Wednesday 22 May 2019

Athletics: Mulhare's long and winding road to the top

Dublin-based Michael Mulhare is working part-time in Tesco to facilitate and fund his training programme
Dublin-based Michael Mulhare is working part-time in Tesco to facilitate and fund his training programme

Cliona Foley

CATCHING a plane to Belgrade today to represent Ireland in Sunday's European Cross Country Championships on a team that also includes your brother sounds pretty exciting.

But Michael Mulhare's daily life is far less glamorous and embodies the loneliness of the long-distance runner. The University of Limerick graduate has moved to Dublin and taken a part-time supermarket job to facilitate and fund his training and often runs home, from the Jervis Centre to Santry, after a shift in Tesco.

But after a few years when he threatened to become just another promising junior who fell through the cracks, Mulhare (24) is not complaining.

A one-time Clonad hurler who gave up GAA for athletics, his love of running was engendered by Eileen Hayes and Carmel Lyons at North Laois AC.

Four years ago, he was the third scorer (16th overall) for Ireland when they won an U-23 team gold at the European Cross Country Championships in Portugal, and he won a national 5,000m silver medal on the track last summer.

But he admits to having been rudderless, and if Athletics Ireland had not appointed Chris Jones as their full-time endurance coach, would probably be just another number in the emigration statistics.

"I was going to go to the States last year to do a masters but I decided against it because of what Chris was trying to set up here," he says.

Mulhare is now part of Jones' elite training group that includes Fionnuala Britton, David McCarthy, John Coghlan and Darren McBrearty, and believes it is probably better than any he could have joined in America.

A regular top-three finisher on the domestic circuit, he was second at national inter-counties recently – and immediately behind him was his older brother Dan.

A civil engineer who spent a year studying in Edinburgh, Dan is now working in Glasgow, flew over and back for the national trials and was working nights all last week.

"I was a bit isolated in Limerick," Dan says. "When you're used to it you don't know any different but it was four years of just slogging away by myself.

"Having a group to drag you along is great, and location-wise, it is fierce convenient for me really."

Like many mud-larks Michael doesn't get any individual grant funding and argues that cross-country athletes should qualify.

"I know some people think track is where it's at but these are championships where we can pick up medals," he says.

But he benefited from a three-week altitude training camp in France last September that AAI funded for a large group of distance runners.


AAI, somewhat controversially, decided not to send the national women's U-23 champion to Serbia this weekend but, if they had, it would have been the Mulhares' sister Mary in what would have been an unusual family treble.

Their selection policy was that any individual sent (without a team) had to have top-16 potential, but Mulhare doesn't agree.

"Only a handful of the team members that are going out are going to make top 16," he says. "I'm not saying that because it's my sister involved, I just think the national champion should be sent, whoever it was.

"There's a special place in my heart for European Cross Country Championships ever since I first ran it as a junior. I really believe it is an event that we can win medals at."

Elsewhere, the Olympic Council of Ireland have plumped for a representative from clay-pigeon shooting – Dubliner Kevin Kilty – to succeed Sonia O'Sullivan as Ireland's chef de mission for Rio 2016.

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