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Full marks for Sheephaven Half Iron Man

Competitors get ready for the swim which started near Downings pier.


By Ciaran O’Donnell

Aidan Callaghan doesn’t do things in half. It’s the whole hog, or nothing. So there was no one better placed in Letterkenny 24/7 Triathlon Club to head up the Sheephaven Half Iron Man in Downings last Saturday than the 35-year-old.

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Last weekend’s event, which was held over some of the county’s most breathtaking scenic parts, was a major test for both the competitors and the host club. All concerned passed with flying colours, with good preparation being key.

24/7 Chairman, Liam Tinney, and club stalwarts Adrian Wasson and Paul Doherty were loading away the last of the steel barriers in the transition area inside the grounds of the local GAA club on Saturday evening when Aidan announced that it would be same gig, same time, same place, next year. Dilly dallying isn’t his thing.

“We thought the dust would settle, really, after the weekend. But there’s been nothing but a constant flow of positive feedback since we wrapped up on Saturday evening. Text messages, emails and facebook messages have been flying through about how well the event was run and how successful it was. There were also positive comments about the location and the scenery,” Aidan told the Donegal News on Monday.

Staging a quality endurance event locally was an idea he’d been toying with for a couple of years.

“There’s not an awful lot of middle distance, half ironman triathlons in the country. There’s one very good one down in Kerry and I kinda wanted to rival that. So I brought the idea to the committee last year and started to work on it from there. And Saturday was the culmination of a whole lot or work,” he said.

Being extremely familiar with the Downings area – his grandmother, Mary Sweeney, now living in College Farm Road in Letterkenny, is a native of nearby Carrigart – Aidan spent his childhood summers around the seaside resort. There’s not a nook or cranny about the place he doesn’t know.

So it was Knockalla or nowhere when it came to linking up with Mulroy Bridge for the 90k cycle section of the race.

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“That way was always going to lend a bit of extra scenery to the route, while Downings Bay itself is very, very sheltered and very suitable. It was like a pond before the start on Saturday morning.”

The running section saw the competitors doing two loops of Island Roy and the top part of the town.

That the community of Downings embraced the showpiece fully was crucial to its success, according to the race director.

“They are a really tight-knit community down there who get behind local projects and give them great backing. And that is so, so important. That makes everything run so much more smoothly. We didn’t have any issue with anybody at all, and nobody had any issue with us. People were glad to see us coming and happy to have such a big event run in Downings. That gives a sense of pride, too, to the community. But it also makes things so much easier for us. There are so many good and decent people that we can call on and dig us out of a hole. The entire community got on board, and that could be seen by the crowds who came out to give support along the course. We even had people up at the top of the hill coming out and hosing runners down as they passed. It makes things so much easier when everyone is on the one page.”

When the go-ahead was given by the club’s committee for Aidan to pull the event together, he was determined that every single aspect of the planning would be done right. He knew what he wanted and how he wanted it to happen.

“I got backing from people like Liam Tinney, Adrian Wasson, Paul Doherty and Anne Robinson who helped me out, and that backing was essential.”

One of the first races organised by 24/7 was back in 2010 in Gartan. Since then, they’re constantly looking at ways to make things better and run races slicker.

“We could run a race in Gartan now with our eyes closed. But the weekend was a big, big event.”

That he knows a thing or two himself about triathlons – in 2016 he was crowned Irish middle distance champion, completed his first full iron

man and qualified for the iron man world championships in Kona – meant that he could plan the race from a competitor’s perspective.

“I’ve been to plenty of races around Ireland and a good few races around Europe. You can see things working well in places and where they don’t work so well in others. I tried to bring as many good points to the Downings race as I could. There are one or two things that might be adjusted or changed for next year, but that’s always going to happen in the first couple of years. But really, the race was a massive success from our point of view. It just goes to show how far the club has come when we are able to stage an event like this.”

Making the Sheephaven Half Iron Man an annual fixture in the calendar is the ultimate aim.

“We’re not making any bones about it. We want the Sheephaven Half to go on for the next ten or twenty years, or longer, if possible. What we also want is a national series, we want the national champions. We want to bring the best there is to the Sheephaven Half,” he said.

Competitors in aero mode for the final run to Carrigart.

Any 24/7 members who didn’t compete on Saturday under the scorching rays helped out. Those who took on the energy-sapping challenge did themselves and their club proud.

“There are people who have just joined the club in the last couple of years who put their name on the start list for this race and that takes a lot of guts. It takes a big effort to train for a 70.3, never mind completing a 70.3 in the heat that was there on Saturday. So those people deserve an enormous amount of credit for getting themselves to the line, and getting themselves through it in that heat. Again, it shows how the club is developing and growing. A couple of years ago, there were only two or three people doing 70.3s. Now there’s a list as long as your arm with people doing ironmans and half ironmans.”

Four years ago, 24/7 held a women’s only event and gained 40 new members from it.

“The year after that, we got another 30 members. So the club is just growing, year on year. It’s shaping up like a club that’s going to be around for a long, long time.”

The podium was dominated largely by visiting triathletes. The men’s race was a classic nip-and-tuck affair, with a mere three minutes separating the top three finishers. Sligo’s Brian Sexton broke the tape in 4:47:24, with David Sheridan of Longford second in 4:38:14, and Letterkenny 24/7’s Sean McFadden third in 4:40:16.

Laura Wylie of Hi-Elbow TC was a convincing winner in the women’s race. Her time of 4:56:48 placed her an impressive 13th overall. Runner-up was Cork TC’s Katie Hickson in 5:10:23, with Jackie Kelly from Athlone TC third in 5:20:22.

Notable local performances included the victory by Fergus Callaghan and Damian McBride in the relay section. Fergus, who swam and biked, clocked the quickest time of the day in the cycle with 2:27:21, while Damian was the fastest runner over the half marathon in 1:26:15. Triona McMenamin, a member of the SRC relay team, posted the best overall swim time of 29:09, while Gavin Crawford had the quickest time of the solos in the half marathon when coming home in 1:26:40. Milford AC’s Marty Lynch, taking part in his first ever half iron man, had the best bike of the solos with a super time of 2:31:45.

Saturday in Downings was a special experience. For those in the bubble, it’s a day few are likely to forget. All will have their own tales to tell, memories to hold on to and moments to share.

Saturday also showed nothing beats being there. Simple as.

Out of the water and on to the bike.

The event, hosted by the Letterkenny 24/7 Triathlon Club, had been in the planning for quite a while.

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