Olympic medallist training with tea towel as lockdown leads to discus circle lockout

You’d think the decision to keep GAA grounds shut until July 20 would have absolutely no bearing on a paralympic discus thrower.
Olympic medallist training with tea towel as lockdown leads to discus circle lockout
IN A SPIN: Paralympic athlete Niamh McCarthy during a training session at her home in Carrigaline, Co Cork, while adhering to the guidelines of social distancing set down by the HSE. Niamh has struggled to regularly access her throwing circle at the local GAA club.	Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
IN A SPIN: Paralympic athlete Niamh McCarthy during a training session at her home in Carrigaline, Co Cork, while adhering to the guidelines of social distancing set down by the HSE. Niamh has struggled to regularly access her throwing circle at the local GAA club. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

You’d think the decision to keep GAA grounds shut until July 20 would have absolutely no bearing on a paralympic discus thrower.

What, after all, would an athlete whose discipline involves launching a disc from a circle two and a half metres in diameter want with a GAA field?

Last summer, Carrigaline native and Rio silver medallist Niamh McCarthy got a discus circle built on the grounds of her local GAA club.

The 26-year-old had, up to that point, trained out of CIT, but one or two minor issues at the track, namely a requirement to erect the nets which form part of the throwing cage before each session, and then take them down afterwards, motivated her decision to put in place a throwing circle much closer to her home.

Carrigaline GAA grounds was rendered off-limits from mid-March. Fair enough. But the expectation was that she’d be able to get back into the circle on May 18.

That, of course, was before Croke Park top-brass decided to ignore the Government’s recommended reopening date for sports pitches and instead order the continued closure of GAA fields for another two months.

“That has been problematic,” McCarthy, rather mildly, puts it.

“Carrigaline GAA club, last summer, were kind enough to let me use a bit of land near one of their pitches. So I do have my own circle, but with all the GAA grounds remaining closed, I cannot get in.”

There is a green area in a nearby estate which would allow her to practice standing throws, but there’s the risk of the disc coming into contact with local residents.

What all this means is that she’s been confined to the back garden, a tea towel replacing her 750g discus during throwing sessions.

“I have mostly been doing footwork and other drills. That is usually your winter grind. I've been through that this year. But I've had to go back to that and literally just holding a tea towel doing throws.

"You could technically hold a weight, do a drill, and not release it, but the problem with holding the weight in as opposed to releasing it is it wouldn't be great for your shoulder.

“Even on the S&C side, I only have a limited amount of equipment that I had pre-lockdown. I have just been trying to work with what I have. All of my heavy exercises have gone completely out the window.”

A three-time World Championship podium finisher, runner-up at the 2016 Rio Games, and 2018 European gold medallist, the Cork athlete would have been a medal favourite heading to Tokyo this summer.

But the Dell employee is thankful for postponement.

“I did and I didn’t,” is her reply when asked if she harboured grand ambitions for Tokyo prior to the Games being put back a year.

“I had a hard year last year. It was actually a really hard year for me.”

What McCarthy is part-referencing here is the upheaval in her coaching situation.

Having taken technical direction from then Paralympics Ireland national throws coach Dave Sweeney, McCarthy found herself having to look for a new technical coach mid-season following Sweeney's vacating of the Paralympics Ireland role in March and this position being left unfilled until October.

“I did have a coach, John McCarthy, who I had been with for years, but we always took the technical lead from the Paralympics Ireland technical guy, so when he was gone, we didn't have that technical lead. That is why that transition was made.”

Niamh linked up with England-based Malcolm Fenton towards the end of August.

“Dave [Sweeney] was employed by Paralympics Ireland. It was his job to technically lead us, whereas when I went private, there was an extra cost. It wasn't ideal. Going solo at that time of year was a bad idea. Now, I didn't have much of a choice.

"Without that technical lead, it was five or six months with basically no real direction. That was probably the biggest problem. Any other year, I would have been fine, but just where I was at mentally, it was very tough.

“This year, to be honest, I was really doubting my ability to actually perform in Tokyo and I was getting really scared just with the timeline because as hard as I tried, what I wanted to happen wasn't happening.

“For me, postponement is an opportunity to try and fix things and get back to where I was going. It is an opportunity to spend a bit more time working on myself and working on my sport.

Hopefully, I can power on next year and do well next year.”

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