Tributes as Paralympic and World Champion Clifford steps away from international competition

Galway’s Paralympic Champion Eoghan Clifford this week announced his retirement from international cycling. Since his international paracycling debut in 2014, Clifford has been a dominant force in the MC3 category, both on the track and the road. The Galway-based rider has amassed fifteen podium placings at major event, including a Paralympic Title, four World Titles, and six World Cup gold medals.

While Clifford has enjoyed a long illustrious cycling career on the domestic scene, it was 2014 when he was elevated to international fame at the Para-cycling Road World Championships in Greenville, becoming a double World Champion on his first major outing. The following three years offered more success for the NUIG researcher.

“This is the right time to finish,” the Galway Bay Cycling Club rider explained, “I’m still going to stay involved with local club stuff, but I’m retiring from National and Paralympic racing. It’d be hard for me to lose too much fitness, and it wouldn’t be good for me. I want to continue to stay on the bike and train as much as I have time for, and stay in good shape. I will stay in the community, but the time and commitment of racing is too much at the moment.”

Diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth, cycling has always been a big part of Eoghan Clifford’s life, and will continue to play a major role.

“I used to cycle as a kid a lot, and I first started racing when I was 17 or 18. I was involved in other sports like triathlon and rowing, but cycling was the one that I enjoyed most.

“I remember my first race was in Navan, I was competing in the A1/2 race and finished pretty well in the bunch and was surprised. It took off a bit from there, that was 18 years ago! I went on to get two good wins in the Connacht Championships with solo wins. I can’t sprint out of a bag, so that was my trademark move.”

While there are many highlights in Mr Clifford’s career, three stand out as particularly special – “One of my favourite moments was in the Time Trial at the Paralympic Games in Rio. I knew after five minutes that I would win, it was one of those days. The win in the Scratch Race at the World Championships in Apeldoorn was another, I was on a good day.”

“The double win at the World Championships in Greenville was a really big one too, because it was my first World Championship, and first titles. All the medals were special though.”

In 2014 Eoghan Clifford moved into the Paracycling squad, having competed on the domestic scene for many years. The move into this high performance set up under coach Neill Delahaye was an eye opener for the Limerick native.

“I was surprised at the level to which everything was analysed, everything was a lot more structured that what I would have done before. Neill and the rest of the staff were progressive in looking for the best out of the riders. The coaching was great in eking out every bit of performance out of me and trying to manage the travel and training load with work at NUI Galway and other commitments.”

Great having more time with family

Training as an elite athlete involves massive commitment, which is ultimately at the core of his decision to retire.

“Focusing on Rio involved a lot of travel to both training and competition on the track and the road. There was a lot of training and a lot of travel, and my biggest battle was time juggling. And now I have two children under three, I want to spend more time with my family.”

“Before Rio I had a lot of back problems, and some days I couldn’t lift my little daughter, but that has eased off quite a bit, and it’s great having more time with my family.”

Eoghan Clifford is a Senior Lecturer in Civil Engineering in NUI Galway and has remained involved with the Irish cycling team with some of his research projects. “I am lucky that I get to marry my two interests, cycling and work. Last week I was helping out with some wind tunnel testing with Cycling Ireland. It’s great to get to remain involved with what’s going on at international level through work.”

Moving away from competition won’t be plain sailing for Clifford – “I’ll miss racing, there’s no question about that. But I won’t miss structured training! I love going off and hammering myself in my own way. There’s nothing like the buzz of racing, I could never perform as much in training as I do in racing, but I don’t miss it.”

He has remained involved with Paralympic sport also and sits on the Paralympics Ireland board as a member of the athlete’s commission – “Hopefully I can act as a good athlete’s voice. It is a positive group, and I’m looking forward to that – it will be a new challenge. It’s a good challenge.”

“I would like to thanks my family, friends, Cycling Ireland, Sport Ireland, Paralympics Ireland and NUI Galway for all their support, and also my club Galway Bay CC.”

Straight talker

“From the first event Eoghan took part in with the National Team it was obvious he was an athlete with a lot to offer the squad both on and off the bike,” said Cycling Ireland Performance Coach Neill Delahaye, “he delivered some incredibly impressive performances over the years and showed time and time again the capacity to put himself in that place of hurt that most successful riders are capable of doing.”

“Eoghan is a straight talker,” Delahaye added, “he’s great to have in a team, and would probably admit himself that he is his own worst critic. But no matter how tough he was getting it, he always had the right words at the right time for his team mates to encourage them irrespective of circumstances.”

The Paracycling Squad is a progressive unit, and Delahaye highlighted the key role played by Clifford in it – “We work hard on a cohesive team identity and positive team atmosphere within the Paracycling squad, and Eoghan was instrumental in leading the way through his own performances and helping create the conditions within the team that supported and drove the riders to success in Rio 2016.”

“It was a pleasure to have had the opportunity to work with him.”

Congratulating Clifford on his career CEO of Paralympics Ireland Miriam Malone said -

“On behalf of Paralympics Ireland I would like to congratulate Eoghan on a brilliant career and wish him well in his retirement. As a Paralympic cyclist he has truly helped to inspire the next generation and he still has a vital role to play as the chairperson of the Paralympics Ireland Athletes Commission and as a member of the board of Paralympics Ireland.”

Cycling Ireland wish Eoghan Clifford the best in his future endeavours and look forward to working with him on his next chapter.

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