Monday 19 March 2018

stars shine for loyal fans

First off this week, I want to say a special thank you to the many people who have been in touch to wish me well on my return to running, following on from what I shared in last week's column.

It has been heartening and very encouraging to have received texts, emails and phone calls – an abundance of goodwill that is sure to keep me focussed this time around.

It is only when you commit in print to a plan of starting back on the road to fitness that you know you are ready for the challenge.

I went for a run after Sunday's European Athletics Team Championships at Morton Stadium, and I felt lively and optimistic as I skirted the banks of the Grand Canal, enjoying the effort and savouring the experience of having watched some spirited performances by young Irish athletes over the weekend.

This was a stirring Irish team performance by a group of talented athletes – most of them still very young.

The crowd was big enough to fill the big stand, and the support for the home athletes was very vocal and uplifting.

Brian Gregan got Irish pulses racing on Saturday with a fine individual victory in his specialist 400m event, and over the course of the two days' action, a succession of Irish athletes combined to put valuable points on the board to secure an overall seventh position for the host country – a best ever result in this competition.

To finish seventh of 12 countries surpassed expectations.

There was a special atmosphere in the stadium on Sunday evening after Louth's Tomas Cotter delivered a plucky performance to finish fourth in toughly contested 3,000m steeplechase.

And there was a performance of sheer brilliance too by the Irish men's 4x400m relay team of Jason Harvey, Dara Kerwick, Richard Morrissey and Gregan who combined to win their event in 3:08.12.

For good measure, the Irish women's 4x400m team of Sinéad Denny, Jennifer Carey, Shauna Cannon and Jessie Barr also delivered victory in the B race, and the look of delight on Barr's face as she ran the final few metres of her anchor leg is a memory that will remain with me for a long time.

There were many commendable performances over the weekend, including those of Ben Reynolds – a winner in the men's 110m hurdles B event – and a second placing in the women's pole vault by Tori Pena.

The Irish women's 4x100m relay team also finished second in their race, and Barr placed third in the 400m hurdles.

Of course, my biggest interest lies in the longer endurance events, and I was greatly entertained by the battling efforts of Shane Quinn from Waterford in the 5,000m and Laura Crowe in the women's 3,000m.

And while all this action was taking place in the Morton Stadium, I was struck by the enthusiasm shown by the many young athletics fans who gathered around the barriers near the mixed zone after every Irish performance. These young autograph hunters were out in force and Irish team members were greatly heartened by their support.

I met a trio who had travelled from Waterford for the weekend and their sense of enthusiasm and positivity was truly infectious. Garvin Blair, Cathal Scanlon and Ethan Flynn are already big fans of track and field and they each went home happy with bulging autograph books.

This was a weekend in Santry when you felt immensely proud of the valiant efforts of our young Irish track and field talent, as well as the commitment and expertise of the team of Athletics Ireland volunteers who helped to put on such a wonderful and uplifting feast of top-line international athletics.

Irish Independent

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