Eoin Fleming was one fight away for a medal at the Commonwealth Games as a teenager in Glasgow eight years ago.
The West Belfast judo athlete had to settle for a fifth placed finish but is hoping to get at least a podium at his second Games in Birmingham.
Sport has always been a massive part of his life.
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As well as being a PE teacher at CBS Hightown/Edmund Rice College for 37 years Eoin’s dad Sean is also very active in his local GAA club and has been very successful in Irish dancing.
But from an early age Eoin always wanted to forge a path in judo.
“My dad was always involved in loads of sports, GAA, Irish dancing, when I was a kid. I taught myself Irish dancing off the TV watching Riverdance,” explained Eoin.
“GAA was massive in my life with O’Donovan Rossa in Belfast and then when I was about seven my dad brought me to the local judo club Yamakwai. Jimmy Ward was the coach Ciaran’s (performance lead for Team NI judo) dad, Jimmy was deeply invested in GAA as well.
“There have been loads of sports that I have been involved in especially growing up I was doing everything, Gaelic football, hurling, soccer and judo, it was judo that stuck with me.
“I loved playing GAA with my club. I played up to minor level with my county, around that age I knew judo is where I wanted to be.
“From a young age I always wanted to be an Olympian. I remember my dad saying that Ciaran, my coach now, had fought at the Olympics and when I knew from an early age that was a possibility that’s what I wanted.
“I knew eventually that I would have to put the other sports aside and focus on judo. It wasn’t easy, but I know it was what I wanted to do.
“Being a full-time athlete is a short life and I didn’t want any regrets. I knew I would have to put everything else to one side and focus on judo and that is what I have been doing.
“I have been training full-time basically since Glasgow. It’s been eight years I’m 27 now, and at that age where judo players start to hit their peak and that is what I’m wanting to showcase in Birmingham.”
It is still a case of what might have been for Fleming in Glasgow.
“I was there when I was still a junior in the sport so I approached those Games looking to build some experience and see what could happen day,” he recalls.
“I knew I could throw and that is something that judo is based around that ability to throw so I knew I could compete at that level having qualified.
“To come up just short of a medal was disappointing. I did gain a lot of experience from it and a lot that I could use going forward and sort of made me think of when to go full-time.
“I knew I would always go full-time. I was still at Queen’s University on their elite athlete programme, the result in the Commonwealths and the performance I put in showed that I could really have a go and trying to make everything I could out of judo.
“I always wanted to be an Olympian and medal at these sorts of competitions and from that moment that experience really inspired me to make that step a bit sooner than I had originally planned.
“Fifth place is probably the worst is place you can finish in judo, you are so close to a medal. I was close to beating the eventual winner in the quarter-final and that was a step back.
“I dropped back into the Repechage I won that fight and that put me into the medal contest, and I was to lose to somebody I had previously disappointed beaten in a previous international competition that had qualified me for the Commonwealth Games.
“We knew what we were trying to do and achieve in that fight. We had a plan that would have won me the contest, I didn’t stick to the plan I made a mistake with the groundwork I was caught and that is judo.
“I was hard to get over but it has also fueled and inspired me to give judo everything but that is what I have done.
“Eight years it has been hard with ups and downs and it hasn’t been a straight trajectory, there have been some highs and been more lows, but it is just about trusting the process and knowing on our day that we can compete.
“It will be the same experience in Birmingham but hopefully a better experience that I bring home more than just a good experience. I’m definitely capable of a good performance and it will mean a lot so close to home that my family, friends and training partners will all travel over.
“There will be a large squad there and I know what I’m there for and hopefully I can celebrate with them when I am finished competing.”
Fleming found the transition from team sport to individual competition easy enough.
“I have always been self-motivated to be honest, so I don’t see the difference too much,” he added.
“When I was playing Gaelic I was obviously part of a team but I was also trying to put my own best performance.
“My sister would always make fun of me even if I came back to play a friendly Gaelic match, I’d be hitting free kicks and my brother would be one of the best free takers in the county.
“No matter what I put myself in I knew was I was capable of, and it was the same when I transferred to an individual sport, I know what I am capable of doing and I’m happy to trust myself.
“It is different because you are out there on your own, but I think in all sport all the top athletes are self-driven and self-motivated, even if it is a team sport or an individual sport it won’t make too much of a difference you should be performing.”
Irish dancing has helped Fleming perform on the judo mat.
“I can’t say I was as much into Irish dancing as my dad was, he was Irish champion, world medallist and he taught a lot of people,” Fleming said.
“He brought a lot of Riverdance dancers through as well. I just did it in the house and a wee bit with him at his club but from an early age I knew I t was GAA and judo is where I’d want to be.
“It helped that I was quicker on my feet, my dad always tells me to point my toes when I’m doing some of the judo throws. He’d say it’s like dancing, just point your toes it does help as you are able to engage power a bit more.
“I can say I had as much experience or ability as he would have had in dancing but just being involved in everything and being active is what my childhood was, it led me to a life in sport and that is what I want to be doing ”
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