Michael G Duffy eyes up 2020 Olympic spot in Tokyo

Knockmore’s shining equestrian star Michael G Duffy is certainly a man with a plan.

The 18-year-old achieved Youth Olympic glory for Team Europe in Nanjing, China, last August.

Now he has his eyes firmly fixed on 2020 - and the Tokyo Olympics - where he plans to replicate his Youth Olympic success at the biggest games in the world by claiming an historic place on the winner’s podium with a gold medal for Ireland around his neck.

As 2014 winds to a close, Duffy spoke to the Mayo Advertiser from his yard in Knockmore and reflected on an incredible year which has seen the young showjumper meet and exceed all of the ambitious goals he had set out for himself when the year opened.

During 2014, he moved from the junior level to competing at a senior level, rode in his first Nations Cup as a senior in Odense in Denmark, became one of the youngest riders ever to compete at the Dublin Horse Show which is “as big as it gets”, and, of course, that unforgettable display in Nanjing which bagged Duffy and his four European teammates a Youth Olympic gold medal.

For Mr Duffy, riding was always going to be a way of life, growing up as he did in a family “steeped in it”.

His parents, Vinnie and Sandra, are devoted to the sport and Duffy is the youngest of five siblings, who are all excellent riders and have competed for their country too.

“I had no choice really,” he says. “They are all really good riders and when I saw them, I knew it was what I wanted to do too.”

Life revolves around horses at home in Knocmore, and he happily admits that horses, not people, get fed first in his house.

He credits Sandra and Vinnie’s passion for showjumping and their unending level of support for his ambitions with much of his success.

When he took his place on the winner’s podium at Nanjing, it was a huge moment for his parents too.

“It was about their hard work as well,” he says. “They put a lot into it and they’ve been supporting me since I was a young lad.”

Riding so competitively means Duffy does not have much time for many of the ‘normal’ pursuits of most young people his age.

He boards an airplane every fortnight or so to compete in a different part of the world and it is a continual process to keep his horses and himself in shape for the events.

“I have a great bunch of friends in Knockmore and I probably don’t get to see them as much as I’d like to but they are all really supportive,” he said.

“When I came home from the Olympics, there was a big party in Knockmore and everyone thought it was so great that I had won. I suppose I am representing my country but I’m representing my county as well and that was a good feeling.”

Mr Duffy paid tribute to his former principal in Foxford Secondary School, Eileen O’Brien.

“When I was in school, I was travelling to shows a lot and missing school but Ms O’Brien knew what my plan was and she supported me. There was never any problem.”

No doubt his former principal is as proud of Michael G Duffy as the rest of the county. He is to be honoured with a civic reception from Mayo County Council in the New Year to celebrate his ever growing list of equestrian achievements.

But for Duffy, he is only just getting started.

Hearing the national anthem played when he collected his gold medal in Nanjing was a moment he will never forget and one he plans to repeat.

“I really don’t know how to describe it,” he says. “When you are standing there and they put that gold medal around your neck, it is like nothing I’ve ever felt before. Even today, when I think about it, I still get butterflies.”

Every Irish rider dreams of two things, according to Michael, and that is riding in the Olympics and in the Aga Khan in Dublin.

He thinks it will be 2020 before he gets his shot at a World Olympic medal.

“Two years would be a push for me. I think 2020 is more realistic because the senior riders in Ireland are incredible right now.

“I’ll keep gaining experience and competing and aiming for 2020. Nothing is going to stop us here in Knockmore.”

And he believes he may have found the horse that will take him there - Flogas Iceman, a four-year-old stallion owned by Tiernan Gill.

“He could be going to Tokyo. He seems to have it all,” says Mr Duffy.

Etoile de Loma, owned by Michael’s brother Martin, is another strong prospect.

In Nanjing, Mr Duffy rode Commander and he has also achieved success across Europe on Murchu, owned by Sean and Theresa Murphy from Ballaghaderreen.

These owners, sponsors and supporters, his coach in Nanjing John Ledingham, the closeknit team at Knockmore including Amy Grady, Jake Hunter, Lauren Kardel and Colm Flynn, trainers and coaches Jean Gill, Corinne Hyde and Brian Morrison, have all helped to get him where he is today. 

“I don’t do it on my own. It is a huge team effort and I wouldn’t be here without them,” he said.

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