Athletics: Connolly sights set on Olympic standard
After an excellent debut in just over two hours and 17 minutes when finishing 17th in Rotterdam last weekend, Sean Connolly (Tallaght AC) has his eyes firmly set on the Dublin Marathon.
Three years ago, Connolly (28), a former US scholarship student at Iona College, who had run a 4:02 mile and 29:37 for 10k, "gave up the sport for the best part of the year".
"I had terrible trouble with my sciatic nerve and had just completely lost the motivation," he revealed.
But enlisting Dick Hooper to coach him, and spending two years patiently building up, certainly paid off with his 2:17:23 in the Netherlands.
"Dick is a great believer that your first marathon sets your career and must be a positive experience and I really came out of it feeling well," Connolly said.
He credits Hooper, Jim Aughney and their 'Marathon Mission' initiative -- which is trying to lift a group of Irish marathon runners up to international standard -- as his biggest support.
And he also paid tribute to Vinny Mulvey and Carlow physical therapist Anthony Geoghegan for helping get him back to full fitness.
Like many athletes, Connolly was stuck in the catch-22 situation of not being able to get funding unless he ran a particular standard while struggling to reach that standard because of lack of support.
But the 'Marathon Mission', which brings their group together for a monthly training session and offers all kinds of support, including paying for his flights and hotel last week, has really filled that vacuum.
Connolly's preparations included walking and cycling the course two weeks previously and putting in two 28-milers in advance.
With an announcement imminent on the qualifying standards for the London Olympics, that is the figure he is focusing on next.
"I'd never planned to run in the World Championships this summer but given that I wasn't in the elite start last week I'd be very confident of going lower now and I'd love to do it in Dublin," he said.
A former hedge fund accountant, Connolly is also starting a one-year higher diploma at the University of Manchester next September to switch to primary school teaching.
Two more Irishmen targeting the Olympic marathon in 2012 make their debuts this weekend, though neither in London.
Mark Kenneally races in Vienna (Sunday) while Alistair Cragg is in Boston on Monday after winning the Crowne Plaza AAI's Athlete of the Month for March for his recent Irish half-marathon record of 60:49.