Residents of Willowbrook estate who held a celebration on Saturday of last week to mark the success of two local residents who recently won gold medals in the sporting sphere - Tony Barron, seated front, in purple, who won a gold medal for bowling with the Special Olympics, and beside him 12-year-old Emily Hannick, who became a Youth MMA World Champion in Dubai earlier this month.

Willowbrook residents mark success of their sport stars

Success in the world of sport means two of the residents of a small Mullingar housing estate have won gold medals in the last month – one of them at world championship level.

Twelve-year old Emily Hannick, who travels monthly to the UK for competitions, beat stiff competition to win gold at the 2022 Youth World Championships in Dubai.

Emily’s progress had been followed with interest by neighbours in the 29-house Willowbrook estate on the Ballymahon Road and there was delight when word of her success broke.

As it happened, another Willowbrook resident also had gold medal success: Tony Barron won a gold medal for bowling in a regional Special Olympics competition.

On Saturday, residents of Willowbrook held a party to honour Emily and Tony. In glorious sunshine, there was a lovely party with refreshments, cakes and buns.

Ollie Egan read citations setting out Tony’s and Emily’s stories.

Emily, the gathering heard, had gone "from zero to hero" in just 14 months, since beginning to attend the Relentless Martial Arts and Fitness Centre, owned by Alan and Danni McCormack.

He quoted Emily’s mother, Niamh, who said of Alan and Danni: "A more passionate and dedicated team of coaches you will not find."

She continued: "Relentless ticks all the boxes – fitness, learning new skills in self defence, making new friends and absorbing the energy and enthusiasm of a couple who want you to be your best both in and out of the gym."

In the gym Emily is coached in MuayThai, Brazilian Jujitsu, Wrestling and MMA. She regularly competes in Ireland and the UK and has proved to have a natural talent for martial arts.

Said Niamh: "Little did we think last year that 14 months later Emily was going to be selected to represent Ireland in the 2022 Youth IMMAF World Championships in Abu Dhabi."

It is not by accident, however, that this series of fortunate events unfolded, Niamh explained to Ollie, who revealed to those present that throughout the year Emily trains between 10 and 12 hours per week and in the months leading up to the world championship, she had additional training sessions in SBG Inchicore – the home of Conor McGregor – on top of her already busy schedule.

"With the continued support of her fantastic and inspirational coaches – Alan, Danni and team – Emily has gone from strength to strength, dominating in her weight category," Ollie concluded.

Special Olympics competitor Tony Barron has been active in various sports throughout the years, Ollie said: "He is a member of Shoot ‘n’ Stars Sports Club, who train at the gymnasium in CBS grounds, here in Mullingar. He has been playing various activities but he eventually liked and enjoyed short mat indoor bowls.

He was picked to take part in the competition in Ballinasloe for the regional event for the Special Olympics, and was successful, winning the gold medal. Two other members also won, gold and a silver.

"He enjoys sport and his first achievement was to take part in horse riding when [the family] lived in the UK. He won the Greater London Day Centre Annual Equestrian Event three times in a row. That did wonders for his posture and he really enjoyed it.

"His day centre decided to teach the clients self defence and had a professional karate instructor with four black belts to teach them.

Tony enjoyed that and joined the instructors ‘Dojo’ or club. He progressed through all the different coloured belts and ultimately gained the black belt.

"He was invited to take part in an international event with some of the world’s best known Karate Grand Masters, from the USA, Japan, Australia and other places, and at the end of the week, he was awarded with the Student Diploma of the event, chosen unanimously by the Masters. When that was announced, it was made clear to all the participants that it was not a sympathy vote because of his special needs, but because he was the first to train every morning and the last to leave at the end of the sessions, and his dedication and hard work during every session were amazing and was unsurpassed, earning him high praise from all involved.

"At the Westmeath Agricultural Show in which disabled riders were first allowed, he came first and was lucky enough to be filmed by RTÉ and appear in their news bulletin. In Galway he took part in a swimming competition a few years ago and came first, winning a goal medal.

In the UK he also ran in several marathons and mini-marathons."