Time for Irish athletics to feel the need for speed

Rhasidat Adeleke. Pic: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Here’s a prediction: the next great Irish athlete, the one we take a hiatus from work to watch challenge for an Olympic medal, will not be a distance runner.

Nor will it be a thrower, a jumper, or a race walker, and you can forget about it being a marathoner.

Because since the days of Sonia, Catherina, Treacy and Coghlan, things have changed utterly in Irish athletics, and a glance through recent results tells you where the talent pipeline is now flowing.

For many years, the idea of a world-class Irish sprinter seemed like the punchline to a bad joke, but no more.

Irish athletics is flooded with talent, and the outlook is bright.

Here’s a name you may not know, but one you should: Kate O’Connor. The 17-year- old Dundalk athlete is a multi-eventer, and in recent weeks she twice broke the Irish U20, U23 and senior indoor records.

She, along with 19-year- old Elizabeth Morland, has consistently turned in performances at underage level to suggest she can be a top-10 candidate in future Olympic heptathlons. 

That, of course, will likely require a smooth passage to senior level and a professional coaching setup which is still non-existent in this country.

And that’s not to denigrate the expertise of Ireland’s vast web of volunteer coaches, many of whom operate with world-class professionalism despite the sport costing them money, but at the top level the link between investment and medals is too strong to deny.

This was a point noted recently by Hamish Adams, the incoming CEO of Athletics Ireland, who noted how New Zealand invests five times more per capita in sport than Ireland.

It’s no wonder, given the lack of opportunity for our greatest coaching minds to earn a living, that so many decide to go abroad.

And yet, we’re producing results. They may not be the kind to grab headlines, but the string of fast times achieved in far-flung places over the last month suggest a rising tide all around.

Phil Healy
Phil Healy

Like the superb 52.08 400m run by Phil Healy in Vienna, which came about as a result of her now studying part-time but training like a professional in Waterford, under the daily watch of coach Shane McCormack – whose value to Irish athletics is so far ahead of his cost.

Barring any mishaps, Healy will blitz her rivals at this weekend’s Irish Life Health National Senior Indoor Championships in Abbotstown, before training her sights on next month’s world indoors in Birmingham.

Her sister, Joan, will be trying to join her this weekend, but to do so she will have to take 0.03 off her recent 60m best of 7.33. 

That would equal the national record, held jointly by Anna Boyle, Ciara Neville and Amy Foster. Both Foster and Neville will also be in action this weekend, making Sunday’s 60m final the race of the championships.

We’ll also see the most talented male sprinter Irish sport has produced in the last decade, whatever others might have you believe. Carlow’s Marcus Lawler will be in action in both the 60m and 200m, and is in prime shape after a 60m PB of 6.78 last weekend.

For the uninitiated: that’s fast.

Thomas Barr will take him on over 200m, though for the Olympic 400m hurdles finalist this indoor season is just way to break up the tedium of winter training as he prepares for a medal tilt at the Europeans later this year.

In the distance ranks, things have also been on the up, Stephen Scullion running a 63:16 half marathon in Houston, Texas last month, while teenage stars Darragh McElhinney and Sarah Healy have again made records fall in the middle distances.

But perhaps the biggest talent of all in Irish athletics is also the youngest — 15-year-old Rhasidat Adeleke, the Tallaght sprinter who clocked 23.80 for 200m last month, faster than any Irish teenager has ever run indoors.

She’ll only be 17 come the next Olympics in Tokyo, but how she’s managed in these coming years will say an awful lot about the system. Talent like hers is hard to find, but the hardest steps are ahead.


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