By Brendan Mooney
FRESH from another national record at Virginia Tech, where he jumped eight metres for the first time indoors to equal his outdoor mark, Ciaran McDonagh will be a top attraction at the national indoor championships at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast over the weekend.
The 29 year-old Meathman is enjoying his first decent injury-free stretch in years. Last year at the world championships in Helsinki the Olympic and world long jump champion, Dwight Phillips, predicted his training partner was gearing up to do some really big jumps.
McDonagh has been training with Phillips since last year under Paul Doyle at his Atlanta base. At the BUPA Cork City Sports in early July he produced a massive jump that was well beyond the national record he set at the world championships in Seville back in 1999 when he became the first Irishman to clear eight metres. Unfortunately he fouled.
Since then he has been working on the troublesome aspects of his performance, showing constant improvement, and Phillips is no longer just his training partner but sharing the coaching with Paul Doyle.
"He has really taken me under his wing this year," said McDonagh. "We have been working on a new long jump approach and already I feel I am getting more consistency on the board. I remember back pre 1999 and 2000 I was producing jumps in excess of eight metres in training. Last year I was jumping 8.30m and 8.20m but they were all fouls caused by my run-up. Now I don’t run into my start any more and I’m getting more consistency.
"But the secret has been Dwight. From being supportive last year he is now helping me massively with my whole technique and my performance is benefiting. At the start of the indoor season I set myself a target of eight metres but I went out and jumped eight metres on my very first attempt at Virginia Tech indoor meet on January 4.
"This year my focus is on the European championships in Gothenburg and that indoor jump has given me confidence in what I am doing. In an event like the long jump confidence is as important as ability and that’s what eight metres has given me."
His whole career has been punctuated by a recurring Achilles tendon problem but he hopes that he has put all that behind him. Yesterday he was at Gerard Hartmann’s clinic in Limerick mainly to have everything checked out.
"Those days I react differently. When I feel just a niggle I back off. Before, I would train through the pain barrier thinking that things would be better the other side and I now realise I was doing myself endless damage. That has changed now. You get cuter with age. I am minding myself now and everything is going very well. I can get things done and move on from one thing to another."
And one of those things is his sprinting. At that meet on January 4 he also set a new personal best for 60 at 6.79 secs and feels he can improve on that.
"I really tied up over the second half of the race," he admitted.
"But I don’t train for 60m and I don’t run enough sprint races to be really effective.
"At the end of the day it is all about racing but I focus on my long jump."
At the weekend, he will compete both in the long jump and the 60m dash but he is looking beyond.
"A week later I have the Grand Prix meeting in Athens, then another indoor meet in Germany and, a week after that, the world indoor championships in Moscow," he said.
"The European championships in Gothenburg are my ultimate aim and my whole season is geared towards those.
"The eight metres at Virginia Tech gave me huge confidence and while you need ability it is all about confidence as well."
Here, in Ireland, he is coached by former national champion and record holder, Terri Horgan from Mallow, who dominated women’s long jumping for over a decade, as well as Sean Cahill, who has also been brought in by Coach Jim Kilty to help Derval O’Rourke iron out a problem she has been having with the first hurdle.
Fresh from her record breaking run at the AAA indoor championships last weekend, when she became the first Irish woman to run under eight seconds for the 60m hurdles, she will be back in action at the Odyssey Arena this week.