A great championships for the Irish? It depends where you were looking

When the dust has settled, the medals safely stowed away, the question is not so much about what Irish athletes achieved at last weekend’s European Indoor Championships, but how they did it.

A great championships for the Irish? It depends where you were looking

When the dust has settled, the medals safely stowed away, the question is not so much about what Irish athletes achieved at last weekend’s European Indoor Championships, but how they did it.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, why others couldn’t do the same, to harness an ability to shine under the bright lights. Because if truth be told, the two who stole the headlines — Mark English and Ciara Mageean — were just that: Two athletes, out of a team of 16.

Two on the podium, the rest nowhere.

Medals have the ability to erase all bad news like a wet rag wiped across a blackboard, but when you chisel down into results from Glasgow there was no disguising the trend of under-performance, beyond of course the brilliant bronze-medal duo.

Anytime an athletics team returns to Dublin airport with excess medal baggage, it can be blasphemous to suggest as much, but if Ireland is to have its next Mageean, its next English, it’s worth asking where they’ll come from.

For all the middle-distance stars born with such rare and rich athletic gifts, such endowments are nothing but a downpayment for success, as it’s the subsequent relentless investment of energies that results in the eventual pay-off.

A great championships for the Irish? Depends where you were looking. This was a team replete with class, going to Glasgow with three clear medal contenders, along with the world-class calibre of Thomas Barr and a raft of youngsters of promising potential.

Sixteen athletes in all, but very few could, or should, have walked away content.

Barr was never going to be a contender in the men’s 400m, his indoor season more of an experiment to break up winter training, but all the same he was poor. Fifth place, 48.22, a time he can surpass outdoors for the same distance with 10 hurdles in the way.

Not good, but not a reason to panic either, given the World Championships in Doha are still seven months away.

In the women’s 400m, Phil Healy proved the old sporting adage applicable in golf’s majors: You can’t win the title on day one, but you can certainly lose it.

She lost any realistic chance of a medal by misjudging her effort in the heat, blitzing through the opening lap a fraction too fast, finding herself bankrupt and demoted to third in the final metres.

She made a bold bid in the semi-final to make an impact from the disadvantaged lane two, but with just the top two to advance that was akin to summiting Everest without oxygen. Game over.

Sophie Becker was one of the few Irish who could walk off the track knowing she had given her best, the St Joseph’s athlete running an impressive 53.99 400m from lane two.

That was good enough to beat exactly no-one, but that wasn’t the point, it was the kind of performance the team needed more: Bringing your best to the big stage.

Síofra Cléirigh-Buttner in the women’s 800m; John Travers in the men’s 3000m; Sommer Lecky in the women’s high jump; Lauren Roy and Joseph Ojewumi in the 60m heats: All were a long, long way off their best, for myriad reasons.

Many, of course, deserve a free pass for any perceived failing, their youth meaning the primary thing they needed to take home was experience, even if for many it was a baptism of fire.

Sean Tobin continued his progression with a strong 7:56.27 in the men’s 3000m, perhaps finishing with a little too much in his legs, but he, like many, will be back and better equipped next time.

So too Cillín Greene, who spent the weekend in a sling after falling over a rival in the chaotic heats of the men’s 400m, a radial head fracture of his elbow the diagnosis from local doctors.

Some were cursed by bad luck, Ciara Neville travelling to Glasgow and unable to line up for the 60m after falling ill the day before her heat, while others turned in performances they could only explain as inexplicable.

But such experiences can embolden athletes, once they set off for some self- reflection.

In that sense they had athletes to look to in Mageean and English for guidance.

After all, it’s only two years since Mageean’s career seemed to be cascading downhill, but after a cluster of poor championship showings she upped sticks from Dublin to train in Manchester under coach Steve Vernon. The truth is, it’s hard to beat professionals when all your training is done with amateurs.

It’s only seven months since English stood in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium looking a lost cause after exiting his European 800m heat with his worst ever major championships showing.

He made no excuses for it — even though he had his reasons — then in the off- season he quietly committed to rooting out his physical issues. He travelled to Manchester for a rigorous biomechanical analysis and committed to a gym programme that saw him re-emerge this year with his health — and his speed — restored.

Not everyone has the talent of English or Mageean, of course, but it’s that ability to harness past disappointment into future drive, to take their beating and come back stronger, to resolve to be better tomorrow than they were today, that now defines their careers. It’s one all athletes, all people, could learn from.

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