Monday 19 February 2018

Athletics: Irish silver star slams AAI for lack of support

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

AFTER winning her second European silver in four years and setting her sights firmly on next year's World Championships in Korea, Derval O'Rourke launched a scathing broadside at Athletics Ireland (AAI) yesterday.

Asked if she had enough support to help her maximise her talent in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics, Irish athletics' poster-girl let her own federation have it with both barrels.

"I'm happy with my own team; I'm not necessarily happy with where 'high performance sport' is in athletics," the 29-year-old Leevale star said. "But I've had to disassociate with that and do my own thing because I think if you don't paddle your own canoe in Irish athletics, you're going nowhere and that's a little bit sad."

Not for the first time, O'Rourke used a moment in the limelight to launch a stinging critique of AAI's management, especially singling out the boardroom problems that ended up in ex-AAI chief executive Mary Coghlan taking a High Court action jointly against the association and the Irish Sports Council that proved extremely costly.

At this year's AAI Congress, it was revealed that the association had a debit of close to €400,000 last season, largely due to legal fees.

"It's been a bad year but I don't think athletes are the problem," O'Rourke said pointedly. "There's been a big court case that a lot of people don't seem to have taken any notice of.

"There was a whole heap of money spent and the association should have been more answerable about that. I have to really not think too hard about that because I get upset."

The 2006 world indoor champion also complained that "high-performance plans keep coming out and are not followed through on", a clear reference to the fact that the AAI's latest elite strategy concentrated solely on the 2016 Olympics, despite the London Olympics being two years away.

"I find it difficult hearing about 2016 -- I think it's somewhat disrespectful to the current crop of athletes who are doing very well," O'Rourke said.

"Give us some support for 2012 and recognise that AAI are lucky to have the athletes they have now. Your skin gets thicker and I think mine's as thick as it needs to be now; I just have the people I have a lot of faith in around me.

"It's not a fairy-tale land. Wanting an indoor facility seems to be too big an ask, wanting systems and structures in place seems to be too big an ask, but I think it's unfair to criticise athletes this week because there's deeper problems.

"We are in a situation where we pay high-performance consultants' fees and we pay high-performance managers but we don't pay coaches. That is very strange to me."

O'Rourke also passionately defended Irish team-mate David Gillick for not winning a medal in the 400m on Friday night and also for his decision not to run in the 4x400m heats the following morning.

"None of us could have predicted the way his final went -- Jonathan Borlee (Belgium's favourite) finished seventh. We have a 44.77-second 400m runner and it is so Irish to criticise him," she argued. "He had to go to England to be able to run 44.7 -- there was nothing in Ireland for him.

"As a country we should be really disappointed in ourselves that he had to go to England. Gilly loves Ireland, he loves Dublin.

"Gillick got some criticism about the relay but I think that's a little bit unwarranted. Management make decisions on relays."

Irish Independent

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