After taking an unusual path to high-performance that saw him kicked off his college team for boozed-up antics, Andrew Coscoran has sights set on Tokyo
From the start, he ran like he belonged. It was Saturday night in New York, the climax of the Millrose Games, and Andrew Coscoran was pitched in - as he later put it - with the "lions".
The 23-year-old Dubliner had never tasted the big time quite like this, up against Nick Willis, a two-time Olympic medallist, and Filip Ingebrigtsen, a world 1500m medallist. Heavyweights of the sport with hefty professional contracts to boot.
They knew about hardship, but hadn't spent the past three weeks sleeping on a couch. They knew about exhaustion, but not the kind you feel after a 10-hour night shift at McDonald's.
They'd taken some wrong turns, but had never been kicked off their college team for a late-night booze-up; or been so drunk that they couldn't recall being beaten to a pulp on a street in Florida.
Coscoran had done all of this, yet here he was, racing with the best, live on NBC to the nation. His had been a curious path to high-performance.
"Going through a bit of hardship is a good thing," he says. "If things are too easy in your life, I think it can be harder to mentally prepare yourself to push hard."
Just as well, because Coscoran doesn't receive a bean in funding from Athletics Ireland, this despite him by far the most likely Irishman to race the Olympic 1500m this summer.
A final-year student at DCU, he still lives with his family in Balbriggan, and fuels his dream with support from his parents, Meath Athletics, his club (Star of the Sea) and race organiser Richard Donovan, who has offered a helping hand with costs over the past year.
If it wasn't for them, he wouldn't have been in the US in the past month, hacking those lumps off his personal bests. He'd never have run down world 1500m finalist Craig Engels in Boston, losing by millimetres when clocking a 3:56 mile. He'd never have clocked a 3:37 1500m to catapult himself into contention for the Olympics, or lined up in New York in the famed Wanamaker Mile, where he finished just one second behind Willis and Ingebrigtsen.
But the most valuable investment anyone has made in Coscoran is time. Over the past year his coach, Feidhlim Kelly, has given freely of his, seeing in his protégé a potential he could barely recognise himself.
As such, he demands a higher standard of professionalism, one Coscoran has occasionally rebelled against. He and his coach have butted heads about everything from workouts to the time Coscoran goes to sleep.
"He's very passionate about athletics," says Coscoran, laughing to signify the understatement.
"We go at each other's throats a lot and I think that's natural. He wants me to do things his way but there's a transition period between coaches where you don't fully trust them. You have to have the proof in the pudding to know the training is working, but we're there now because I'm running PBs. I trust him now."
Kelly first approached Coscoran in late 2018, noticing him hammering away at a deserted running track in Dublin. Coscoran had returned from Florida a couple of years earlier and was, in athletic terms, driftwood, slowly breaking his body into pieces.
Coscoran missed most of 2018 through injury, and after recovering he was reigniting his dangerous habit of grinding himself down by over-training.
"(Feidhlim) was like, 'Man, what are you doing? You could be good, but you're just f***ing around'. He was giving me a kick up the hole and telling me, 'Right, get your s**t together'."
He'd always had Olympic potential, but more and more it looked a long-shot. In Coscoran's teenage years Brendan Meade had developed him into a top-class junior, one who set off for the US in the summer of 2015 on scholarship.
At the time Florida State University seemed an ideal choice, given it had transformed the career of Ciarán Ó Lionáird, who in 2011 became a world finalist over 1500m. But the environment never suited Coscoran, who was too sociable not to be swayed by peer pressure.
"I don't want to talk s**t about it because it was a good programme and (Bob) Braman is a good coach, but it probably wasn't the place for me."
Coscoran figures half the team went out once a week and he was a willing participant, landing himself in hot water after a race in Boston when stumbling into his hotel room drunk and disturbing a team-mate who had yet to race. He was banned from the team for a month and forced to train alone.
"When you're over there and all your friends are through athletics, it can be a lonely time," he says.
Another time, while on a night out in Tallahassee, Coscoran walked out of a club and spotted a friend "getting a bit of grief" so he went over to intervene. At that moment four men jumped out of a taxi and he suffered a vicious beating, waking up in hospital with a broken jaw, broken nose, damaged teeth and concussion. The college eventually agreed to foot his $13,000 medical bill.
He returned to Ireland for the summer in 2016, and at the end of it he decided not to go back.
"It got to a place where I was running for somebody else. It became more like a job and the internal motivation went away." He didn't run for four months.
He qualified as a personal trainer and took a job in McDonald's, often working a 10-hour shift through the night to make ends meet. That winter he got back training and despite the demands on his energy, he had a breakthrough season in 2017, clocking 3:41.20 for 1500m at the age of 20.
That was the year he also ran into Enda Fitzpatrick, the former director of athletics at DCU, who encouraged him to complete an undergraduate degree. Coscoran enrolled in education and training at DCU.
Training with Kelly's Dublin Track Club since the end of 2018, he has slowly built up his aerobic strength, logging 80-90 miles most weeks with many of Ireland's best such as Sean Tobin, Paul Robinson and Brian Fay, like-minded athletes willing to build their lives around their dream.
In the gym, he has bullet-proofed his body from injuries under the guidance of Gerard O'Donnell and for Coscoran, the key to his consistency has been to run on a tight rein.
"I tend to train a little bit too hard and push myself into a hole. But we all hold each other back and train in the right zones."
Before Christmas he overcooked things and had to back off for a few weeks, so heading to the US he hadn't a notion what shape he was in. Turns out, he was better than ever.
For the Tokyo Olympics, 45 places are available in the men's 1500m and with the three-per-country rule, Coscoran is 54th on the list right now.
If he can bolster his ranking with similar performances outdoors, he will become the first Irishman in eight years to compete on the track at 1500m or above in a global outdoor championship.
"I don't see why I couldn't qualify," says Coscoran, who will race the 1500m at next week's national indoors. Since returning home he's gone back to basics: kilometre reps on the Royal Canal on Tuesdays, threshold run in the Phoenix Park on Thursdays, hill reps in Howth on Saturdays: brick by brick, building an engine that could take him to Tokyo.
"Success is the best motivator," he says. "As soon as you can come off a bad race you're like, 'Why am I doing this?'
"But if you come off running a PB and nearly beating someone like Craig Engels, the first thing you want to do is go out and f***ing run 100 miles the next week, put the head down and do every damn thing I can."