Dara Kervick’s immediate focus may be on this week’s European Indoor Athletics Championship in Prague, but the Pilltown 400m runner’s long-term goal is very much outdoors where he aims to emulate David Gillick by breaking the 45-second barrier.
Gillick remains the only Irishman to dip under the mark, but Kervick has little hesitation in setting his sights so high, despite the fact he is only now preparing to compete in his first senior championship.
“I trained with Brian Gregan for four years before he went to London,” Kervick explained.
“Brian was 45.5 and when you look at someone like that, or like Gillick, from the outside you think, how does he do it? What’s his secret?
“Having trained with Brian, you just realise it’s year on year on year. That helps you realise you are not just going to jump in one year.
“You look at the ranking list and there are, like, 20 Americans up there with 45s. You think, what are they doing that is different?
“Then you realise by looking at Brian or Gillick that it is hard work. It is taking care of yourself year on year on year and being mentally tough enough to do that. Even when it’s raining or snowing.”
That perseverance is already paying off.
An aspiring running career had veered off track due to injuries to his back and a hamstring in the past two years, but Kervick announced himself to a wider audience last month with two superb runs in the GloHealth National Indoors in Athlone.
An effort clocked at 46.80 saw him through the heats.
That also booked his place in Prague and he followed it up a day later with a 46.53 that garnered the national title and all at a pace which fell some way short of emptying the tank.
“I went out there and went through 200 quite comfortably,” recalls Kerwick. “I came to (300m) and thought I was running 47.5, that kind of pace, and went for hands in the air before the line. Looked at the clock and it was 46.5, and I thought it was wrong. I should have kept my hands down and gone through the line faster.”
That’s Kervick in a nutshell: a driven athlete, but one eager to enjoy the journey while he’s at it. A third-year sports science student in UCD, he possesses an analytical mind that is exercised on his coach John Shields and strength and conditioning expert John Cleary.
Against that — and a dedicated training group that includes Gregan, Timmy Crowe, Paul Murphy and Harry Purcell in Dublin — is a man who loves to immerse himself in other pursuits whether that be behind the wheel, on a rock climbing wall or just at the cinema.
Unlike many student athletes, he has chosen to live outside the on-campus bubble. His housemates are PhD and Masters students who may or may not be aware of his status as an Irish international athlete.
That suits him fine. When he’s on, he’s on. When he’s off, he’s off. When he’s tired, he sleeps and when the belly rumbles, he eats.
It’s why he doesn’t fret over a European high ranking of eighth this year that would suggest a place in the 400m final might not be beyond him.
The Czech Republic’s Pavel Maslak, a gold medal winner at European and World Indoors, as well as the European outdoors in Helsinki three years ago, starts off as favourite but the field takes on a more democratic air beyond that lends reason for optimism.
“You can’t really control what everyone else runs,” he explained.
“For me, when I race I only know that I will run the best I can. If that means I make a final then I make a final. If I don’t then there’s not much more I can do.
“You can’t really affect what anyone else runs, so I don’t think there is any more pressure.
“Pressure is what you do to yourself, isn’t it? If you do that you won’t perform as well.
“You can get sidetracked with what everyone else is doing.”
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