Forget football, Leitrim now a hotbed of sprinting
Leitrim has few claims to sporting fame but the county with the smallest population in the country has emerged as a serious sprinting hub.
Carrick-on-Shannon AC is now home to not one but two national senior sprint champions after Eanna Madden and Ger O'Donnell brought home two medals apiece from the GloHealth Irish Championships last weekend.
University of Limerick student Madden shared 200m gold with David Hynes after a dead heat and took silver in the 100m.
Madden, who played Gaelic football for Leitrim's U-21s this year, started running only two years ago.
O'Donnell (26) won bronze in 400m hurdles, but his 110m hurdles gold was particularly impressive as he had not raced over the high hurdles since his schooldays.
An athlete who has been dogged by hamstring and groin injuries, O'Donnell achieved both medals off just three weeks of hurdles practice.
"I had laser surgery after the indoor season and couldn't do any hurdling from late February to late June but I was still able to get the majority of my other training done," he said.
"Once I got back, I thought 'why not get in as much as I can?' That's why I entered the 110 hurdles and, thankfully, the technique came back to me."
Even allowing for the absence of talents like Marcus Lawler and Zac Irwin (both at the World Junior Championships), two national sprint champions from a club that doesn't even have a track is a remarkable achievement – Daire Farrell and Cathal McElgunn also helped Carrick' finish fourth in the 4x400m.
O'Donnell credits the club's success to two coaches – his mum Mary and John Connolly.
"My mother is the main coach for the juveniles, she has 130 kids out every Tuesday and gets them all moving in the right direction," he said.
"When they get to secondary school, John takes them on – his house was a home from home for us growing up."
O'Donnell, a sport and business graduate from Athlone IT, has moved to Dublin in the past year and, with Connolly's blessing, found a new coach in Jeremy Lyons, who also coached Paul Byrne (400m hurdles) and Craig Lynch (400m flat) to silver medals last weekend.