Mona McSharry . . . a swimming star of real potential

Mona McSharry . . . a swimming star of real potential

Citius, Altius, Fortius”is the eternal Olympic motto of “Faster, Highe, Stronger”. And that great benchmark could well apply to a supremely talented swimmer from the Marlins Club in Ballyshannon, who is smashing Irish records for fun.

There are five heavy gold All-Ireland medals spread out on a table in 15-year-old Mona McSharry’s lovely stone brick home just outside Grange, on the edge of the broad Atlantic.

The Colaiste Cholmcille pupil is a phenomenal talent and one of the brightest swimming prospects to ever come out of the north-west.

And she has not ruled out the possibility of representing her country at this year’s Olympics is she gets the right time at the European Championships in Budapest in early July.

Already she has qualified for the Senior European Championships in London in a fortnight, and that is truly yet another remarkable achievement.

Mona is already on the national squad and is sometimes brought away for special training in Dublin and Limerick.

But there is nothing precious about this very grounded, gracious and mannerly girl who enjoys success but knows that it is an ongoing process in climbing the ladder to the Olympic firmament.

It takes huge commitment, drive and family support to get out of bed at 5.30 am in the morning to be in the pool in Ballyshannon by 6.30 pm, six days a week for a session of an hour and a half.

Some days there are two training sessions under coaches Grace Meade and Sinead Donagher, but Mona takes it all calmly, methodically, step by step and always looking towards a greater goal.

And behind the quiet measured replies, beats the heart of a true competitor.

Swimming runs deep in her blood as she comes from a family who love watersports and they don’t have to go too far to catch a wave on the broad Atlantic.

There is a strong sporting gene as her German mother, Viola, was a keen handball and volleyball player while dad Aidan was a highly rated kickboxer under the one and only Michael McDermott.

So how did it all start??

Mona tells of how the family were in Austria many years ago, and she fell into water and “nearly drowned”, so learning to swim was the logical thing to do.

“Well we live by the sea and when I was younger I was into the water and I am very sporty anyway and then I joined the swimming club and I just never stopped and go better.

“I swam with my mum in the sea and then in Mullaghmore and then we did the Community Games every year and then I joined the Marlins in 2009.

“At the start it was a lot of small competitions and there was a lot of swimmers at the same level and then when I was 12 I went to the Ulster age group and I won the 100m Breaststroke and that kind of kicked it off.

“Then I started to get better but it was an amazing feeling winning that Ulster titles as I had never won anything before.

“I do love the swimming, but I am a competitive person and I do love to race.

“I don’t know what I would do if I did not have swimming as I enjoy it so much,” she said.

Last weekend was not Mona’s first trip to the National Championships as she first competed in the finals two years ago and last year I got to the finals.

But this year’s fabulous five for Mona is certainly a first for the northwest, as her mother Viola points out.


When asked if she was confident before last week’s epics, she is very direct.

“Yes I was pretty confident in the Breaststroke because that is my stroke but the 200 Individual Medley and 50m Freestyle was a bit of a surprise.

“I was in the finals but I did not really expect to do so well.”

And when it was all over, last weekend will live long in Mona’s memory.

“When it was all over it was amazing to look back at all I had done over the four days”.

Roisin Maguire, daughter of Donegal All-Ireland Gaelic medalist, Sylvester Maguire, and friend and swimming partner of Mona, also qualified for the Ulster squads.

And Viola added that Mona sometimes gets breakfast in the Maguire house in the Mullans, near Corlea, Ballyshannon after training sessions in the early morning.

So has she any ambitions to go to the Olympics?

“That would be a bit of hit and miss as my main focus is on the Europeans in Budapest in early July.

“This is my main focus.

“Last year I went to the European Games and got into the semi-finals and our relay got into the finals.

“This was the biggest ever competition I ever took part in and it was in Azerbaijan and it was a really great experience.”

But Mona is still a little surprised at the vast improvement in her times this year.

“Last year, I was swimming four seconds slower and this was a lot for one year”.

So what is a typical day for Mona?

“I get up about 5.30 and I have a bowl of cereal, get my stuff sorted and we head off up to Ballyshannon where we start training at 6.30 pm and we train then until 8 am.

“After that I get dressed and either go up to the school or go home to Roisin’s house and I get breakfast.

Viola adds: “The Maguires are like a second family.

“And sometimes if she trains in the afternoon they bring her home for a dinner.

“On Wednesdays we have a double session.

“The evening one starts from 7-8.15 pm.

“Sometimes you get tired but then you kind of get used to it and it makes you stronger.

“My coaches are Grace Meade and Sinead Donagher and they give me confidence.

“If they think I can do it, then I feel I can do it and that definitely helps.

“And they give good feedback.”

“And they give her little targets as she goes along through the year and they want her to swim a particular time coming up to a competition so it goes in gradual little steps.

“It is not like we want you to swim this way now, so there is not too much pressure”, said Viola.


So what is her target for the Junior Europeans in early July?

“My target would be to get into the finals.

“I think it is 17 for the age group for the girls in this competition, and I will have at least another year at this competition”.

Success breeds confidence but Mona says it is “hard to fit the study in.

“I do as much as I can and the discipline helps a bit in my studies.

“I like Technical Graphics and Maths is nice also.”

But her firm long- term ambition remains the 2020 Olympics.

Yet given some of her remarkable times at the weekend, could the 2016 Olympics be a possibility.

“There is one Breaststroker who has already qualified and there are two of us who are around the same time going for it.

“If I get under the time for the Olympics at the Europeans, I will definitely go but it will be only for the experience for 2020.”

And the sacrifice for that experience is pretty Spartan.

“I train six days a week and that entails seven sessions.

“There are days when I wish I was in bed and wish I did not have to do but I do love the sport.

“Once you are training with the same group of people who are all hoping to do the same thing then it is great.

“I now have friends all over the country.”

Mona is already on the Irish International squad so now and then they take her to train with a special group for four or five days.

“This is a set group of people and the goal is for us to be in the Olympics by 2020”.

“It is called the Emerging Talent and they brought them to Tenerife and Limerick twice just to keep them focused and they come from all over the country,” said Viola.

There are 16 in this group.

Mona made her national debut two years ago when she was only 13.

But her immediate goals are to get to the finals in the upcoming European Junior Championships and hopefully get a medal.

“My time this year at the National Championships would have got me a silver medal at last year’s European Junior Championships.

“Ireland came sixth overall in last year’s championships which was a good result for us.”

So does she have any time for any other pursuits?

“I used to do a bit of running but I just don’t have the time for that anymore.

“I admire Fiona Doyle who is training in the US and she has just qualified for Rio in the Breaststroke which is what I would like to do.

“She is doing everything that I would like to do in the future.”

Interestingly, Fiona Doyle is in her 20s so Mona is more than well on schedule.

She does not target any Olympic medals yet, but hopes to get into semi-finals or finals in the future.

Viola adds: “In two weeks time Mona will be travelling to London for the European Senior Championships after she qualified in March.

“We were not sure whether we should go for it or not but it will be an experience for her.

“This will be very competitive and Mona will be doing the 100m Breaststroke and 200m Breaststroke against some of the Continent’s finest swimmers”.

But she has raced with the older ones in the past.

“There was a 21-year-old from Switzerland racing against me last weekend.”

Mona was victorious but there is no fanfare or ego, it is all a very committed and grounded process.

All week the national press has been noting Mona’s remarkable achievement.

And the Colaiste Cholmcille girl was clearly the star of the night on Sunday at the Irish Open Swimming Championship as she picked up titles in the 200m Individual Medley, 200m Breaststroke and 50m Freestyle.

Mona had already won the 50m and 100m Breaststroke Irish titles on Thursday and Saturday and was the fastest Irish qualifier out of the 50m Freestyle semi-final, and just minutes later she claimed the 200m Individual Medley in 2:19.27.

Taking on the 200m Breaststroke, she led throughout to win in 2:32.74 and she finished the night’s final event, the 50m Freestyle, bringing her championship collection to five.

Mona’s time in winning the 100m Breaststroke on Saturday was 1:08.75 while the Olympic Qualifying time is 1:07.85, so Mona is already very close, a truly remarkable achievement for the powerful 15-year-old. She had broken the Irish record in the semi-final and final.


These phenomenal records need a big family backup as mum, Viola, acknowledges.

“Sometimes we think the whole family life revolves around the swimming.

“But we are lucky in that her younger brother, Mouric, also swims competitively.

“He is in Colaiste Cholmcille, in first year, is 13 and is making progress”.

That sounds like we could have another McSharry making waves in the near future.

Their dad, Aidan, who runs his own plumbing business, was a noted kickboxer under famous Sligo coach Michael McDermott, so it is easy to see that Mona has all the right competitive and committed sporting genes from both parents.

Aidan had black belts and was an International.

But Viola stressed that the family are very grateful to the Ballyshannon Leisure Centre and the Marlins who are so good to Mona with their facilities.

“Mona gets great support from them and they sponsor her”.

Mona is already putting something back into the club by starting to coach the younger swimmers.

A real champion!