"It's pretty awe-inspiring" - Niall Griffin on leading Ireland out at the Athens Olympics

The Wexford native competed at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games

"It's pretty awe-inspiring" - Niall Griffin on leading Ireland out at the Athens Olympics

Niall Griffin carries the Irish flag during the opening ceremony Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Patrick Bolger

August 13th, 2004 is a day that Niall Griffin will never forget.

Having turned 27 the previous day, Griffin led Ireland during the Opening Ceremony for the 2004 Olympic Games. It was his first experience as an Olympian as he represented Ireland in the individual and team eventing competitions with his horse Lorgaine. He finished 23rd and 8th respectively in both competitions.

Speaking to Newstalk Sport, the Wexford native, who is now based in Nottinghamshire explained how he was given the honour of leading the team into the Olympic Stadium in Athens.

"We had already gone to Athens at the stage I was told. Our team manager told the team that equestrianism was chosen to lead the team and be the flag bearer. The managers chose me. It was a shock and came out of nowhere."

"You have worked for years and years to be an Olympian and then when that is achieved, to be handed the honour of leading the team was a massive bonus. The fact it was at the home of the Olympics made it more special".

With the exception of athletics and boxing, equestrian athletes have led Ireland in the Parade of Nations more than any other sport. Griffin became the first to lead the team since Gerry Mullins had the honour in 1984.

"The sport that I compete in, is improving year-on-year. It's only a matter of time before we home with a medal. It could well happen this year. Showjumping has a great tradition of achieving at the highest level".

Despite competing in the Olympic Games four years later, Griffin only experienced the Opening Ceremony in Athens. He and the rest of the equestrian team were based in Hong Kong, while the rest of the Games took place in Beijing.

"Beijing and China had an endemic disease where horses cannot leave once they enter. We had the option to travel to Beijing, but because we were competing early, it wasn't viable to do it."

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Patrick Bolger

Despite being given the honour of leading the team in Athens, Griffin admitted the none of the flag-bearers are given any preferential treatment before they take their places.

"You get handed the flag and someone to follow and that's it. You walk into a tiny tunnel into a massive stadium and a huge series of flashing lights and cameras. It's pretty awe-inspiring once you finally walk into the stadium, but before you walk in, it's pretty boring."

Despite not competing in the Olympics for almost a decade, Griffin still remembers the experiences of Athens and Hong Kong fondly.

"Less than 1% of the World's population get to become an Olympian. You go through life and dont meet many people who have had that experience. It really is something money can't buy and it an exceptional thing to do."

Paddy Barnes will lead the team into the Maracana in the early hours of Saturday morning, becoming the first man to lead the team since Griffin had the honour eight years ago.