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Speed skaters with Fermanagh roots Niall and Farrell Treacy hoping for glory at Beijing Winter Olympics

Niall Treacy and his brother Farrell will compete for Great Britain at the Winter Olympics
Andy Watters

PETER Treacy followed a well-trodden path when he left his home in Garrison, county Fermanagh and crossed the Irish Sea to England in search of work in the late 1950s.

Like many before him, he worked on the roads and settled in Birmingham where he met Evelyn Carney from Roscommon and they married and raised their family in the midlands.

Time passed and their son Edward met Catherine, daughter of Limerick natives Mary and Michael Purcell, and they raised four sons of their own.   

There’s no shortage of lakes in the late Peter’s native Fermanagh and even occasional ice rinks when the winters are long and cold enough, but who could have predicted that he’d have two grandsons competing as speed skaters in next month’s Winter Olympics?

Farrell Treacy, in his second Olympics, and younger brother Niall (in his first) will both race for Great Britain in the short track competition at the Games which begin in Beijing, China on February 4.

A former Gaelic Footballer with the John Mitchell’s club in Birmingham, Niall and his brother are second-cousins of All-Ireland-winning Limerick hurler Nickie Quaid.

Farrell led the way into speed skating after he stumbled upon the sport by accident. The story goes that he missed the bus home from school and went along to the Solihull ice rink to watch his friend skate. That inspired him to give it a go, another brother Ethan (also a talented skater) followed his lead and, when he turned eight, Niall joined them.

“We’ve all done it ever since,” says 21-year-old Niall.

“I have three brothers and when you’ve got four boys in the same house I suppose there’s always a bit of competitiveness so as soon as they started I wanted to do it.

“Once you start, you don’t really stop. You go to different cup races around the country and then, as you improve, you go to Europe and get into the national team. It all escalates – you start and then, all of a sudden, you’ve been doing it for 13 years and you’re going to the Olympics!”

A full-time athlete, Niall and his brother train twice-a-day during the week and once on Saturday. Farrell is competing in the 1500 and 1000-metre races while Niall is concentrating on the 1000m.

The action on the ice is fast and furious. The 1000 metres takes around a minute and 25 seconds to complete over nine laps of the rink.

“The corners are the fastest part of the track,” Niall explains.

“You can get up to 50km-an-hour round the corners. You have to be explosive at the start and on the corners and the straights you’re defending and attacking (for position).”

Close to the ice at breakneck speed with rivals all around battling for position amid the noise of the carving ice and the roaring crowd, it’s an adrenalin rush on blades a millimetre thick.

A fourth place finish in Hungary last year took Niall to 15th in the overall World Cup standings and confirmed his spot in Beijing. Farrell has the experience of the 2018 Olympics under his belt and reached the quarter-finals in those Games.

“Anything can happen,” says Niall who leaves for China tomorrow.

“There are 32 people in the round and it’s hard to call who’s going to come out champion. It’s my first Olympics so I’m going into it as a learning experience to do the best I can and hopefully it’ll be a good stepping stone for the next four years. Farrell will have more of an execution mindset than a learning mindset and this will be something he’ll be looking to really smash.”

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