In the deep of winter comes sign of a thaw in Irish sporting politics.

The Olympic Federation of Ireland (formerly OCI) once jealously guarded their turf every four years, to the point where some athletes were obligated to use different medical and support staff for the duration of a Games.

Today, however, OFI president Sarah Keane and Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy announced what they called "a ground-breaking, athlete-centred partnership" between the two bodies to ensure continuity of support for Ireland’s athletes at Tokyo 2020 and up to the Winter Games in Beijing in 2022.

"Today’s partnership agreement is a major step forward in placing the athlete first"

The collaboration involving the OFI, Sport Ireland Institute, Sport Northern Ireland Institute and the various sport governing bodies will provide support for "athlete life-skills, sports science and medicine as well as various Games readiness activities before, during and after Games time".

Keane, who was elected OFI president in the wake of a tumultuous Rio 2016, said: "Today’s partnership agreement is a major step forward in placing the athlete first and comes at a crucial time as preparations for Tokyo gather pace."

Treacy added: "We are delighted to see this new aligned approach in the Irish High-Performance System toward Olympic Games preparation and performance. This is a big step forward and we’d like to congratulate all parties involved who have worked very hard to put this partnership in place."

Also announced today was the appointment of Patricia Heberle as Team Ireland’s Chef de Mission for the 2019 European Games and Tokyo.

Heberle, warmly described by OFI chief executive Peter Sherrard as a "straight-talking Aussie with a big heart", is a three-time Olympian: as a player with Australia in Los Angeles in 1984 and as a coach with her country’s gold-medal winning teams of 1996 and 2000.

She has been involved in high-performance coaching since 2005, including with the OFI since last year, and now takes on a management and co-ordination role that she likens to "being the conductor of the orchestra".

"This role means a huge amount to me," said Heberle. "I have participated in the three Olympic games both as an athlete and a coach and the opportunity to be Chef de Mission for Team Ireland is both a huge honour and a privilege.

"I am coming into the role at a very exciting time for Irish Sport, having been involved for some time in the Irish High Performance system. The people involved, the funding coming from Government and Sport Ireland is starting to deliver some really good results. The partnerships announced today are a huge step forward in ensuring that everyone is working together for the good of the athletes and their performances."

The location of Team Ireland’s training base for Tokyo was also unveiled and, thankfully, any temptation to choose the island of Saipan was avoided.

Ireland will be based at the Ecopa Stadium and its accompanying athletics arena in Fukuroi City, 90 minutes west of Tokyo by bullet train.  

The Irish rugby team will be preparing at the same facilities during next year’s World Cup so will be well-placed to pass on any ‘learnings’ to the OFI well ahead of time.