BY RYAN FERRY
CAOLAN McFadden has made huge progress in his young athletics career in recent years but there’s no doubt that his crowning moment came last November when he won the National Under 16 Cross-Country title in Rosapenna.
It was a masterful run from the talented Creeslough teenager.
There was pressure as the hometown favourite but he held his composure superbly, and when the time came to kick for glory, he was ready.
It was a remarkable triumph for McFadden and the Cranford AC coaches who continue to guide him on his way.
The 15-year-old, who is the son of Danny and Terri McFadden, enjoys a game of golf in Dunfanaghy but other than that, it’s all about athletics, and has been for nearly a decade now.
“It all started for me in primary school,” said McFadden as he collected the Donegal News Sports Star of the Month award in conjunction with Brian McCormick Sports & Leisure.
“Ms (Deirdre) McMullan was teaching me when I was in senior infants and Master (Aneas) McClafferty came into the classroom one day and asked if there were any lively pupils in the class.
“Ms McMullan pointed at me and said ‘he never sits still’.
“There was a 60 metres teddy bear race on at the Aura so I went down to that and won it.
“My sister Nazara was training with Cranford so I went down and joined her and was training with Oisin Kelly and Max Roarty and those boys and I really enjoyed it.”
McFadden started to work with renowned athletics coach Eamon Giles, and soon began to rub shoulders with the elite in Donegal and further afield.
“My first proper race was in the Cross Country in Carndonagh.
“It was Under 9 but I was out of my age group and up against the likes of Liam Carlin and Boyd Russell.
“I was training three times a week and always looked forward to going and I wouldn’t have missed many (sessions).
“Eamon (Giles) was there and he’s been about a long time. He knows his stuff and is always good for some advice.
“The competition gets tougher the older you get but I have worked hard.”
By his own admission, McFadden was good but nothing spectacular during his primary school days.
Then Covid hit, and while it meant a long break for athletes, McFadden found that he had moved up the pecking order when the races resumed.
“After Covid, things started to pick up for me.
“I was third in the Cross Country once before but I never did much in the Nationals.
“But in 2021, I won the 800 metres track and field race in Tullamore and the following week, I won the 1500 metres.
“That was a massive boost to my confidence but I was still second in Gowran in Kilkenny in the Cross Country behind Francis Donoghue, so I knew I still had some work to do.”
The 2022 National Cross Country Championships were hosted by Cranford AC at the driving range in Rosapenna.
It was a supremely organised event and it was only the second time in 141 years that it was held in Donegal.
The fact that McFadden was likely be in contention for a medal was one of the reasons that Cranford attempted to secure the championships.
To the outside eye that looked like pressure for the third-year student but he wasn’t fazed and secured gold in spectacular fashion.
“I wasn’t that nervous for it.
“Eamon was a big help and looked after me well and made sure I didn’t go to the start line too early.
“We stood over by the finishing line and I could see all the boys in my race going over to the start line.
“Eamon said to me ‘you’re time enough, they won’t start without you’.
“The plan was to stay on the leader’s shoulder and then kick for home in the final few hundred metres.
“I tried to kick a few times but he (Donoghue) got past me so I left it, and then when we were going up the hill, I got the energy I needed.
“The home crowed were brilliant and really cheered me home.
“It was brilliant. We went up to my aunt’s (Grace Neely) house after that to watch the RTE News because I was on it. Thankfully that went alright.”
McFadden backed up his success at the Uneven age Cross Country in Mallow two weeks later when he came third despite going up against bigger and stronger competitors.
He has also enjoyed a good start to 2023 and represented Ireland at the Inter District Cross Country Championships in Scotland, while he also participated in the World Tour gold meet in Boston.
“I went down to Cork two weeks after Rosapenna for the uneven age groups, which is a year out for me.
“I knew the top six would qualify to go to Scotland so I was delighted to come third.
“I went over to Perth and to Scone Palace and the conditions were very difficult over there. It was muck up to your knees.
“It was my second time to wear an Irish vest and it was an excellent experience for me.
“A few weeks ago I went to Boston to compete too. It was very cold, I think it was -13.
“But it was great to see the top athletes up close, what they eat and how they prepare and things like that.”
McFadden is currently balancing his training with his studies but he has big plans for the year ahead.
“I have my mocks now on Monday so I’m getting ready for them.
“The weekend before that I have the Ulster Indoors and I’ll be in the 800 metres and 1500 metres at those.
“That’s where my focus is now but after that I will just try to keep progressing and training hard,
“The coaches at Cranford are all very good to me and a great help.”
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