When Eileen O’Donnell entered the Miss Bikini Ireland competition for the second time earlier this year, she planned to bring her best to the stage, and hoped to top her top five place from 2016.
Last Friday evening, the 24-year-old Creggan woman took home the crown, and is now getting ready to jet off to Cancun, Mexico this Sunday, to compete in the Swimsuit USA finals.
Eileen said she “couldn’t believe it” when she was announced as Miss Bikini Ireland 2017 at the glamorous final in the Red Cow Moran Hotel in Dublin last Friday night.
“I felt nerves were getting the better of me on Friday night. Girls were crying, but you have to try and take yourself out of that for a second, and think - what am I here for and what do I want to achieve by being here?
“Forty girls competed altogether, then the judges cut that down to the top 12.
“When I made the top 12 I looked around at the standard of girls that had got through. I was trying to convince myself that because the standard was so high, if I made the top five I would be proud of myself, and feel like I did one better than last year, because the standard had improved.
“When they called my name, I just couldn’t believe it. I think you can tell from my reaction in some of the photos. I was so confident throughout the process, and maybe because I wanted to win the title so much, that’s why I let my nerves take over so much on the day of the final.”
It’s been a long 14 months for Eileen, who made the decision to enter this year’s competition immediately after she stepped off the stage at the final in October 2016.
She said Miss Bikini Ireland does not follow the usual format of a pageant, as judging takes place over a six-month period, with judges assessing fitness, social media expertise and other interests.
She said she believes this may have had an impact on her win, as although she was nervous at the grand final on Friday, she had put a lot of work in during the previous six months.
“It shows how much work goes into the competition. If you are feeling nervous before the final, depending how much work you put in, you just have to go with it and that’s what I did on the night.
“It’s important they see that you’re posting on social media about lots of different sectors, whether it is about fitness, or what you’re enjoying in the beauty industry. You have to be able to talk about that. They want someone who can promote that and promote themselves.
“If I was to win the title and do nothing for the year it would only be affecting me, I would be losing out on something I would have a big opportunity for. I’m hoping I can do that now over the next year,” Eileen explained.
The next two weeks are set to be jam packed for Eileen, as she sets off for Cancun on Sunday, ahead of preliminary judging for Swimsuit USA which starts on December 11.
“It’s been 25 degrees in Mexico recently. My daddy was saying I’ll need to get my summer gear out, I wasn’t expecting that this late in the year!
“The finals are condensed into give days, You do a preliminary competition, your ballgown and your swimsuit rounds when you get there.
“It involves so much, the intinerary is jam-packed. We go swimming with dolphins, foam parties, go to Coco Bongo which is the biggest nightclub in Cancun.
“We do branding shoots and shooting on the beaches. It’s going to be an immense experience I cannot wait for,” she said.
A total of 80 countries are represented in the finals in Cancun, and Eileen said previous Miss Bikini Ireland winners have made it to the top 20.
“I am going for the experience, I never thought I would get as far to be here,
“I’m so delighted that I have the opportunity now over the next year to grab everything I can and work as hard as I can.
“Obviously I am going there to try and do as well as previous girls have done, or even better. That’s a big thing too.”
Win or lose in Mexico, Eileen is determined to do what she can to make the Miss Bikini Ireland competition bigger and better than ever, and work with the brand for the next 12 months.
“From last year, even when I didn’t win, I was thinking I know what I can do to help make the competition bigger, and what advice I would give to finalists.
“The fact that I now have the title and I’ll have the chance to speak to finalists next year is just so motivating and so good to know that I’ll be inspriing others to enter.
“I’m only 5ft 1.8inches, so it’s very small compared to a lot of people who will be over at the world finals.
“So I hope there will be a rise in smaller girls entering next year as well, it’s opening doors like that as well.
Eileen is currently working as a receptionist at Bay Road Soccer, having recently made the move from office work.
She said she believes that making such a change has had a positive impact on her outlook, and she “feels like a different person” to this time last year.
“Although I went to University and got my degree, the office environment just isn’t for me at this time in my life.
“Moving to this job where I’m in contact with the public gives me that chance to focus on what I enjoy too.
“If you’re in a job that you enjoy and you enjoy being around people it comes across in everything that you do.
“If anything I feel like a different person to last year, and you just have to trust in the timing of your life as well.
“Last year, although I may have felt like I was ready, this year I know this was my time.
“It was obviously hard last year when I didn’t win, but you have to keep believing in yourself and use it to your advantage to keep going and keep being motivated for whatever your goal may be,” she added.