Northern Ireland news

Tyrone's Coney clan could defend Ireland's Fittest Family crown

The Coney family from Clonoe, Co Tyrone said they could seek to defend their title as 'Ireland's Fittest Family'

THE first northern clan to be crowned 'Ireland's Fittest Family' may also become the first champions to defend their title - albeit with a different line-up next year.

The Coneys were back home at Clonoe O Rahilly's GAC in Co Tyrone on Sunday night, joined by hundreds of their friends and family, to watch their victory in this year's nail-biting final of the RTÉ One show.

Staged in Croke Park, Colette Coney and her sons Shane (40), Gary (37) and Paul (28) just pipped the McDonald family from Co Laois to bring the prize home, taking the title "by seconds" to the jubilation of the Red Hand county.

Among those gathered to watch was childhood friend and neighbour Michelle O'Neill, the Sinn Féin vice-president, who tweeted a video of the celebrations with the message: "This is the moment they won and the community was there to support them."

Councillor Joe O'Neill said everyone had been amazed at how they had been able to keep the news secret, although he added it was no secret they were probably the fittest family around.

"Nobody knew they had won. They knew for three or four weeks they had won and not a word got out.

"They would run all day for you."

And Gary Coney said their sister Mandy is keen to make the gruelling physical challenge an annual event for the family.

The Coneys almost didn't make it out of the first round

"She wants to enter again next year and have a go," Mr Coney said.

If they do decide to try to defend their title in the seventh series of the prime-time show, among the subs may be their brother Declan who also was not able to compete in the four-person team.

The Coneys almost didn't make it out of the first round of the competition this year.

"We were the oldest family ever on the show - most of the people had parents in their 40s and children in their early 20s. Mum turned 60 during the final," Gary said.

"The first round we got through by the skin of out teeth and we were one of the last families picked by the coaches.

"Even talking to the ones round home, after they saw the first round, never would have thought we would have won."

However, coach Anna Geary - a former Cork All-Ireland winning camogie captain - had "a lot of belief that we could go far".

"Mum the whole way through didn't have that much confidence, but they say that you're only as strong as your weakest link and Mum would have been seen as the `weak link' - and it was her that won it.

"There was a `hanging tough' challenge where you had to hang from the Cusack Stand. She hung there for almost four minutes. She absolutely stuffed us. It was more of a mental challenge than anything and just shows show strong she is."

Mr Coney, who along with brother Paul has won two county football championships, said nothing compared to the feeling when they won.

"Being a GAA family, just having the final in Croke Park was like a dream come true.

"With the championships you're playing week in week out with team mates all year, but its extra special to have your family alongside. And Mum was the star of the show."

Being a GAA family, just having the final in Croke Park `was like a dream come true'

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