Athletics: Young guns thrown lifeline
IRELAND'S chances of replacing what has been described as "a lost generation of throwers" has been considerably boosted by a new sponsorship agreement.
Brian Price, whose Pro Sport Europe company has long been providing timing and other specialist athletic equipment across the country, has agreed to inject some badly needed cash into the coaching of the nation's top throwers.
"Coaching budgets are tight all round, and Brian's sponsorship has at least doubled ours," said Dave Sweeney, who took on the role of national throws co-ordinator just a year ago.
"Up until now we were able to get our national squads together only four times a year. The new sponsorship will allow us to organise additional coaching and provide extra support for athletes to travel to competitions. It's a great boost."
Sweeney admits that Ireland "lost a generation of throwers" recently, pointing out that, apart from Eileen O'Keeffe, no one else came close to world class after the retirement of the previous elite group that included Terry McHugh and Nick Sweeney (no relation).
"There were 10 years there where nothing really happened," claimed Dave Sweeney.
"There was no real coaching structure and no one came through, but we have some really promising underage talent now, particularly in the hammer."
Sweeney believes the dawn of professional rugby has also diverted some promising talent away from the sport -- Leinster star Cian Healy, a regular throws champion at Irish schools level, is a case in point.
However, Wexford discus thrower Marco Pons (DMP AC), also a promising rugby player, has bucked that trend, opting to go to DCU, and he is now focused on qualifying for the World Junior Championships.
Rising hammer talents Alice Akers (Marian AC) and Adam King (Iveragh AC) both broke the British U-15 championship records last summer, while Cara Kennedy (Ferrybank) and Killian Barry (Crusaders) continue to progress at U-23 level. Claire Fitzgerald (Tralee) and young Spa-Muckross star Kayleigh Cronin are two to watch in discus.
The new deal will allow Sweeney extend the coaching programme that saw him bring in Vesteinn Hafsteinsson, coach to Olympic discus champion Gerd Kanter, this winter.
"He did three full days coaching in Dublin and believes one of our young throwers has serious world-class potential," Sweeney revealed.
With such a rich history of world-class throwers that dates right back to Pat O'Callaghan and has seen the likes of Phil Conway and Dan Kennedy carry the coaching can for so long, the new sponsorship should help a new generation of coaches and athletes revive a proud tradition.
The national squad will now be called the 'Polanik throws squad'.