Olympians and Coca-Cola Thank You Fund ambassadors, Derval O’Rourke and Paddy Barnes, evidently know lots about winning.

As two of Ireland’s most high-profile athletes, between them they’ve scooped the likes of a World Indoor gold and a pair of European silvers over consecutive championships (that’s Derval).

Then there’s the European Amateur gold, Commonwealth gold, and two Olympic bronze medals from Beijing and London (all attributed to Paddy) to consider.

But rather than citing early specialist training programmes or dedicated bootcamp-style sessions, both reckon that at the very heart of their success is a lively, carefree childhood.

“When I was kid you got yourself active,” laughs Paddy in an exclusive sit-down with coca-cola.ie.

“It wasn’t really a conscious thing – but you absolutely went out onto the street to play football pretty much every day.”

He adds: “But things have changed in a short space of time: kids are more inclined to be inside on tablets or phones, or playing computer games. Street sport doesn’t happen now.”

“And actually being active in general has just diminished,” the Belfast-native continues. “Parents drive and drop their kids to the school door. I walked to school every day – lugging around a schoolbag weighing about a stone on my back!”

It’s something that Derval echoes – quickly chiming in during the chat, which took place recently in a Dublin city centre hotel, to relay her own experiences.

“Kids don’t go out onto the streets these days at all; they don’t even knock around to their friends’ houses anymore.

“When I was a kid from about 7am during the summer there’d be a bang on the door from one of the neighbours begging: ‘Can Derval come out and play?’ That probably just wouldn’t happen in 2015.”

The potential consequences – mentally and physically – of being inactive during our childhood years are by now well-documented; as are the frightening statistics that single out Irish children as being among the fattest in Europe. 

It’s a downward spiral that Paddy, 28, and 34-year-old Derval, who hails from Cork, are understandably passionate about curtailing. Indeed, such passion is one of the reasons they’ve gotten behind this year’s Coca-Cola Thank You Fund.

“Suffice to say that €25,000 is a huge amount of money and there is a huge amount that you can do with it at a local level,” Ms O’Rourke explains.

“Getting more people out and about and getting them active is vital. The Coca-Cola Fund is able to really target a fantastically broad range of individuals from all walks of life and from the four corners of Ireland – that’s invaluable too.”

“When it comes to being healthy and fit, there is something for everyone – and the Coca-Cola funding initiative proves that,” states Mr Barnes, who famously honed his skills in the boxing ring as a teenager at the Holy Family club in north Belfast. “We just all need to start thinking outside the box a bit more.”

Derval recently gave birth to a baby girl, Dafne, while Mr Barnes is already dad to Eireann, who is now 18months.

It goes without saying that both girls will grow up in extremely active households – not least as Derval’s husband is furthermore Olympic sailor Peter O'Leary (the duo met on the flight back from Beijing in 2008).

Still, Paddy hasn’t decided just yet where Eireann’s talents lie: “I’m not sure if I’d like my little girl to box – athletics maybe. Running is great. And she can run fast!”

Derval’s, however, has already identified an area of interest for little Dafne, who arrived in Cork University Hospital in early August. “I would get every child into gymnastics – for the motor skills alone,” she states.

“We have this discussion all the time in my household – and my poor husband, well, he’s a brutal runner! Just awful – but I think he’s always struggled in that capacity because he never had the opportunity to learn all those important movement patterns via something like gymnastics at a young age. And you need flexibility in every sport.”

Still, although sport and healthy-living will undeniably be part of Paddy and Derval’s lives indefinitely, both readily admit that securing an Olympic gold would have – happily – signalled the end of their professional careers.

“If I won the Olympics no one would ever see me again!” Ms O’Rourke – who officially retired last year – confirms. “You can just never top that. You have to go out with your gold and not come back.

“I don’t know how the likes of Katie Taylor stays motivated. But she’s so focused on Rio 2016 it’s amazing.”

“I’d be gone too, 100 percent,” adds Paddy. “We’re spoilt with Katie though – she wins everything.”

Finally, and although both acknowledge that every one of the five winners of the Thank You Fund is hugely deserving, each has their favourite too.

“Anything that gets girls moving and involved is great – so pat on the back for Teen Cluster Camogie,” says Derval – before quickly adding: “Though I love the idea of the Blueway 10K scheme too. I would really like to do it actually! Going down Ireland’s waterways sounds so pleasant and enjoyable.”

Paddy is more singular. “The tennis,” he states simply. “Because I love that it supports those with intellectual disabilities.”

As the duo get up from the chat to meet with Sports Minister Michael Ring – who has arrived to help Coca-Cola mark the Thank You Fund announcement – they’re warmly greeted by the deserving recipients.

As camera phones emerge and bodies begin to gather around, it’s clear that Derval and Paddy remain national sporting heroes.

But also undeniably, albeit in their own quieter based way, the Thank You Fund winners are – for today at least – every bit as heroic.