DESPITE winning only one medal, Irish team manager Patsy McGonagle was still pleased with the Irish team’s performance at the European championships in Barcelona.
It may appear as if Derval O’Rourke saved blushes with her silver medal but it was still a successful mission for Athletics Ireland who sent out a team of 33.
Along with the silver medal there were the back-to-back fourths from Robert Heffernan in the 20k and 50k walks which puts him right up among the potential medallists for London 2012.
Paul Hession (200m) and David Gillick (400m) may have travelled as potential medallists and, while their results were disappointing, they more or less reflected their ranking going into their respective finals.
And sprinters, Jason Smyth, Ailis McSweeney and Niamh Whelan, as well as 800m runner, David McCarthy all made it through to their respective semi-finals.
Olive Loughnane was another potential medallist and there was nothing that could be done about the illness that she carried into the women’s 20k walk, causing her to pull out.
Similarly Thomas Chamney picked up a viral infection on the eve of the 1,500m semi-finals.
But there were national records for both women’s relay squads that qualified them for next year’s world championships.
“I’m obviously disappointed we did not get more than one medal,” said McGonagle: “I am very aware that the public react to medals so from that point of view I would like to get a medal or two more.
“I know from an athletics point of view and a performance point of view that, in general, the team performed to a level that they are at and what more can you do. Three Irish records yesterday was a big plus.
“When it’s over, it’s over and you’ve got to evaluate it very quickly – basically we are always learning. Athletes are learning and we’re learning – and we bring all that learning forward.
“Yes, it was a good championships. There’s a lot of depth, there’s a lot of different events. There were 33 athletes and that’s a big team.
“We have two years (to London 2012) and we all know this is probably the last opportunity we will have to make decisions about changing anything.
“You’d need to be going with some hope, probability or possibility that you’ll medal in London. You have to because that’s the only thing that keeps you going and the only thing that keeps everybody interested.
“There are London ‘medal-zone’ athletes in this team and we just need to be right on the day in London. I think, for example, that Robert Heffernan is a medal-zone athlete, I think that Derval O’Rourke is a medal-zone athlete. I think David Gillick and Paul Hession are medal-zone athletes.
David (Gillick) had a disappointing championships and he would be the first to admit that but he is still a medal-zone athlete.”
John Treacy, chief executive of the Irish sports council and Olympic silver medallist from the 1984 marathon in LA, praised Derval O’Rourke for her performance.
“As usual she produced the goods,” he said. “She’s fantastic. I went to the Stadium last night totally and utterly convinced she was going to win a medal. I had no doubt in my mind. She confirmed it in my head in the semi-finals. It was another fantastic performance.
“She has a championships mentality. The world championships last year was a phenomenal performance and she has done it again.
“Getting a medal was important. Once you have the medal in the bag you can sit back and look at the other performances. Robert (Heffernan) was fantastic, David (Gillick) fifth, Paul (Hession) sixth, Jason (Smyth) and then two Irish records in the relay – three records on the one day – and there were people getting pbs.
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