Sunday 21 April 2019

Athletics: Rob Heffernan bids to establish legacy with elite centre

Rob Heffernan
Rob Heffernan

Cliona Foley

TWO new mass-participation walking events next year will help to eventually fund a new elite race-walking training centre in Munster, which is the brain-child of Ireland's new 50km world champion Rob Heffernan.

The inspirational Togher AC star, who took the top gong at Athletics Ireland's National Awards yesterday, has already got the AAI on board and the collaboration should see two inaugural 'Rob Heffernan 5km' events taking place in Cork and Dublin next May.

Proceeds from the annual events will be put towards setting up a formal national race-walking centre in Munster by 2016.

Given Ireland's excellence in race walking – Olive Loughnane and Gillian O'Sullivan both won world 20km silvers before Heffernan went one better in Moscow last August – it would be a fitting legacy and ensure that the tradition continues.

"Initially, we want to start just by getting Ireland fit and active with two events in Cork and Dublin and use it then to fund a high performance centre," Heffernan revealed.

He is already helping coach some of Ireland's next generation of walking stars, including Donegal Olympian Brendan Boyce and local Cork boy Luke Hickey.

A friend of Heffernan's is already subsidising an 'athlete's house' in Cork where Boyce and Britain's Alex Wright are living and training and the city's links with race-walking (O'Sullivan and Loughnane both also trained Leeside) makes it an obvious choice for a centre of excellence.

There was no surprise when Heffernan took up the top gong at the awards, sponsored by Woodies DIY and Tipperary Crystal.

Having formally returned to full training on November 1, he did not use yesterday's event as an excuse to have a day off and started the morning with a physio session at 8.30 followed by a 12km training session, before the lunchtime gathering.

Heffernan was named Athlete of the Year, as well as taking the separate walks award after finally putting the pain of finishing fourth at the London Olympics behind him and becoming only the third Irish athlete in history – after Eamonn Coghlan and Sonia O'Sullivan – to become a world champion.

Fionnuala Britton, who will be aiming to win her third consecutive European Cross-Country title next month, won the endurance award and the Irish women's team who won team gold at European XC a year ago (Britton, Linda Byrne, Ava Hutchinson, Lizzie Lee, Sarah Louise Treacy and Sara McCormack) won the top team award. Track athlete of the Year went to Donegal's Mark English (UCD) for running the second fastest 800m ever by an Irishman.

Ciaran O'Lionaird (Leevale AC) received the indoor award for his European bronze medal and the fourth fastest mile (3.52.10) by an Irishman. Limerick's Sarah Lavin (Junior), her coach Noelle Morrissey, Carlow's Marcus Lawler and DSD'S Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (schools) and Kelly Proper (Inspirational performance) were also among the other winners.

So too were Dunleer's Geraldine Finnegan (Masters), Eoin Keith (ultra-running) and the women's team (Sarah McCormack, Kate Cronin, Sarah Mulligan and Sharon Trimble), who won bronze at the World Mountain Running Championships.

Leevale AC and Lifford AC won the two club awards and Limerick's Ronnie Long (Lifetime Achievement) and Naas AC's Brian Dowling (Outstanding official) were also honoured.

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