Tag Archives: olympics

How do Ireland’s sportspeople do it?

It always amazes me how well sports people representing Ireland perform on a world stage. Ireland is a small country with, let’s call a spade a spade, rubbish sporting facilities.

Check out irishsportmatters.com.

Bloody fantastic, I hope you agree. The population in Ireland has only just got back to levels prior to the Famine in the late 1840s, so the country’s achievements in relation to populations size are remarkable.

With a growing population, why aren’t facilities matching Ireland’s aspirations? The Irish Sports Council does a terrific job in nurturing talent but funding is limited. A personal anecdote arises from a conversation I had with a New Zealander in 2000. We were comparing countries and stated that Ireland had one Olympic-sized (50m) swimming pool (that number has grown to four I beleive since then). My acquaintence laughed, and replied that his school in New Zealand had an Olympic-sized pool.

Other countries seem to be much better organised when it comes to providing facilities to nurture raw, young sporting talent, and to harness their enthusiasm. In Australia, 50m swimming pools are provided at almost every beach venue. It is freshly filled every week with sea water. In America, colleges offer sports scholarships to entice the top young sportspeople to their campus. Most US colleges have stadiums. Not in Ireland though. Even the expensive Aviva Stadium looks terrible (only Croke Park got it right – but even that isn’t finished properly).

Hats off to our national sporting representatives – they do it on a shoestring out of a shoebox.


Countdown begins to Jockey Olympics at Naas

Barry Geraghty, Paul Carberry, Davy Russell and Nina Carberry have been announced as the 2012 team captains for this year’s Jockey Olympics taking place at paddypower.com Cheltenham Trial day at Naas Racecourse on Sunday 26th of February.

Last year it was Barry Geraghty’s team of Robert Power, John Cullen, Alan Crowe and Paddy Flood who gave their all and were crowned the 2011 Jockey Olympians; there was clear delight as the team did a lap of honour around the parade ring!

However, with 2012 being an Olympic year, and the Olympics being held on our doorstep in London, the stakes seems a little bit higher than last year.

The ladies have entered their own team this year, with their eyes clearly on the prize and they may well be the ones to watch with Katie Walsh scoring the winning goal in the football skills event in 2011.

During the afternoon, Captains Barry, Paul, Nina and Davy will lead their teams and compete in the Jockey’s Olympics in aid of the GOAL Haiti appeal. The competition will incorporate three events, an egg-and-spoon race, a three-legged race and the final event will be a relay race when they will be required to pass off the whip as their baton.

GOAL will have a bucket collection on the day to raise fund for Haiti.

Barry Geraghty’s Team: Robert ‘Puppy’ Power, John Cullen, Paddy Flood.

Paul Carberry’s Team: Davy Condon, Niall ‘Slippers’ Madden & Keith Donoghue.

Davy Russell’s Team: Mark Walsh, Tom Doyle, Alan ‘Birdy’ Crowe.Nina Carberry’s Team: Katie Walsh, Kate Harrington & Liz Lawlor.

Hector O’hEochagain, MC for the Jockey Olympics said: “Jockeys are renowned for their high levels of competitiveness; this competitiveness will be raised to an all time new level at the Jockey Olympics at Naas racecourse Sunday 26th February. Come and see jockeys out of their comfort zone and into the Olympic zone!”

Barry Geraghty, team captain: “I always enjoy this pre-Cheltenham day and with just over a week to go, this meeting has a great knack for producing a Cheltenham hopeful or two. It always gets a good crowd as the jump racing is top notch. I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of Olympic athlete and these grueling challenges will certainly put me and my team of elite athletes to the test! I’m most concerned about Nina Carberry’s Ladies team being highly skilled so I hope Paul and Davy Russell have their teams in training too!”

Tom Ryan, manager of Naas Racecourse, said: “We are delighted to be involved with the Jockey Olympics this year again; our Team Captains Barry, Nina, Paul & Davy are masters at their own game so I’m looking forward to seeing them adapt their talents for our Olympic challenges. I hope a huge crowd turn out to support GOAL’s efforts and cheer on their favourite team for what should be a very unique raceday. On the racing side, this card in 2009 produced four horses that went on to score at Grade 1 level, cementing the meetings reputations as a stepping stone to greatness. Golden Silver was a gallant 4th in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham after winning the paddypower.com Chase last year.”

The first race off at 1.45pm. The Jockey Olympics will take place in the parade ring into two sessions, after the 2nd race and after the 4th race.

Aileen Morrison – Irish triathlete

May 2011

It’s every young sportsperson’s dream – to be chosen from obscurity and be told ‘you could be great – let me train you and you will be’. It doesn’t happen very often. Ian Wright was bouncing around non-league soccer in England when just short of his 22nd birthday he signed professional terms with Crystal Palace. He went on to win the Premier League with Arsenal and represent England 33 times. Bernard Hopkins and Audley Harrison were late professional debutants to the boxing circuit being 23 and 30 respectively. They all went on to live the dream. Aileen Morrison is another late starter to the world of professional sport. She’s not well known on these shores, despite living here all of her 28 years. Not yet anyway.

Derry native Aileen is 12 months away from representing Ireland at the London Olympics – a dream she’s held for the past four years, and has focused on little else since becoming a full-time professional triathlete in May 2008.

Her most recent result was a silver medal at the Ishigaki ITU Triathlon World Cup last month, completing the circuit in 2h 2m 19sec, 23 seconds behind the winner and 15 seconds ahead of third finisher. To put it into context, Emma Davis, who represented Ireland at the Beijing Olympics, finished in 32nd position, some four and a half minutes behind Aileen. The standard Olympic triathlon distances are a 1.5km swim, followed by a 40km bike ride, rounded off with a run of 10km.

The question Aileen gets asked most often, is why take on the three sports of swimming, cycling and running instead of concentrating on just one? She laughs – she saw that question coming.

“The natural thing for 99% of people who compete in triathlons is that they’re good at swimming first,” explains Aileen in her soft Derry twang. “Swimming is a specialised sport. It’s all about skills – you learn to be a swimmer first when you’re very young at six or seven.

“I learned to swim at that age with my sister Ruth. We were quite good and I really enjoyed it – she was very good, probably of a standard that she could have gone on to compete for Ireland. I wasn’t at that level but I did enjoy it.”

She continues: “At school I ran in a bit of cross country and athletics, again I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t have blown anyone away. But the important thing was I enjoyed it.”

From there Aileen began at university, dabbled in water polo and life saving, went travelling, and began as a sports development officer on her return. She was spending her time convincing kids to get involved in athletics but felt slightly hypocritical not being a member of a club.

“So I joined a local athletics club, and my running got a lot better and at that stage I was swimming twice a week too.

“I’d done a couple of little triathlons around Derry by this time, literally borrowing someone’s bike to do them. I did the Liam Ball Triathlon and the Limavady Sprint but I didn’t take them all that seriously. I was doing sprint distance triathlons of a 750 metre swim, biking 20km and a 5km run. I wouldn’t have been able to handle any further.”

But Aileen maintained her level of training, kept competing in triathlons, kept borrowing bicycles, and gradually got better and better, recording faster and faster times.

By the summer of 2007, she admits she was taking her triathlons ‘reasonably seriously’ but was designing all her own training schedules.

“And then I won the national championships in Lough Neagh in August of that year,” she says. “That was the first time that I started thinking that this was really good.”

Soon after, Triathlon Ireland held a talent spotting day and invited Aileen to take part. She competed in their trials and Aileen’s times flagged her as having bundles of potential.

“I was approached by Chris Jones that day – he was a guest of Triathlon Ireland – and he asked if he could train me,” she says smiling. “I said yes, and he’s been training me ever since.”

Jones, esteemed and extremely well-respected former coach of the British women’s triathlon team and now a consultant with Triathlon Ireland, immediately set Aileen a training regime, following his natural intuition that Aileen could be a serious player on the triathlon circuit if she upped her workload.

“Chris lives in Wales so he sends me my schedule every few weeks and we talk on the phone at least every other day,” she says. “I had a lot of reservations at first about being involved in triathlons for anything more that a bit of fun and something to do when I wasn’t working.

“But here I was being told I could be quite good and that I needed to train more. I told Chris that I only have the time for a couple of swims a week and a couple of runs due to working. He adapted my schedule so it was manageable around my work and college.

“The extra training was a shock to my system alright – I was looking at this training program and I was thinking how am I supposed to swim in the morning and run in the evening? This guy had me training twice a day!” she says laughing in disbelief.

“I was working part-time and fitting my training around either end of my working day – swimming in the morning and something else after work in the evening. I was also studying to become a PE teacher so it was a bit crazy for those first few months.”

But Aileen stuck to her training and followed Jones’ schedule to the letter. At the end of the academic year, the day after she handed in her final assignment, she competed in her first European Cup event in Brno in the Czech Republic.

“It was the start of the season and Chris was saying I could do really well here, and you’ve been training really good. I was hearing him, but inside I was thinking ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna get lapped!’ But I finished 6th against some of the girls who at that time had already qualified for the Olympics.”

Aileen was taking on the best in Europe and was more than holding her own with only six months of structured training behind her. It was clear much more was to come from the diminutive Derry lady.
Jones wanted Aileen to begin training full-time but in May 2008, the Irish Sports Council grants would not be awarded until the end of the year. Jones was pushing Aileen hard in her training and had mapped out 10 races for her on the European circuit to compete in. He really wanted her to turn professional. But what about her bills? She had already applied for temporary part-time teaching jobs to see her through the summer. But Triathlon Ireland came to her aid and offered her a €3,000 grant to get her through the summer. Aileen was gobsmacked.

“I thought I wouldn’t even get that by working all through the summer,” she admits. “So I accepted their offer and began training full-time. The training worked out really well that year – much better than I could ever have expected. I didn’t win any events but I had some really good results. Everything started out so positively.”

Despite not winning any events in that first year under Jones’ tutelage, Aileen was buoyed on by what she was achieving, and by what she was seeing. Compatriot Emma Davis was preparing for the 2008 Beijing Olympics as was Gavin Noble.

“I was looking up at Emma and thinking ‘Wow, that’s fantastic, I can’t believe someone’s going to the Olympics for a triathlon. I wish I was doing that’.”

And so the seed was sown. Aileen had her sights set on getting herself to that level where she could compete at the Olympics. She joined Davis and Noble, and a group of other high performance athletes at a series of training camps abroad. Aileen was able to study these elite athletes up close – their training, their goals, their achievements. She soon realised she was one of them.

“I remember thinking this is a great opportunity,” says Aileen. “And probably if I’d had nobody to look at I never would have thought that it was possible, or that there was anything to gain from doing triathlons. And Emma Davis – looking at her preparing to go to the Olympics – I thought this was brilliant.”

That year, Aileen finished 13th at the European Championships and sixth at a European Cup event at Athlone, where Davis finished as runner-up.

“I was always looking at the people that I was competing against,” says Aileen. “In the beginning, certain girls were beating me and winning races, the next year I had caught up on them, and the next year I was beating them. Now I don’t even compete in those races anymore – I’ve moved up to World Cup level.

“I do what my coach tells me to do – he says these are your races and this is what you’ve to do to qualify for the Olympics.”

These days, Aileen’s weekly training schedule consists of 12 hours a week swimming, cycling for 13 hours, runs at least three hours a week, and spends a minimum of two hours a weight in the gym. But on the plus side, she has two massages a week.

Nevertheless, these days, it’s all about the Olympics for Aileen. World Cup points are being amassed monthly by Aileen in her hope of making it to London next summer. She’s at the halfway stage of the qualification process which lasts two years. It’s a complicated qualification system which counts points earned in the best six events in the first year and the best eight from the second year but world series races and world cups earn extra kudos.

Aileen, at the end of the first year of London qualifying, is currently ranked 15th in the world, but on Olympic rankings, she weighs in at number 11 on the basis that countries can only send a certain number of triathletes.

“People say to me ‘oh that’s fantastic – you’re going to the Olympics’. But I say ‘no’. The second year hasn’t even started yet and I’ve another eight to 10 races to go to make sure I maintain that position.

“People think it’s all about winning and medalling, but if I finish in the top 10 the whole way through this year, then that’s a great way to get to the Olympics and I’d be happy with that. That would mean that I’d been consistent throughout the year. To get a medal or two along the way would be fantastic as well but it means a lot more to be top 10 all along.”

But it looks good though, doesn’t it? For a split second, Aileen’s modesty disappears as her face lights up, her blue eyes sparkle and a slight smile morphs into a big laugh.

“Aye!” she agrees. As quickly as Aileen’s modesty disappears, her professionalism resurfaces.

“But, there’s always the threat of injury,” she warns. “I fell off my bike in London in 2009 and it was six months before I could run properly again. I’m not entirely sure what happened. I crashed off my bike at high speed and a few girls who were riding behind me rode over the top of me.

“Whatever way my feet were stuck in the pedals when the bike came away from me. I damaged my hips and spent quite a while in hospital. I could only walk wee baby steps and it took me a long time. Fortunately for me, the season was almost over and I only missed a couple of races.

“A fall off the bike could easily break a collar bone which means eight weeks on the sidelines. But at least with some injuries you can maintain your training. If you have a stress fracture, you could still be able to swim or a wee bit of cycling. But you’re always trying to remain healthy.”

Being a relatively fresh-faced triathlete, Aileen is still on an upward curve within the sport. At 28, she’s not young on the circuit by any means but she admits she is inexperienced. Triathletes, like most endurance sportspeople, tend to peak around 35. Kiyomi Niwata, who finished 15 seconds and one place behind Aileen in third at Japan last month, is 41 years old. The winner of that race was 24.

“I’d have a greater percentage of improvement in me, if you want to look at it that way,” Aileen explains. “I’ve never had a serious injury, never had stress fractures, never been over-trained. Some of these girls have been doing this for a very long time, and yes they have the experience, but they’re all at the top end of what they’re doing whereas I still have all that improvement in me, that’s the way I like to look at it.

“Gymnasts and swimmers can be burnt out very young but it’s the other way around with endurance training.

“It’s a positive way of thinking. I was probably all doom and gloom and modest in the beginning of all this. You can’t be all big-headed because you’ll fall a long way when your bubble bursts. But you have to believe in yourself. You have to know what you want and know where you’re going.”

There’s little doubt Aileen knows what she wants, and she knows where she’s going.

{written in May 2011. Many thanks to Aileen for her time and co-operation in meeting me during her busy schedule – best of luck in London!
Article is unpublished. Errors or inacuracies will be corrected – please let me know. Please credit Joe Finegan is referring to any content within this article.}

Ireland overview ahead of London 2012

May 2011…by Joe Finegan

For a small nation on the global scale, Ireland’s sports teams and athletes have always been lauded for performing remarkably well. Our soccer teams have been the source of much joy and high expectation for over 20 years since that first appearance at a major finals in 1988. Our individual athletes have performed admirably too, with this country having produced some fantastic competitors throughout the years on the world stage.

However, the production of top-class athletes has been sporadic. Looks at the facts: After Ron Delaney’s gold medal in the 1500 metres at Melbourne in 1956, Ireland did not win another gold until Michael Carruth in 1992. Ireland landed no medals at all at the Olympic Games of 1968, 1972, and 1976. Seoul in 1988 returned no medals either, either did Athens in 2004. After Atlanta in 1996, when Michelle Smith delivered a personal haul of four golds and one bronze, just one silver medal at Sydney in 2000 followed (Sonia O’Sullivan – 5000m).

On the face of it, the Beijing Games three years ago were very successful with three boxing medals coming home – Kenneth Egan, Darren Sutherland and Paddy Barnes.

Ireland’s medal haul has been sporadic and in waves. But plans, systems and directives have been in place for the guts of 10 years, and now results are being seen.

Since the Irish Sports Council (ISC) implemented their high performance directives, success at an elite level has increased three-fold. Ireland are seeing the results trickle in after years of isolated success. In 2006, sports supported and funded by the ISC yielded nine medals at a European and World level. The amount invested that year was €9 million. In 2010, for an extra €1 million invested, our athletes brought home 31 medals from competitions all over the world.

Finbarr Kirwan was appointed director of the high performance unit at the ISC in 2003. Under his guidance, sport in Ireland has achieved unprecedented success, though he is too modest to accept any plaudits. He is a lover of sports, with breathtaking knowledge instantly available at the fore of his brain relating to all of Ireland’s elite athletes past and present, their coaches, their records and their training, and one gets the impression he loves his job.

An international schoolboy runner for Ireland over 800 and 1500m, Finbarr returned from studying and working in the USA in 2003 with his wife to occupy his role at the ISC. He reports directly to ISC chief executive and Olympic marathon silver medalist John Treacy on how his unit is performing, and what funding will be required in the future.

Targets are constantly being set by Finbarr’s unit, top-class coaches are constantly being sought and appointed, and through intricate and methodical planning, medal are constantly being won.

“I suppose our narrative in the past would have been that we’re [Ireland] not very good at Olympic sport. And showing up is the thing, but the reality is different,” says Finbarr.

“Following Athens in 2004, there was a review of our performances there and we set long-term targets at Olympic and Parolympic level for Irish athletes where we feel if we invest X amount, we should be getting X output.

“And the target we set was nine finalists and three medals at the next Olympics, and 12 to15 finalists and four to five medals at Parolympics.

“In Beijing in 2008 we hit the nine finalists and three medals, albeit they were all in one sport [boxing] but nonetheless that was the target we set, and we hit our target.

“And we continue on in that vein, setting targets and hopefully delivering against those targets. What we’ve shown is that if we put the right structures in place, we can compete at the highest level.
“That narrative about going to the Olympics, and it being all about representing your country – that has absolute merit – but when we as a country send athletes to the Olympics, we want them to compete at the highest level to the best of their talent.

“The other thing we wanted to do was to put structures in place in Ireland. Historically, if you were a talented athlete in Ireland, you had to leave to go to the US or Britain to develop your talent, like Eamon Coughlan or John Treacy, or Sonia O’Sullivan, or Ronnie Delaney. We’re putting the structures in place so athletes have the choice – you can stay or go away. Swimming is great example. A swimmer like Grainne Murphy, who medalled at the Europeans last year and is ranked top 10 in the world at two distances, chooses to stay in Ireland and work at the performance centre in Limerick. She has a very good coach, a very good performance director, and gets podium funding, so everything that Grainne needs is here in the country. She has no reason to leave or to train in America or anywhere else. She chooses to stay because the structures and facilities are here for her.

“So you’ve got that intersection of coaching, facilities and money – that’s the trifecta you need. At a senior level, those dividends are paying off.”

Just like any athlete who is going to a championship, preparation is key. The administration of sport at a national level is no different. Sport is being treated like an engine that must be finely tuned, well-oiled, and all components working in tandem with each other. Like most things, it all come down to money, and funding of sport is the responsibility of the ISC.

“What we’re trying to do, certainly on the high performance side, is to make the funding a competitive process,” explains Finbarr. “We’re trying to say that the best plans and proposals from various sports’ governing bodies will get the best investment from the council. So we’re treating them almost like business proposals. They tell us this is the competition path that they have in place, and these are the athletes, these are the coaches, and these are the services that we’re going to need, and this is what it is going to cost. And for all of that investment, this is what you’re going to get: x number of finalist, y number of medalists.

“And the planning process that we have in place now allows us to make that assessment, and rather than putting your finger up to the wind and seeing on what your gut is telling you, we have something concrete to go on.

“Internally, the high performance committee was established after the Beijing Olympics. That committee is chaired by Eamon Coughlan, John Treacy sits on it, Ginny Elliott [four Olympic equestrian medals for Great Britain), Peter Banks [Swim Ireland’s High Performance director], Stephen Martin [Chief Executive of the Olympic Council of Ireland and two-time Olympic hockey medalist for Great Britain].

“So what we have is a group of like-minded people who are tasked with overseeing high performances directives in Ireland. They have an important role in actually proofing what we’re doing, and that the high performance unit in the Institute of Sport and the people who are tasked with delivering high performance are doing it in a way that is good for the athlete and good for the sport.

“It’s my job to report into that committee, so every two month, as you can imagine, it’s a very challenging environment but it’s good and it’s what we need. Everyone around that table is committed to doing what’s best for the athletes with the money that we have available. It’s competitive – there are some ‘Type A’ personalities as you can imagine – but it’s a good group.”

Swimming is one sport which has been developed and evolved. Peter Banks, who sits on the High Performance committee, is the high performance director for Swim Ireland. Banks was hired in 2009 after he coached multiple Olympic medalists in the US where he ran a major university program. He consults with Finbarr and the high Performance unit in the ISC to plan their delivery of a high performance strategy within swimming.

There are four 50m swimming pools in Ireland at their disposal. From a high performance standpoint, the centre at the Limerick Institute of Sport is run by Ronald Claes. Paul Donovan is the head coach at The National Aquatic Centre in Dublin, and Andrew Reid heads up the team at the Bangor high performance centre. Banks oversees everything.

“If you’re a budding high performance swimmer in Ireland, you have the choice,” Finbarr reiterates. “The narrative of ‘we don’t have the facilities’ is over. If you’re a high performance swimmer, you have the choice of high performance centres and you’ve the choice of great coaches. Access to pools is no longer the issue.”

But having the centres is one thing, do we have the swimmers to fill them, and do we have the coaches to train them?

“We could have 200 high performance centre,” Finbarr illustrates, “but you need the coaches, you need the people, you need the swimmers, and you need the service provision.

“Coaching is everything really, well, naturally you don’t do anything without the natural ability, and the desire. The absolute core, most fundamental element of all of this is that you have an athlete with outstanding natural ability and exceptional drive. Then you start to layer on the coaching, and then you layer on the facilities, then you layer on the service provision, and then layer on the money. And then you start layering on the international competition.

“There are also natural performance limiters in athletics like vo2 max, and if you don’t have it, you don’t have it.

“Look at Kenneth Egan; you can teach Kenneth how to throw a left hook but you can’t teach him how to go into a ring against a Chinese guy with 30,000 Chinese people shouting their heads off in an Olympic final in their own country. It takes something more than bottle to step into that kind of arena and compete like Kenneth Egan does at the highest level.

“Mental attitude is so important. It’s the athletes’ drive. Take someone like Aileen Morrison [triathlete who is tipped to make the trip to London next year]. If you see her training up at the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland (SINI) on the stationery bike, it’s clear and obvious the drive that she has to be the best. If you go to the National Stadium and see the sparring that goes on, and even the controlled sparring, it’s unreal. Or if you go to Santry Stadium on a random Tuesday in February and see Derval O’Rourke getting ready for the European Indoors, the commitment she shows – there’s excellence everywhere.

“None of them are happy just going to the games. Athletes are driven to want to win a medal, some may never get to win a medal, but they only want to do the very best that they can. It might be top 16, it might be top eight, or it might be a medal, but just going there will never be enough.

“Athletes are always re-inventing how they do things and always trying to find the edge wherever they go, and find the best possible environment for them, and find the best possible training partners.”

Finbarr continues: “Irish athletes need to be training with the best in the world, there’s no doubt about it. David Gillick is training in Florida and being coached by one of the best 400m coaches there is in Lance Brauman. He’s in a group of guys who are very, very good. After the European Champs in Barcelona last year, he made a decision – he’d been training in Loughborough in England, he decided he’d done as much as he can there. He decided to go to Florida and find a group that he can work with, and he did.”

It’s clear that Ireland is producing the raw materials needed to compete at the very highest level, but coaches are need to mould that raw talent into something special.

“We always need more quality coaches,” says Finbarr. “An athlete needs a quality coach. It’s their most important relationship. Paddy Barnes or Kenneth Egan, they’ve got their club coach, but they’ve also got Billy Walsh the national coach, and behind Billy there’s Zuar Antia, who’s the technical guy in the IABA. And what makes these fellas better is good coaching. They’ve the natural ability, and the natural drive, and there are limitations, but if you’ve got good coaches then they’ll really bring you on – you need great coaches to get great athletes.”

Coaching Ireland was established to ensure that the coaching structures in place in Ireland. The Institute of Sport works with our elite coaches in providing professional development programs and the Institute also provides services for our elite athletes like psychology, nutrition, physiology, and physiotherapy. All the key components above and beyond money are there for athletes so all they have to do is concentrate on training hard.

“These structures weren’t here 10 years ago,” says Finbarr. “In some instances they weren’t here five years ago, but they are being put in place now, and one would hope that the testament about what is being done is the fact that in pretty deep recession our budgets are holding up.

“We’ve an important milestone next year in London and we hope we can be successful there.”

There is no doubting that competition amongst Ireland’s elite sportspeople is at the highest it has probably ever been. Ireland’s National Boxing Championships are one of the toughest in Europe. At middleweight for example, we have Darren O’Neill, Jason Quigley, who won the European Championships, and Eamon O’Kane, who won gold at the Commonwealth Games.

“If you want to become national champion at middleweight at boxing in Ireland, it’s a tough path,” agrees Finbarr. “It’s hard, as hard as anywhere else in Europe, bar maybe Russia.”

Finbarr continues: “In some sports, domestic competition is very, very strong. In swimming, in women’s 800m freestyle, if you put Grainne Murphy and Sycerika McMahon in a pool together, there wouldn’t be very much between them. In men’s junior middle-distance running at the moment, we’ve some young lads coming through – there’s a pocket of excellence in Donegal, lads like McBrierty who ran 1.47 for 800m indoors, which is very fast for a young lad who’s only 18 or 19. There’s Paul Roberts who ran four minutes for a mile as a junior last year.

“We’ve got world youths sailing championships coming to Dun Laoghaire next month – all of the best young sailor in the world will be there. We’ve got Annalise Murphy (21) who’s top 10 in the world in senior in laser radial class. Philip Doran is world underage champion. Finn Lynch, Tadgh Donnelly, and Rory Lynch are other potentially top-class sailors. They’ll all be there competing in their own country.”

Throw in sports people like Lisa Kearney (judo), senior sailors Peter Burrows and Peter O’Leary, Katie Taylor (boxing), cyclists Martyn Irvine, Nicholas Roche and Dan Martin, swimmer Barry Murphy, sprint canoeist Barry Watkins, rowers Siobhan McCrohan and Claire Lambe, shooters Philip Murphy and Derek Burnett, walker Olive Loughnane and junior walker Kate Veale, to name but a few of our Olympic and future Olympic hopefuls and you’ll realise the future’s bright.

The future’s gold.

[please advise on any errors or inaccuracies. Please credit Joe Finegan if using any content from this article]