BY HARRY WALSH
FEBRUARY’S Donegal News Sports Star of the Month Danny Mooney, is looking forward to the new track season with a renewed sense of optimism.
The 23-year-old Letterkenny athlete clinched his first ever national title at a senior level when he took gold in the 1,500m final at the Irish Senior Indoor Championships at the Odyssey in Belfast last month.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself but I certainly think I can medal in the 1,500 metres Senior Track and Field Championship in the summer. That’s my main goal,” he said.
Fast forward to the summer of 2014 and Danny, who was born in Portrush, Co Antrim, believes that he has what it takes to represent Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
“It’s nice to win a national title. That’s there forever more and they can’t take it off me whatever happens. Looking to the future I would like to get my times down. I feel that I can get down to the low 3.40s this summer and, assuming that I stay fit and healthy, anything is possible. The Commonwealth Games in 2014 would be the long term target,” he said.
Danny is the latest in an exciting crop of young Letterkenny middle distance athletes to enjoy success on a national stage. Club-mate Ruairi Finnegan (17) followed him home in second place in Belfast while fellow Letterkenny men Mark English and Darren McBrearty, both of whom are students in DCU, finished first and second respectively in the 800m Indoor final twelve months earlier.
“People are starting to wonder what we’re doing right in Letterkenny but there are no fancy answers. Some athletes may go away to warmer climates to train or eat different foods but we just train hard together as a group whenever possible plus we’re extremely lucky to have someone of the calibre of Teresa McDaid as our coach,” he said.
Teresa McDaid has built up a well deserved reputation in recent years for developing a number of talented LAC middle-distance runners into national and international champions
Ciaran Doherty is the World O35 champion, McBrearty has reached a European semi final while both English and Finnegan are European Junior champions. Danny joined that group of illustrious champions with his win in Belfast last month.
“That’s the one thing training with those boys – you’re never scared of the opposition on race day. We all get on well together and we push each other at training. While we all want to win we celebrate each other’s successes too,” he said.
Danny was born and raised in Portrush and then moved to Letterkenny when he was 10. Football was his first love and he was a talented midfielder on the Glencar Schoolboys team under team manager Tony Gorman.
“I was playing away at the football when one of the lads suggested I should go down to the athletic club. I had just left St Eunan’s. I was 17-years-old and didn’t have to study for my Leaving Cert or anything. I really enjoyed the running and started at 200m, then 400m, 800m and now 1,500m. If I keep going the way I am I’ll be running marathons in a few years time,” he quipped.
“My advise to young boys and girls is to play as many sports as possible – soccer, GAA, rugby, basketball, swimming or athletics. Through sport you’ll meet some great life-long friends,” he said.
It was last summer before everything started to ‘click’ for Danny.
“There was no quick fix. I was maturing and doing good training and it all came good last summer,” he said.
Danny’s coach Teresa McDaid said that all the hard work over the winter months was now starting to bear fruit.
“I feel the success of the others has had a very positive effect on Danny. They have consistently raised the bar at training and it just goes to show what can be achieved with hard work and dedication,” she said.
It has been a blistering start to 2012 for Danny, having set a new personal best of 3:45:78 on his way to winning the 1,500m at the Sheffield leg of the McCain Series.
He also enjoyed success in the Celtic Cup in Cardiff in the 800m and all the while keeping an eye on the Irish Indoors at the Odyssey Arena.
Currently studying a Masters in Exercise Physiology at John Moore’s University in Liverpool, Danny is looking forward to going ‘toe to toe’ with Darren, Mark and Ruairi later this year.
“To medal in the 1,500m outdoors this year I’ll probably have to beat Darren while you can never underestimate young Ruairi. I think Mark might be concentrating on the 800m this year but again I wouldn’t be surprised to come up against him over 1,500m too over the coming months,” he said.
The way Letterkenny’s middle distance stars have been running these past few years few would bet against them reching the very top.