Up for challenge as Athletics Ireland RDO for the NW

By Ciaran O’Donnell
Dermot McGranaghan is a busy man. And he intends to be even busier as he heads into a new year.
In November, the 50-year-old Castlefinn man, who has been involved with Finn Valley AC for decades, was appointed as Athletics Ireland Regional Development Officer for the North West. He will be responsible for five counties – Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan and Monaghan and takes over from former Olympian, Paul McKee, who has taken up a new position within Athletics Ireland.
As passionate as he is is energetic, Dermot is still finding his feet since his appointment. Having filled the role of schools’ development officer with Finn Valley AC for well over a decade, the cut and thrust of planning and organising athletics is nothing new.
“I suppose I was doing a similar role on a smaller scale,” he commented.
“My aim when I was in that position was to develop the club through schools. In the end, I had around 25 schools and would visit each school every six weeks. A lot of the work would have been around the area of sportshall athletics and the club certainly benefited,” he added.
Having been self-employed for most of his adult life, Dermot is been a doer, so working off his own initiative comes natural. Athletics has always been a constant for Dermot. He ran for Finn Valley AC as a juvenile and continues to compete now as a masters athlete – he ran the Dublin marathon each year from 2012 to 2017. He has been involved in the coaching side for many years. His father, Peader, is Finn Valley AC President and a coach, while his sister, Caitriona, has enjoyed a lot of success with the club down the years.
He has served on Athletics Ireland’s Juvenile Committee since 2015 and last year he was elected on to the National Coaching and Development Committee.
“My heart was always in athletics. I always said that when the children were older I’d come back into it again. And I did.”
Dermot started his new job on November 19th.  He intends to use the next few months to familiarise himself with the area and to get to know the people in the clubs.
“There will probably be a few clubs in the north looking for a bit if help as well. So the aim is to get out there, introduce myself to the clubs and see how I can help and support them. The big thing for me is coach development and coach education. There are so many parents out there that I feel would like to get involved, but are choosing not to because they’ve no confidence. If we can get these people helping out by teaching and showing them the basics on a smaller scale, that is the best pathway for them to develop.
“My view is if you educate a coach, you’ll get athletes. And athletes create club development. I was asked a question recently, ‘which is most important – the coach or the athlete?’ In my eyes if you don’t have a coach you have nothing. You could have a good athlete and bad coach,” he said.
School engagement through clubs is another area Dermot plans to channel his thoughts and energy.
“If clubs are not involved in schools, where is the outlet? At the end of the day our aim is to get young people into the sport and keep them involved for a lot longer. That is a big challenge because athletics is a tough, tough sport. Cross-country bonds them together better than anything else because track and field can be a more individual sport.”
According to the new RDO, there is a wealth of talented and experienced coaches in the region. His aim is to develop their talents further.
“In Sligo, there’s Ray Flynn for walks. There’s John Kelly whose two sons were national shot putt champions right through, there’s Shauna Carlin, Mark Connolly and Patsy McGonagle at Finn Valley, Teresa McDaid at Letterkenny AC, Eamon Harvey at Tir Chonaill and Sommer Lecky’s coach, Niall Wilkinson. We are blessed with coaches and tutors up here. Scotland’s Director of Coaching, Stephen Maguire, has indicated to me that he will also make himself available.”
Getting regional development squads and performance squads up and running is another priority for Dermot.
“There are so many benefits to the squads. The athletes are training with different people, it gives them the belief that they can be involved in a quality group and also helps in keeping them involved in the sport that bit longer,” he said.
In Dermot’s view, 2018 has been a massive year for Irish athletics, given the success of Thomas Barr who won bronze  in the 400 metre hurdles at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin, Sommer Lecky who took silver in the high jump at the Under-20 World Championships and Ireland’s women’s 4 x 100 metre relay team that claimed silver medals at the same championships in Finland.
“We always need someone from our own area flying the flag at the top level in athletics. We have Brendan Boyce, Mark English and Karl Griffin up there. My big thing is that we use our own coaches.”
Dermot has been inundated with messages of good luck and congratulations since his appointment was announced two months ago. A number of people have helped him to get to where he is now.
“Patsy McGonagle, Neil Martin and Mark Connolly have all been constant sources of support to me, as has Pierce O’Callaghan who has guided me and helped me big time. I’ve had so many good wishes extended to me from every club.”
Dermot has been involved with Irish juvenile committee for the last five years and can see first hand the results of the sterling efforts of the clubs in the region.
“The success of local clubs at national level is great to see. Hopefully that success can be built on.”
Dermot sees his work with Athletics Ireland as very much a labour of love.
“Having a network of good people behind me is going to be key. I love my work – it doesn’t seem like a job to me at all. There are so many good people out there. The sport of athletics is a close-knit family and my promise to everyone is that I will do the best I possibly can. I will work for every club and I’m there at the end of the phone for those who need any help.”

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