By Steven Oldham, Sports Correspondent
Oldham’s Team GB water polo player Joe O’Regan believes it is a great honour to represent his hometown at the London 2012 Olympics.
The 21-year-old – raised in Royton – spoke ahead of tonight’s FINA World League match against Russia at the Manchester Aquatics Centre.
He has been part of the national set up since last year and plays his club polo in Hungary for Pecs.
He said: “There’s not many athletes representing Oldham at the Games and that’s a great honour for me. Going to the Olympics is massive, I’m very proud.”
Great Britain go into tonight’s game seeking revenge for January’s 12-8 defeat in Kirishi.
“We gave Russia a really good game. Mistakes cost us in the last quarter – we have learnt from them and the team are confident for tonight’s match.”
That Great Britain are even entering the water polo tournament in London is an achievement in itself – the country has had no representation in Olympic tournaments since 1956.
Although the host nation has a direct entry into each event, the British Olympics Association put strict requirements on sports to prove they were podium contenders for 2012 or the next Games, Rio 2016.
This ruling nearly cost the rhythmic gymnastics team their spot at 2012 after they failed to make the qualifying standard in January.
However, they hit their target a day later, and successfully appealed to an independent arbitrator.
“To not compete for over 50 years and to be the first in a generation to represent Great Britain is huge. Hopefully, we can do what the older teams did for the legacy of the sport.”
“They won gold medals and we’re still high in the all time medal table because of them.”
Indeed, Great Britain are third behind Hungary and Italy on the medals table thanks to four gold medals between 1900 and 1920. The medals dried up after that, and the last GB team entered the men’s water polo contest at the Melbourne Games in 1956.
“If both the men’s and the women’s teams do well in London, it will hopefully be the start of a bright future for water polo in Great Britain. We’re still a young squad so hopefully we can qualify for future Olympics.”
“It’s a bit early to talk about Rio yet though – let’s get London 2012 done first!”
In a bid to improve the team’s potential, all 18 of the senior men’s programme joined clubs across Europe where the sport is played professionally.
Adam Schofield plays at Pecs alongside Joe, while their teammates are scattered across the continent, in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.
The team will then train together from the off season in late spring until the Games start in August.
“Living abroad isn’t what I expected it to be like. In Hungary, I train, sleep and eat. Then the same next day. Here, I was always doing something else – it’s a nice easy lifestyle there, not hectic like it is in England.”
You can see Joe in action for Team GB tonight at the Manchester Aquatics Centre. Tickets are available on the door and are only £5 with further concessions for children and OAPs.