BY CHRIS MCNULTY
IN THE nerve centre of the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in March 2011, Teresa McDaid took a mental note.
The Letterkenny woman was in Paris for the European Indoor Championships with one of her prodigies, Darren McBrearty, set to go in the 800m event. McBrearty reached a semi-final, but didn’t advance, with eventual 800m champion Adam Kszczot among those ahead of him.
Polish athlete Kszczot took gold ahead of his country-man, Marcin Lewandowski.
The name McDaid scribbled on the PostIt inside her head was one Tomasz Lewandowski, brother of and coach to Marcin.
“There was something about the toughness, the hardness, the fierce competitor that I wanted to learn more about,” she says.
In January of this year, McDaid was in the Ergo Arena in Sopot with Mark English at the IAAF World Indoor Championships.
Alongside them in the warm-up area were the Lewandowskis.
“You realise then that you aren’t too far away,” she says.
English didn’t make it out of the heat, but his star has risen since, with a blistering run at a Diamond League meeting in New York a couple of weeks ago seeing him finish just behind Olympic 800m sensation David Rudisha and ahead of both Kszczot and Lewandowski.
By then, there had been a parting of ways between coach McDaid and athlete English.
There is not the faintest hint of acrimony. “I plan to be in Zurich,” she says.
There, English will aim for a medal at the European Championships, where Kszczot and Lewandowski will be medal contenders.
For the first time at a Championship meet, McDaid will not be by his side. Words sometimes can give off a vibe that isn’t perhaps in keeping with the story.
“There’s a very negative side to the word ‘split’ because that suggests disagreement,” she says.
“Athletes and coaches have a shelf life in terms of what we can contribute to a particular situation. Different people suit different people at different times.”
English is now two hundredths of a second off David Matthew’s Irish 800m record of 1:44.82. McDaid’s will keep cheering him on.
“I’ve given five years of my coaching life to Mark so it’s important to see that work carried on,” she says.
“I will remain his supporter, his confidante and his friend.”
For Teresa McDaid, the world hasn’t stopped spinning. On Tuesday night she was back on the Danny McDaid track working with the Letterkenny AC athletes.
“There is nothing like being at the track in Letterkenny to ground you. I’ve always loved that side of it,” she says. In 2012 she flew back from the World Junior Championships – where English and Ruairi Finnegan competed – one Monday and was in Dungloe for a local meet the following night. “I got a real kick out of that,” she says.
Three years previous, she’d been working with a batch of middle-distance runners in Letterkenny who were making waves: English, McBrearty, Finnegan and Danny Mooney.
Upon returning from the European Under-23 Championships in Lithuania, she brought to training the podium flowers given to her by bronze medalist David McCarthy. The challenge was simple: ‘Right, boys, I want podium flowers.’
Next month Mooney heads for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. His narrative is different from the of that quick quartet.
McDaid says: “He wouldn’t have had the same opportunities because of injuries, but his goal was always going to be the Commonwealth Games. It’s hugely successful that he has made that goal.”
Now, the aim rises again: “Making 1,500m final is the goal It will be tough, but he’s an experienced Championship runner now.”
Conor Bradley is another who was close to qualifying for Glasgow. “He and Danny trained together, but Conor just got injured at the most inappropriate time,” she says.
“He has experimented with the longer distances and I’m looking forward to further exploring that.”
Finnegan, too, is a real gem.
In transition between junior and senior competition, Finnegan has quite the cache of experience despite his tender years.
“I’ve always had a long-term view with Ruairi,” McDaid says.
“I see him as a 5k runner. For him to be running a 5,000 I need to get him to be running a 3:40 for the 1,500m. He epitomises the long-term approach that I’ve always had. He’s a hugely talented young man.”
Others she’s been working closely with include Ciaran Doherty and Ann-Marie McGlynn, the Lifford AC woman who competed at the European Team Championships last weekend in Estonia.
The story of McGlynn tells us much about who and what McDaid is about. Last September she made the approach, asking if she could make the Irish team for the European Cross Country Championships.
‘Well,’ McDaid responded, ‘I can tell you how you’ll make it.’
“I see myself as a coach practitioner,” she explains.
“I don’t see myself as just a coach anymore. I’m a service provider. I’ve gone beyond the whole thing of mentoring, motivating and cajoling people to do things. I’m now a practitioner. If you come to me and tell me what you want to do, I’ll say: ‘Yes, that’s achievable and here’s how you can do it’.
“I have always had the aspiration to be the best that I can be in terms of high performance coaching. It’s about continuing on that pathway.
“I’ve always had the ethos of there’s only one way to do something – and that’s the best way!
“I deliver performance via scientific evidence based research and best practice in tandem with a coaching instinct that has tuned from life experience and adaptive learning.”
In 2010, she left the stability of employment with the HSE to pursue coaching. Some said she was mad, but she saw the whole of the moon.
“I’d rather have regrets about doing something than not doing something,” she says.
“Paddy Rooney didn’t believe it until I was walking out the door. I saw it as an opportunity. It was a chance to go and follow my dream. Up until that point I was able to find a balance. But to see where it could take me, I had to make the decision.
“Opportunities for coaching are limited, but through the performance excellence programme, that is a community and it’s something to inspire and challenge you.
“I’ve had so many opportunities in terms of working with world class coaching.”
In 2011, McDaid arranged for Rudisha and his legendary coach, Brother Colm O’Connell, to accompany her to a squad day for Irish junior athletes and sees a lot of similarities in the great coach’s philosophies to her own with the mantra: ‘Be a better person, be a better coach; be a better person, be a better athlete’.
Involved in the PEP (Pursuit of Excellence Programme) with the Irish Institute of Sport, her game is all about finding those extra inches.
“Recently we teamed up with the Garda Training College, who helped us – by seeing how the Special Detective Unit work – to cope under pressure.
“You’re learning less of what you expected to learn, but more of what you needed to learn,” she says and she feels likes she’s ‘on the pathway that’s right for me’.
As one door closes, others open.
You just wouldn’t know who’d deliver that bouquet.
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