By Ciaran O’Donnell
There will be more than a passing interest locally in this weekend’s European Indoor Athletics Championship at the impressive Emirates Arena in Glasgow.
Letterkenny’s Mark English, who picked up a sixth national 800 metre indoor title earlier this month, is among the genuine medal hopefuls. And one of those best placed to talk about his prospects is his former coach at Letterkenny Athletics Club, Teresa McDaid, who will be the Irish team’s senior operations manager for the eagerly awaited championships. Teresa was his coach when he ran his 800 metre outdoor personal best of 1:44.84 in July 2013.
“I think we are all delighted to see the return of Mark English to his former self,” Teresa said on Tuesday, before departing on the short flight across the pond with the rest of the Irish party.
“I probably know Mark better than anybody else. I actually met him recently in Letterkenny and I did say to him that he really looked like himself again, and that was without seeing him train or race. I just knew to look at him that he was physically better and certainly that observation, for want of a better word, was very evident as he went extremely close to his national record last month,” she added.
The UCD medical student clocked 1:46.92 at the AIT International Grand Prix meet in Athlone last month – that leaves him ranked fifth fastest going into these championships.
Having won a European outdoor bronze in 2014 and an indoor silver in 2015, Mark English knows a thing or two about big occasions. And his former coach believes he can secure another medal at a major championship. Having spent the winter working on his form, getting stronger in the gym and building stamina on the road, he’s returned to the track with a pep in his step.
“He’s a real medal contender,” Teresa said with confidence.
Ciara Mageean is another Irish athlete who will be in the mix for medals, according to Teresa. The Portaferry athlete, who’s coached by former Irish athlete and pundit, Jerry Kiernan, finished fourth in the final of the 1500 metres in the European Championships in Berlin last August. Two weeks ago, she took two seconds off her own national indoor 1500 metre record set in 2016 when posting a time of 4:06.78.
“Physically, she’s in good shape. But what impressed me most about her in Athlone was how she raced. It’s all about managing situations when it comes to middle distance championships races, and I thought her tactics and approach were particularly good.”
Thomas Barr gave the nation a huge boost with his bronze medal in the final of the European championships in Berlin last summer.
“I call him the poster boy of Irish athletics and it’s great that he’s part of the Irish team for another event. Because the world championships are in Doha and are not until the end of September, I think it’s great for Tom to have a short-term goal and break up his season with the indoors.”
The athlete that has caught the coach’s eye most has been 400 metre runner, Cillin Green.
“He’s relatively new and is coached by Jeremy Lyons at DCU. He’s still a junior and by all accounts is quite laid back. He won the national 400 metres so it’s an amazing opportunity for him.”
“I think we have a good size team going and there are medal potentials there. I feel these championships are an opportunity for some younger athletes to get good experience. The standards for the European indoors this year are very achievable and the window in which the athletes had to get them was short. The expectation is that the people going to compete are fit, healthy and race fit because they had to have met the standard by December 1.
“It’s really encouraging and exciting to see that we have the successful members of our sprints fraternity making those senior standards. Some of these athletes are still junior or are just out of junior. There are three girls going in the 60 metres who were part of the 4 x 100 metre junior relay team.”
Finn Valley AC’s Sommer Lecky, who was recently crowned 2018 Donegal Sports Star of the Year following her silver medal success in the high jump at the world junior championships in Finland last year, is among the up-and-coming crop readying herself for a first senior international championship.
“There’s a lot of exposure and a lot of experience to be had by those emerging athletes such as Sommer. Sometimes, too, we forget the importance of that exposure and the networking for our coaches. All these kids are being coached by people at home. Therefore when you have a coach that goes to those championships, there’s a huge learning experience there, not only in how championships work, but also in watching other people networking with other coaches,” she said.
While she is well travelled with Irish teams, this will be Teresa’s first time to enjoy the experience of the Emirates Arena.
“Logistically it will be like a home games. I have had athletes who have competed there before, so I am looking forward to seeing the state-of-the-art facilities. When you walk into a stadium that looks as well as the Emirates Arena, that is going to have its own positive effect. In terms of travel and in terms of family support, it’s perfect. There won’t be any change in temperatures and the diet will be the same which are all positives for the athletes.”
Supporting athletes and coaches in and around the warm-up area will be one of Teresa’s main priorities during the games which get underway today and conclude on Sunday.
“I’ll also be on hand to deal with any issues that might arise – things like protests or appeals. Ultimately, it’s about helping the coaches and athletes attaining goals and securing what they set out to achieve.”
The opening round of the women’s long jump is scheduled to get underway this evening (Friday) at 7.06 pm, with the first of the men’s 800 metre heats due to start at 7.48 pm.