BY CHRIS MCNULTY
“THE boy English,” says Teresa McDaid, the Letterkenny Athletics Club coach of her star turn, Mark English, “he just ticks all the boxes in terms of application and ability.”
The graph of ‘the boy English’ took a significant upward shot in 2012. He missed out on a place in the Olympic Games by the sixth of a second. Thin lines are what define the sport. English was a whisker away from London, but his coach has no doubt that he’ll be back.
In 2012, English lowered the National Junior 800m record to 1:45.77 and finished fifth in the World Juniors in Barcelona. To put his race in context, the winner, Nijel Amos, came away from London with a silver medal around his neck; while Timothy Kitum was second in Barcelona and took bronze in London. In London, they were behind Kenyan sensation David Rudisha, whose path has crossed recently with Teresa McDaid and some of her elite athletes.
“He was in Dublin a few weeks ago and addressed some of our best youth and junior athletes, that was amazing, one of the highlights of the year,” says McDaid – who was last Saturday named as the Coach of the Year and the National Athletics Awards in Dublin. English was Junior Athlete of the Year and Ciaran Doherty, another from LAC, was named Masters Athlete of the Year.
Brother Colm, the famed Irish priest who is coach and mentor to some top athletes including Rudisha, had a saying recently that caught McDaid.
“You can’t get out what God didn’t put in,” she offers.
In terms of English, she believes the best has yet to come.
“If you draw that graph,” she explains, “there has been a steady progression each year from 2009. First it was about breaking two minutes for 800m and then the time has come down so much, to 1:54, 1:51, 1:49, 1:47 and now 1:45…it’s no mad jump, but stead, steady progress.
“That is the ethos as a coach and it’s about progressing. You don’t want one-season wonders; you want them to sustain it.
“There is huge potential in him and especially when he’s a fully-fledged senior athlete. What Rudisha did in London blew everyone away and you just wonder where is this event going to go?
“As a coach I have to be mindful to keep Mark settled and grounded too, but we have to keep him at a level, nurture the talent.”
English’s big meet in 2013 will be the European U23s in Finland in July. His coach has no qualms about stating the aim: “Gold,” she says. “You break it down, though and it isn’t that simple. You look at what it takes to get through a heat, what it takes to get to a final, first and foremost, before even you think about a medal.
“One of Mark’s strengths is his racing brain and people in the sport are genuinely excited about him.”
McDaid has no doubt in her own mind that English could have been semi-final material had he made London.
Last Saturday, she won the Coach of the Year Award for the second year in a row.
“I’m not often shocked, but I was quite surprised and I didn’t expect to be considered to be honest,” she says.
“As a coach I get a great buzz from everyone I work with. When I got back from the World Juniors I went to a road race in Burtonport and got as much enjoyment out of that.”
Athletics has been a way of life for Teresa, from getting involved as a youngster to moving into administration to graduating as a coach.
“I owe it to Gary Crossan,” she says. “I started off coaching Gary when he asked me to take on the role. I worked for ten years with him and as a result of his success I got a national profile.”
Teresa has managed the under 23 Irish team and the World Student Games team, while she has also taken over as manager of the Irish Cross Country team which travels to Budapest in December.
“Coaching can be a lonely business – but the further up you go the lonlier it gets,” she says. “One of the big benefit is the support you get from everyone around you,” says Teresa who took a voluntary redundancy in 2010 to take up the role full-time.
“It’s an athlete-centred and a coach-driven system. The coach is the driving force behind the athlete.”
Saturday was a proud night for LAC with Doherty collecting the Masters award.
“Ciaran had a magnificent year and it is great that all spectrums from the club were rewarded,” she says. “Ciaran set some fantastic times and he is keeping improving with his times.”
Another LAC member, Brendan Boyce, was nominated in the race walking category and all around her were Letterkenny people, local athletics people offering a constant reminder of where the club has gone. All the while, her athletes keep improving.
She’s getting out what God put in.
This is John's first trip to the World Championships where he will come up against full-time professionals.