Italy and Norway but only illness or injury should prevent the Cork lads from winning gold.
Sanita Puspure - Women's single sculls
If these games went ahead as scheduled, then Sanita would have been odds on favourite as double world champion from 2018 & 2019.
However, the sudden emergence of Russian Hanna Prakhatsen (unbeaten this year) and Sanita finishing 3rd in Lucerne means she's no longer the gold medal favourite. That race was her only regatta this year so she may have been race rusty.
She's still in with a very good chance of a medal but gold is less likely than silver or bronze.
Emily Hegarty, Fiona Murtagh, Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh - Women's four
Like the O'Donovans in 2016, the womens four are shooting stars.
They finished 1oth overall at 2019 Worlds. Last year they finished 3rd at the Europeans. This year they won the qualification regatta and went on to just miss out on gold in the Europeans. They were less than half a second behind an experience Dutch crew who themselves finished 2nd in the 2019 worlds.
The Irish womens four are on the up and they should be in a race with Australia, Netherlands and Denmark for the medals. They'll race against the Dutch and the Danish in the opening heat so that'll be a great indicator of how all 3 crews are feeling.
Ronan Byrne, Philip Doyle - Men's double sculls
Byrne and Doyle were surprise packets in 2019 and won silver at the World Championships.
The pandemic took Doyle back to medical training for a year and it took a while for them to get up and running in 2021. A poor Europeans was followed by an epic sprint battle for gold with China in Lucerne. Our lads just lost out but the Chinese team are world champions and Ireland finished ahead of the Dutch duo who won silver at the Europeans.
The men's double is wide open and Ireland, China, France, Netherlands, Russia and more will all think they can win medals.
Monika Dukarska, Aileen Crowley - Women's pair
Finishing 8th at the 2019 world championship qualified this boat and they haven't done much to suggest they will be medal contenders in Tokyo.
Their best performance, however, did come in the final world cup event where they finished 2nd ahead of some crews who won medals at European level. A final would be a great result.
Aoife Casey, Margaret Cremen - Women's lightweight double sculls
The "mighty lighties" (as christened by their heavyweight training partners - follow the big strong gorls on insta) were the last crew to qualify for the games finishing 3rd in the final regatta available to them.
They're a very young pair with both of them only 22 and just getting to an Olympics so early in their career is an achievement. They'll hope to make the semi finals at least.
Kellie Harrington - Lightweight (60kg)
Kellie is the number one seed and deservedly so. World Champion in 2018, she had reached the European Games final in 2019 before an injury cut her year short. She may have benefited from the extra year delay as she looked supreme as she won the European qualification tournament.
Her route to a medal looks OK too as she'll face the winner of Italy v Mexico in the last 16 and the winner of Tunisia v Algeria in the last 8. She may meet the woman she defeated in the 2018 final at the semi stage (or GB's Dubois).
Kellie can win gold here.
Michaela Walsh - Featherweight (57kg)
Michaela is the number four seed but that hasn't given her anything other than a bye to the last 16.
Her route to a medal is very tough. In the last 16 she'll either face Testa of Italy or Vorontsova of Russia. Testa beat Walsh in the European qualification final, Vorontsova beat her at the 2019 Worlds (on her way to silver).
If she gets by that, she'll be favourite for a medal but she can't have asked for a tougher first bout.
Aoife O'Rourke - Middleweight (75kg)
O'Rourke opens her Olympics against the number 2 seed from China. She's the world champion from 2018, won the Asian qualification tournament and won bronze in Rio.
There's no denying it'll be a tall order for Aoife to progress but if she does, she'll have no fear of her quarter final opponent from either India or Algeria.
Aidan Walsh - Welterweight (69kg)
Aidan is the lowest ranked Irish boxer at the tournament but, unlike his sister, he has received a very fair draw.
A bye to the last 16 where he'll likely meet the winner of the African qualifier from Cameroon. If he wins that, he may face the number 4 seed from Jordan for a medal. The Jordanian is only seeded because he "won" the Asian qualifier but he received a walk over in the final.
It certainly won't be an easy medal, but Walsh has as good a chance as he could have hoped for.
Kurt Walker - Featherweight (57kg)
Walker is the European champion from 2019 but surprisingly lost in the qualifiers in 2020. His reward is a very tough draw.
He may win his opening bout against a fighter from Spain but waiting for him is the world champion and number one seed from Uzbekistan. It's been a while since either man has been on the international stage but it'd be a major upset if Kurt won. And if he does he'd have another tough fight for a medal.
Brendan Irvine - Flyweight (52kg)
Irvine's second Olympics and once again he'll have it all to do to win a medal. The best result for his opening opponent from the Philippines was reaching the world quarter final. If he beats him he'll face the super experienced Flissi from Algeria, who reached the quarter finals in Rio and is second seed here.
A win there would set up a medal fight, probably against the current world and Olympic champion from Uzbekistan. He was beaten in the Asian qualifiers but really should be seeded here.
Emmet Brennan - Light heavyweight (81kg)
Brennan's qualification to the Olympics is an incredible achievement for a man who nearly gave up the sport some years ago.
He has not been handed a favourable draw. His first opponent is the Asian champion and world silver medalist from Uzebekistan. If he wins that, he'll face the number 2 seed from Azerbaijan. If gets passed those two, he'll still need another win for a medal but he'd be the man everyone was fearing at that stage.
Rhys McClenaghan - Pommel
McClenaghan qualified for this Olympics by winning bronze at the World Championship in 2019 and most observers felt he was hard done by and should have challenged for gold.
At his only competition this year he qualified in first place but fell in the final. That's the danger of predicting a medal here (which we are BTW) - one slip and it's gone. The favourite for gold is GB's Max Whitlock and other medal contenders are a trio of Japanese gymnasts and a couple of Russians.
If Rhys doesn't fall, he'll win a medal in Tokyo.
Meg Ryan - All round
Just qualifying for the Olympics is a huge achievement for Cork's Megan Ryan. Being the first female Olympic gymnast to develop here is a great sign for Irish gymnastics.
Cian O'Connor, Betram Allen, Darragh Kenny - Showjumping
The Irish showjumping team is as likely to finish last as it is win gold. There's no doubt the talent there is among the best in the world but at crucial times, they have failed to deliver and this is the first time since Athens our team has qualified.
In this Olympic cycle though they won the 2017 European championships and, in the final qualifying event, won the 2019 Nations Cup final under the most intense pressure possible.
Individually all 3 lads can medal too. Kenny is the highest ranked (8th in the world) but O'Connor has proven he's a big championship performer with Olympic and European bronze. Allen was 3rd at a World Cup final too. With no discard scores, the pressure is on all showjumpers and Ireland can deliver a medal with the barest of luck.
Cathal Daniels, Sam Watson, Sarah Ennis - Eventing
Silver at the last World championships marked Ireland as one to watch for Tokyo but this is practically a new team of horses.
Individually Ennis was 5th and Watson 14th at those championships (again, with different horses). Daniels was 3rd with his Olympic horse at the Europeans in 2019. There are about 6 nations who will be thinking about medals in Tokyo and Ireland is one of them.
As with the showjumpers, there is no disregard score this time so the margin for error is smaller than usual. That may help our team who are traditionally strong on cross country where other countries have issues.
Heike Holstein - Dressage
Holstein is the sole survivor from the Irish team who qualified in 2019 and while she'll perform well in her 4th Olympics, she won't be troubling the leading riders.
Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Leona Maguire, Stephanie Meadows - Individual
We've put the four together because you know how golf works - anyone can finish top 3.
McIlroy is one of about 10 golfers in the world that believes he can win every tournament he enters. Lowry isn't as consistent but has won a major and a WGC event. It wouldn't shock anybody to see either man on the podium in Tokyo.
The women may not have the same stellar background as the men but Maguire is in great form with a string of top 10 performances on the LPGA tour in recent months. Meadow's career best result was 3rd in the US Open back in 2014 so she could surprise everyone with a medal if she performs at that level again.
Natalya Coyle - Individual
This is Natalya's 3rd Olympics and she's finished 9th and 6th. Can she replicate that improvement and get on the podium?
She might. She was 5th in the World Cup final this year (and 4th previously) so she's clearly in great shape. Medals can be won or lost based on what horse is assigned to the athletes during the showjumping phase but with average luck, Natalya should go into the final laser run with every chance of a medal.
Dan Martin, Nicolas Roche, Eddie Dunbar - Men's road race
The course around Mount Fuji is very hilly and Ireland has three men who will all be able to get over the mountains.
Dunbar is still waiting on his first pro win but he was climbing with the best in support of Richard Carapaz in the Tour de Suisse in June. Roche is still one of the strongest men in the peloton and he's road captain in his 4th Olympics. Both of them may have their own chance to win but they're likely to be working for Dan Martin.
Winner of mountainous stages in the Vuelta and Giro within the last 10 months, Martin may see this course as similar to his win in the Giro di Lombardia 7 years ago. So much of winning this race goes down to luck and getting into the right move at the right time is crucial Martin is 10th favourite with bookmakers for gold and he's about 50/1.
That should tell how wide open this race can be.
Nicolas Roche - Men's time trial
Roche is an amazing servant to Irish cycling and if he wasn't competing on day one, he may have been a contender to carry the flag. These are just nice words to put in while we suggest he's not going be finishing near the top 10.
Emily Kay, Shannon McCurley - Madison & Omnium
5 women contributed scores to help Ireland qualify and these two have been picked to travel. Kay has won European medals in madison when part of the GB squad, and won a World Cup bronze for Ireland in the Omnium prior to the pandemic hitting.
McCurley is a former sprinter (she was in the Kieran in Rio) but showed her endurance with a silver in the scratch race at the 2019 Europeans. A medal in either event would be a surprise, but it wouldn't be ridiculous.
Mark Downey, Felix English - Madison & Omnium
This pair burst on the scene winning world cup events in 2016 and 2017. They didn't really kick on from there. They've finished 6th, 9th, 11th & 11th at the last four world championships.
The men's madison is a race over 50km with 12 sprints so anything can happen. They'll be aiming for Downey to maybe steal a lap with English competing in the sprints. If they get a lap, they'll win a medal.
Annalise Murphy - Laser Radial
When I wrote this column for the Rio games, I downplayed the chances of Murphy improving on her 4th place finish in 2012. She had shown little form in the years between.
She's shown even less form this time round. She left the dinghy class after winning silver in Rio for the Volvo Round the World race, than tried the 49er before finally coming back to Laser Radial just as Aisling Keller qualified the Irish boat.
Her Dutch and Danish medal rivals from Rio are all there and they, along with Belgium's entry are the most consistent performers over the last few years but I've learned not to write off Murphy at an Olympics.
Sean Waddilove, Robert Dickson - 49er
The two Irish lads only qualified at the last event, but they did so in style. They finished 3rd at the world class Lanzarote regatta ahead of several crews who would consider themselves potential medalists in Rio.
The Irish crew is the youngest in the regatta but after their performance in Lanzarote, they won't be underestimated. It's unlikely, but not impossible, they'll medal in Tokyo but they're definitely ones to track for Paris.
Liam Jegou - C1 Slalom
Jegou has shown the odd flash of talent to indicate he could medal in Tokyo.
He was 6th at the last world cup event before the games and only for penalties (2 second for each pole touched), he'd have been on the podium. It's arguably easier to win medals at the Olympics than world or European championships because nations is limited to one paddler (a country like Slovakia might have 3 of the worlds best at other events).
Winning a medal is all about progression. Top 15 from the heats go into the semi final. Top 10 from the semi go into the final. Those ten have a single run to win the medals. In the 2016 final, only 4 paddlers went clear. The men who topped the times after the heats and semis ended medaless.
Jegou will hope to get into the final and from there anything can happen.
This team has come from nowhere to qualify so who are we to suggest they're wrong when they talk about being medal contenders. They'll face South Africa, USA and Kenya in the pool stages with the USA and SA being 2 of the top 4 in the betting markets.
If Ireland can get through to the quarters (top 2 will do it, top 3 might...) and avoid New Zealand and Fiji, they'd be in with a medal shout. Rugby 7s is never straight forward and surprises do happen. Ireland winning a medal would be a surprise, but this team might keep on surprising us.
Ireland's incredible silver medal at the 2018 World Cup was a surprise to many in the world of hockey but they've established themselves now as one of the top 10 teams in the world. In Ayeisha McFerran, Ireland have the best goalkeeper in the world so they're pretty much always going to be in every game.
Their pool games include games against 3 of the 4 favourites for medals in Netherlands, Germany and GB. Ireland will need to beat South Africa and India to ensure a quarter final spot. Once there, their best chance of progressing may be similar to 2018 when they won their quarter and semi final on penalties.
We're more in "more hope than expectation" territory here.
Jack Woolley - 58kg
Woolley qualified through his high ranking and thanks to some wins in the US and Mexico he's now ranked 4 in the world. However his seeding here (8) is a better indication of his medal prospects.
His first fight is against Guzman from Argentina and if he wins that, he'll face Hadipour Seighalani from Iran in the quarter finals. He's the 4th seed and Jack has lost all 4 previous match ups. The last of those was in 2017 though but it will be a career best performance if he makes the semi. His semi opponent is likely to be the 2nd seed from Italy, another man Jack hasn't beaten before.
Taekwondo allows all those who lose to the finalists into a repechage for medals so Jack will need to win at least 3 bouts for a medal. He certainly has a chance but he'll need to beat some men he hasn't before to do so.
Phil Healy - Women's 200m & 400m
Healy will need to be at her best to advance from the heats and her 2021 form suggests a semi final is doable in both events.
Marcus Lawler, Leon Reid - 200m
Reid made the final of the last European championships but the Olympics is a huge step. He'll need to threaten an Irish record to get out of the heats. Lawler hasn't shown much in 2021 to suggest he'll progress past the opening round.
Mark English - 800m
English ran an Irish record just to qualify and he's shown in the past he has race skills. However the 800m is pretty deep and he'll do well to advance from his heat.
Nadia Power, Siofra Clerigh Buttner, Louise Shanahan - 800m
There were 24 athletes who ran the qualifying time and 24 will qualify from the heats to the semis. For any of the Irish women to do so would mean beating some very quick athletes.
Nadia Power is most likely to do so.
Ciara Mageean, Sarah Healy - 1,500m
Mageean was 10th at the 2019 World Championships and another final here would be an incredible achievement.
Healy's best time is 7 seconds slower than Mageean's but the young athlete is a terrific prospect and could make the semis.
Andrew Coscoran - 1,500m
Qualifying for his first major outdoor championships is a great achievement for Coscoran. He's unlikely to get out of the heats.
Sarah Lavin - 1o0m hurdles
Lavin broke 13s this year for the first time and if she can repeat in Tokyo, she'll make the semi finals.
Tom Barr - 400m hurdles
Barr was so close to a medal in Rio. He looks to be in similar great shape for these games but the standard of 400m hurdling has improved dramatically.
He might need to run an Irish record just to make the final but he's a proven championship runner and remains our only outside chance of a track medal.
Michelle Finn, Eilish Flanagan - 3,000m steeplechase
Another event where an Irish record might be needed to get out of the heats. Unlikely given the conditions in Tokyo.
Team - Mixed 4x400m relay
Ireland did incredibly well to qualify for this Olympics but with countries like the USA and Jamaica returning having missed the world relays, it will be a much harder, and unlikely, task to qualify for the final in Rio.
Fionnuala McCormack, Aoife Cooke - marathon
McCormack finished a tremendous 20th in Rio but hasn't ran a marathon since finishing 5th in Chicago in 2019. That ranks her in the top 40 for the event with Cooke 68th based on qualifying times.
Stephen Scullion, Kevin Seaward, Paul Pollock - marathon
Pollock has the better championship results of the 3 men so far but Scullion has the time. If any of them crack the top 40, they'll be happy.
David Kenny - 20k walk
The European under 23 medalist is going to Tokyo for experience. Kenny is one of the youngest walkers at the games.
Brendan Boyce, Alex Wright - 50km walk
In terms of best time, Boyce and Wright aren't far apart but this will be Wright's first major championship at 50km.
Boyce was 5th at the European Race Walking Cup in 2019 and 6th at the World Championships in 2019. He isn't a medal favourite but he is Ireland's best chance of a medal in Athletics.
Megan Fletcher - 70kg
Megan had a career best performance at the recent world championship, going all the way to a medal bout.
Unfortunately Megan lost that bout to Polleres of Austria and they meet in the first round in Tokyo. Megan beat her in the 2018 World Champs but has lost the last 3 times they've faced each other. If she does win, her second round opponent won't be as daunting with both women ranked below her.
Her semi final opponent is scheduled to be the new world champion Matic from Croatia. At those World Championships, Megan beat 2 women ranked ahead of her. If she can repeat that in Tokyo, she'll likely earn a medal.
Ben Fletcher - 100kg
Ben was cleared to compete in the Olympics at the very last possible moment but he's a top class Judoka.
At the 2019 Worlds he won 2 bouts before losing to the eventual gold medalist. He ended 2019 in the world's top ten with a succession of top results.
In his first event after the pandemic, Ben broke his leg in two places. He had enough points to qualify but he hasn't competed since. If he gets past his opening opponent from Uzbekistan, he'll face the former world champion Aaron Wolf from Japan.
A medal for Ben would be one of the stories of the games.
Carolyn Hayes - Women's individual
A relative newcomer to the sport Hayes had some eye catching results as she sought qualification this year. A 10th place finish in the Yorkshire World Cup event being a better result than her silver medal in Lisbon with the cream of triathlon in England.
She's a strong swimmer and cyclist so she maybe part of the leading pack as the run starts. Another top 10 performance would be an exceptional result.
Russell White - Men's individual
White got the last qualifying spot and that should indicate his medal chances here but after an injury last year, he'll enjoy his Olympic experience.
Shane Ryan, Darragh Greene, Brendan Hyland, Daniel Wiffen - various events
We've put the lads together because there isn't too much to analyse. Ryan (100m back), Greene (100m breast) and Hyland (200m fly) may reach a semi final but they'll likely have to swim national records to get there.
Mona McSharry, Ellen Walshe, Danielle Hill - various events
McSharry probably should reach the semi in 100m breastroke. She may even squeak into a final with a big personal best but the former world junior champion is very unlikely to get near the podium. Walshe and Hill would need to improve to reach a semi final.
Men's 4x200m freestyle relay
With our best four freestyle relay swimmer, Ireland ranked 15th of the 16 squads entered. We're competing in Tokyo with 2 freestyle swimmers (Finn McGeever, Jack McMillan), a sprint specialist (Shane Ryan) and a butterfly swimmer (Brendan Hyland). Qualification was the achievement here.
Tanya Watson - 10m platform
The first Irish diver ever to qualify for the Olympics is of course a great achievement but Tanya is only getting started. She's been top 10 at each of the last 3 European championships and still only 19.
She could reach the final here with some luck.
Oliver Dingley - 3m springboard
Oliver was an exceptional 8th in Rio but hasn't pushed on from there. That final appearance was a surprise and if he repeats, it'll be much the same.
Derek Burnett - Men's Trap
An unexpected 5th Olympic trip for Longford's Derek Burnett. He was only 2 targets away from the medal round in Athens.
He hasn't really competed internationally over the last year or so but his score of 121 from 2019 was enough for him to get the invite. That score of 121 is from 125 targets meaning he only missed 4 times.
He'd need to get that score again to be in with a shout of reaching the final but the former World and European medalist has no form for us to think he will.
Nhat Nguyen - Men's singles
Nhat has two pool games. Hopefully he wins his opening game against Sri Lankan opposition before facing the 10th seed from Taiwan. Even if he manages that upset, he'll then likely face the 4th seed from Denmark (World Champion in 2017). Two more wins needed for a medal after that...
Nhat is still very young and this will be a great experience for him.
So that's everybody. Here's how we ranked the most likely medal winners for Ireland
The Top 15 Most Likely Medal Winners for Ireland
- O'Donovan/McCarthy - Lightweight double sculls - Rowing
- Kellie Harrington - Lightweight - Boxing
- Sanita Puspure - Single sculls - Rowing
- Hegarty, Murtagh, Lambe & Keogh - Women's four - Rowing
- Rhys McClenaghan - Pommel - Gymnastics
- Byrne/Doyle - Men's double sculls - Rowing
- Team - Showjumping - Equestrian
- Allen, Kenny, O'Connor - Indidual show jumping - Equestrian
- Team - Eventing - Equestrian
- Cathal Daniels - Eventing - Equestian
- Rory McIlroy - Golf
- Natalya Coyle - Modern Pentathlon
- Dan Martin - Men's road race - Cycling
- Aidan Walsh - Welterweight - Boxing
- Annalise Murphy - Laser radial - Sailing
Ireland's record is 6 medals from London and we're predicting that we'll match that. With a bit of luck, we might smash it...