The bobsleighing Hoeys

TALENT runs in families, they say - but for the Hoey family in Portarlington, talent not only runs, it jumps, cycles and bobsleighs, too.

TALENT runs in families, they say - but for the Hoey family in Portarlington, talent not only runs, it jumps, cycles and bobsleighs, too.

The trophy cabinet in the Hoey family home must be straining under the weight of so many awards garnered in a wide range of disciplines. Besides sisters Siobhain and Aoife, who have both represented Ireland in the bobsleigh event, the Hoey family also boasts an All-Ireland Masters 56lb champion in brother, Oisin, while Oisin’s son, Sean O’Callaghan Hoey has won accolades in both motorbike racing and Taekwondo. Aoife was also the flag bearer in the opening ceremony of the winter Olympic games and the first Irish woman to pilot a sled at these championships, while Siobhain was appointed Chef de Mission of the Irish team for the games.

While the achievements of the Hoey sisters are well documented, according to their father, Joe, it hasn’t always been a pleasure to watch them compete in the high-speed sport of bobsleighing.

“I only enjoy the run once it’s over, as it’s too dangerous,” he says. “It’s not like football or hurling.”

71-year-old Joe, who played football and did some weightlifting in his youth, helped coached the girls himself during their early careers and is understandably proud of their many achievements. Siobhain was ten times national senior triple jump champion and record holder both indoor and outdoor, as well as Irish Universities Champion in a variety of events. Aoife has also won the national senior triple jump title and like Siobhain, she has won national juvenile titles in such events as the long-jump, hurdles and shot-putt.

In the winter of 2002 Aoife (pilot) and Siobhain (brake/start athlete) were selected to pair up and contest bobsleigh European Cup and World Cup events. The combination was explosive as these two experienced competitors worked together to put the women’s bob programme on the map. Their nephew Sean was on the sideline waving the Irish flag in Koenigssee Germany along with his grandparents Joe and Nuala, as the girls competed in their first bobsleigh world championships as a team. Sean also participated in dry land training in Santry stadium as he enjoyed pushing the wheeled bob and skeleton sleds.

“As a child, Sean was brought all over the country to watch the girls and it rubbed off on him,” says Joe. From the age of two, Sean was known to shout advice and encouragement from the sidelines and he participated in many of his aunts’ training sessions, learning the basics of all technical events to understand how hard work and focus contribute to sporting success.

Now aged 17, Sean is a recent winner of the Irish championship for full contact at the Irish Taekwondo Association National Championships in Kilkenny, which also saw him place third in the Taekwondo patterns event. Sean also took third place overall in the 2010-2011 S/C Moto X championships for 125CC bikes. To achieve this result Sean had to take a trophy place in every race during the season on a variety of surfaces in venues as far apart as Dundalk, Clonroach and Ferns Wexford, Cork and Limerick.

Luckily for this young sports enthusiast his dad Oisin has served his time as sled technician for Aoife and Siobhain for the Irish women’s bobsleigh team in Vancouver 2010. Oisin also won the 2010 Leinster and All Ireland Masters 56lb for distance titles, an achievement he repeated in 2011. Despite Oisin’s commitment to the family’s sporting careers, Joe maintains he still finds time for the little things.

“If he hasn’t got the garden done, he’ll be in trouble with the little woman,” laughs Joe. Oisin’s daughter Seodhna is also on her way to becoming a champion, having medalled in the Laois, Leinster and All Ireland indoors shot-putt event u/14, although unfortunately she broke her finger before the outdoor championships.