Friday 24 February 2017

Athletics: Irish left watching from the sidelines

In Paris

Ailis McSweeney checks the scoreboard after finishing in 7th place in the
Women's 60m semi-final in Paris. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Ailis McSweeney checks the scoreboard after finishing in 7th place in the Women's 60m semi-final in Paris. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

As Del Boy might say, it was all a bit "mangetout, mangetout" for the Irish at the European Indoor Championships in Paris -- in the most literal sense of that word.

Apart from Derval O'Rourke's fourth place, the Irish got swallowed whole and hadn't even one athlete involved in yesterday's final day of action at Bercy.

Reduced to being spectators, they watched local darling Teddy Tamgho set a new world triple jump record of 17.92m and French sprint hero Christophe Lemaitre get surprisingly relegated to bronze behind veterans Francis Obikwelu (6.53) and Dwain Chambers (6.54) in a shock 60m result.

In truth, Mary Cullen was the only Irish athlete really expected to be still involved but a stomach bug forced her out before the 3,000m heats, the latest in a series of knockbacks for the unfortunate Sligo woman who took bronze last time out.

She must have been further frustrated yesterday to see 3,000m gold won by 37-year-old Briton Helen Clitheroe in a slow 8:56 time, with 8.58.30 taking bronze.

Without so many of Ireland's championship 'big hitters' (David Gillick, Paul Hession, Olive Loughnane and Robert Heffernan) this was always a weak Irish team and never going to reproduce the medals won at the last three editions of European Indoors.

Even Irish team manager Patsy McGonagle admitted "it was not a good performance" by more mundane barometers.

In Turin in 2009, a 14-strong Irish team yielded two bronze medals (O'Rourke and Cullen) and two fourth places (Roisin McGettigan and the 4x400m women).

It also produced five finalists (Paul Hession came within fractions of making that six), six personal bests, one national record (from long jumper Kelly Proper) plus season bests from two other athletes and 10th place on the final team table.

This time, a team of nine produced only one finalist, two semi-finalists (Ailis McSweeney and Darren McBrearty), one Irish record (pole-vaulter Tori Pena), no other personal bests, just three season bests (two from O'Rourke and one from Proper) and finished joint 24th with Croatia, Finland, Israel and Slovenia.

Unlucky

Marian Heffernan was unlucky not to make the 400m semis but really shouldn't have been dependent on such tiny margins to make them.

Like Proper (who at least did a season best), she got through the qualifying in 2009 so both were disappointed, as was Ailis McSweeney who made the 60m semi finals for the first time but couldn't break 7.30.

Brian Gregan was particularly disappointing. He was ranked second fastest in his 400m heat but, after some tactical naivety, finished fourth and, in his own words "ran a time that I could have run in my sleep".

As always, everything hung on O'Rourke who didn't disappoint. She was badly short of race-fitness yet three women had to produce national records to keep her out of the medals; that's how good she is.

The raw ability and tactical intelligence of Letterkenny teenager Darren McBrearty on his senior debut was the only other highlight. His was fifth in his 800m semi-final but his time (1.49:78) was faster than the entire second one (won with 1:50:60) so he's one to watch.

But everyone, including O'Rourke, learnt that even on this, the lowest rung on the senior international ladder, standards are improving at pace.

McGonagle said that the World Championships in Korea this summer, where all of Ireland's elite will be present, will provide a much more suitable 'progress report' ahead of the London Olympics.

But he also noted: "I don't think you'll be judged by what's happened here in Paris but, at the same time, you can't run away from it."

Irish Independent

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