Going to IML is something on many bucket lists, going there to compete is on relatively few. The experience you have there, either as guest or titleholder, will be unlike any other.

Being Irish, I have walked many roads alone. This journey was not one of them. Will (Mr Wisconsin Leather) and Dalton (Mr New England Leather) were two of the first of my IML37 classmates from the US to reach out and offer a friendly smile, once they'd learned I would be joining them on stage. Gradually over the two/three months preceding IML itself, I began developing bonds with the other 51 brothers in my class. Much of this went down over a Whatsapp group. For us over in Europe, this was great as we hadn't the means to meet in person before Chicago.

By the time I'd reached Chicago, I wasn't nervous about the people I was about to meet. We'd already shared ourselves with each other- our secrets, our humour, our supports. The class surpassed my expectations- they were awesome, and it made me proud to stand next to them. It made it easier for me to stand on stage because of the calibre they were.

I knew I'd never get lost. We had something I'd never encountered before- a den daddy (Jeff you rocked it), handlers and bootblacks. These looked after you with such grace, and always with a smile. They new how to spot when you were a bit anxious and needed a light joke to defuse, or needed a drink of water, or anything at all. We even had a full production staff to make us visually look good on stage. All we'd to do was talk sensibly (and with an Irish accent, that's not always an easy accomplishment lol).

The entire weekend for me had some inner turmoil. Simultaneously a referendum was going on in Ireland, one which I had to make the choice of being in Chicago for. Friday was spent in a disconnect, as my mind was back home. Thankfully, we'd found out the results before the judging stages began, that Ireland had voted in same sex marriage (an historic milestone for Ireland). Once this happened, regardless of what came next I felt exhilarated, I felt equal, and I wanted to encourage others to feel the same way.

One thing that was clear from IML and the US culture is that a sense of family is strong and held in high regard. Not only had I just met a group of brothers that would be connected with me for life, but I was there with my partner whom I could now legally propose to to become my husband.

The weekend didn't become about placing on the podium. A wise person told me to pick one personal victory I wanted to achieve over the weekend; one which was only known to me, and if achieved, makes anything else icing on the cake. I had this. Following my personal victory, I was able to add a victory for the Irish leather community- placing 1st runner up.

Having reflected on it after a few days post-IML, I'm still feeling that sense of pride for what Ireland achieved, and a sense of anticipation for what's to come after I placed on the podium. I hope to utilise the spotlight that's now being shun on the Irish leather community, on Geared Ireland, to keep the momentum growing at home, in both our monthly events and our charity work. We have been given a wonderful opportunity to really make a difference. Thankfully, like I said at the beginning, I am not on this journey alone. I have Geared Ireland, I have my titleholder brothers, IML and everyone else I met along the way, who I know are all just Facebook message, whatsapp or phonecall away.

It's quite interesting. I have Conor, Mr Geared Ireland, and Collie, Mr Rubber Ireland on one side. And Patrick (IML 2015), Brian (2nd runner up IML), and Bamm Bamm (IMBB 2015) on the other. With my fiance and me in the middle, I just have to wait until I can get both sides to meet, and I'll be the luckiest guy alive.