Monday 25 September 2017

Athletics: Connolly eyes ticket to London

TOM O'RIORDAN

Ever since Seán Connolly was encouraged to take up athletics in his native Tallaght, it's been his dream to represent his country in the Olympic Games.

Now that ambition could be realised tomorrow when he comes charging into the finishing straight in front of the record field at Merrion Square in the Dublin marathon. If the clock stops for Connolly inside the magic mark of 2 hours 15 minutes, it would stamp his passport for London 2012.

Connolly has been a slow developer. He came through the American university scholarship system, overcame serious injury to win Irish titles and has creditable times for 5,000m and 10,000m but his best days are still ahead of him. What cannot be denied about the 29-year-old is that he has managed to harness his talents to such a degree that he is now close to joining the elite group of Irish Olympians.

Nothing comes easy for those who want to master the marathon and it's been a hard road for the Tallaght AC athlete. But he has put in some high-powered sessions at the foot of the Dublin mountains which have revealed a new side to his talents, especially an exciting 2:17.23 on his marathon debut.

There were times when Connolly wondered if he did the right thing to give up a promising hurling career with the Dublin under 14 and 16 teams but once he started to show promise in schools' completion, he attracted attention from US coaches and ended up at Iona College in New York under the guidance of Dubliner Mick Byrne.

Injury robbed him of his final year and it took time to get back running pain-free again, thanks to the guidance of Carlow physical therapist Anthony Geoghegan. In 2010, his best time for 10,000m was a run-of-the-mill 29:02 but he knocked 30 seconds off that during the summer with a quality 28:36, as well as coming within a fraction of breaking four minutes for the mile.

Such track speed is a great reserve to have in a marathon and Connolly is quick to pay tribute to the part that Dick Hooper has played in such improvements since coming under his wing under the Marathon Mission scheme two years ago.

"When I came back from America injured I was somewhat disillusioned but Dick gave me a real sense of self-belief," says Connolly.

However, he is a realist and knows he has a fight on his hands to get that elusive A standard tomorrow. "I've done the work and have great support from Dick, my family and club members and now the rest is down to myself," he adds.

Connolly has been greatly motivated by the recent feat of his friend, Mark Kenneally, who qualified with 2:13.55 in Amsterdam recently.

And there could well be double celebrations as there is every chance that Maria McCambridge will also qualify by turning in a time of 2:37 or better. She goes into the race with a lifetime best of 2:35.29.

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