No medals but Neville and Healy lift mood
It was, without question, a grim championships for the Irish, but amid the gloom loitering in Belgrade's Kombank Arena over the weekend, there emerged a chink of light.
Only once in the previous eight editions of the European Indoor Championships had Ireland failed to win a medal, and though Ciara Mageean's bid to reach the podium over 1500m ended in tears, there were enough signs of life among the Irish squad to retain hope for the future.
For that we can look to the youth, specifically the sprint duo of Ciara Neville and Phil Healy, who bowed out of the women's 60m yesterday afternoon.
Neville, still just 17, clocked 7.49 to finish eighth in her semi-final, having qualified automatically from her heat on Saturday with a run of 7.46. She may have been left at the start by most of the field, but there was no trace of disappointment in her words after, her weaknesses rightly being viewed as an opportunity to get better.
"I've worked really hard on my start, but there's a lot left to do," she said. "I'll get back training and it's good to know there's something I can improve."
Neville, a fifth-year-student at Castletroy College, had brought several schoolbooks to Belgrade, though admitted yesterday they had stayed firmly unopened all weekend as she soaked up her first senior championship.
"I'm delighted to be here, running against some of the best in the world," she said. "I was hoping to run close to my PB and it didn't happen, but I can't complain. Having that experience will mean a lot."
It was a thought echoed by her roommate in Belgrade, Healy, who after a busy weekend bowed out of the 60m after a run of 7.40 to finish sixth in her semi-final.
"She'll take a lot from this," said Healy, who herself was making her first appearance at this event. "Being around these athletes, you see they're no different to us. When Ciara goes back training that'll give her the boost she needs to progress."
Healy was one of the few Irish to perform close to her season's best over the weekend, having clocked 7.39 to progress from her heat on Saturday.
"I'll take being a European semi-finalist," she said. "There are areas to improve on, that first 30 metres, but I'll move on. I can't dwell on it."
The pair were watching from the team hotel on Saturday as Mageean went to the line for the women's 1500m final, carrying Ireland's sole medal chance, and Healy admitted it made for difficult viewing.
"We knew she wasn't comfortable, and to see her pull up like that was hard," said Healy. "Ciara hates seeing herself being put out like that in the media, but she's in good form today and seems to be okay."
Mageean had thrown herself into contention early in the race, but as Britain's Laura Muir cranked up the pace at the front, the Irishwoman soon found herself trailing and she stepped off the track with less than two laps to run.
"There's a throbbing in my right foot, and I'm worried," said Mageean. "I'm usually pretty good at dealing with pain, but this is hurting. I'd been training so well, my body was holding up nicely and I felt bouncy in my warm-up. I don't have any answers and all I can say is I'm sorry for that display. That's not me out there."
Irish team manager Patsy McGonagle said yesterday there was no further update on the extent of Mageean's injury, but she would be tested upon returning to Ireland later today.