Few nations embrace their medal-winners quite like Ireland, a country that puts a higher premium on international success due to its rarity.
But for all the athletes who experience the plaudits raining down on weeks like this, there are dozens of others — often just as talented, just as disciplined — whose stories never reach that cheerful climax, at least not yet.
A little over a year ago, Marcus Lawler was shaping up as a medal contender at the European U23 Championships. The Carlow sprinter was Ireland’s fastest man, having clocked 10.30 for 100m and 20.71 for 200m at the age of 22.
In late June, he travelled to the European Team Championships in Vaasa, Finland, blasting through his 200m heat on a cold day in 20.71. The next day, Lawler was primed for a huge run, ready to take on world-beaters like Ramil Guliyev.
Around the bend in that final, Lawler was moving faster than ever, and he turned for home in close contention with Guliyev.
And then he tore his hamstring.
It was a gunshot explosion in his leg that made him aware, there and then, that his upcoming medal chance had been blown to pieces. It says much about Lawler’s attitude that in the midst of that melancholy, he limped to the finish in 83.93 seconds to earn a single point for the Irish team.
“All that crossed my mind was European U23s,” he says. “I was seventh in the final in 2015 and I was trying to win the thing last year, then seeing that 20.7 won a medal, it could easily have been me. It was really hard but I didn’t cry about it, I got on with my business.”
Lawler had nine weeks until the World University Games in Taipei, so there at least was something he could salvage, a reason to plough on through the daily grind of rehab, physio, cross-training.
Under the supervision of Emma Gallivan at the Sport Ireland Institute, he took his first jogging steps about four weeks later, and managed to make it to Taipei, where he was able to put a full stop to a painful chapter.
“I wasn’t in my tip-top shape but I needed to do it for my mental state. The final part of the rehab was to run a race, and until I’d done that I wasn’t fixed.”
In the autumn, Lawler enrolled in a two-year part-time master’s in strength and conditioning at Carlow IT, enough of a workload to keep his education ticking but not so much that he’s anything less than all in on athletics.
Coached by his mother, Patricia Amond-Lawler — herself an international sprinter in the ’80s — Lawler has to spend plenty of time on the road each week to move between training bases, from the local track strip at Carlow IT to the 400m track in Kilkenny to gym sessions in Abbotstown, and thankfully a local garage, Pratts Auto Image, sorted him with a car to ease the burden.
As unrewarding as it can be, he remains fuelled by the idea of next month’s European Championships, of taking a chunk off his 200m best of 20.71 in the coming weeks and going there as a contender to make the final.
Tonight, he will compete in the 100m and 200m at the Cork City Sports, which he reckons could be just the place to make that breakthrough, to take one more step from the shadows out into the limelight.
“I’m in the shape to do it, but it’s all well and good saying that. You have to go and do it in the race.”
Sizzling evening in store at City Sports
The 67th Cork City Sports international athletics meet promises to be another exciting spectacle at the CIT Athletics Arena this evening.
From the start of the action-packed programme, a name so synonymous with the event will feature in the Glenilen Farm junior women’s 1500m.
The surname O’Sullivan used to pack out the Mardyke, with that track now named after her.
However, now there is a new O’Sullivan in town. Sonia’s daughter, Sophie, (Ballymore Cobh) is the new up-and-coming heroine and she’s fresh off a scintillating silver medal over 800m at the European U18 Athletics Championships in Gyor, Hungary, last week.
Sophie O’Sullivan has a personality to match her physical gifts and her fun-loving nature is sure to get the fans engaged from the start.
And the family will have a big part to play in proceedings. Mother Sonia will be in the stands as will her father, Nic Bideau, one of the sport’s foremost coaches and agents, whose athletes will be competing in some of the marquee events.
The women’s Sport Ireland 3000m sees fan-favourite Genevieve LaCaze of Australia taking on counterpart Melissa Duncan along with former World U20 champion Mary Cain of the USA and Nicole Tully.
Reid Buchanan is aiming for a three-peat in the men’s John Buckley Sports 3000m with Australian stars Patrick Tiernan, Brett Robinson, Jordan Williamsz, and Sam McEntee all in the field.
Bandon’s Phil Healy will be one of the Irish athletes looking to provide home cheer in the women’s 200m.
- The Cork City Sports will be broadcast live on TG4 and also internationally on a live stream on the events website.