It's been one hell of a week, one hell of a month, and at the Morton Games in Santry tonight Cathal Doyle can close it out in style – with his first ever sub-four-minute mile.
The 24-year-old Dubliner is one of the marquee names in the climactic Morton Mile, in which he’s hoping to break one of sport’s most famous barriers. But as he sets off on the four-lap journey around his local track at 9:10pm, he’ll do so carrying a couple of broken bones.
In late May, Doyle, a student at the University of Portland, fell across the line at the NCAA regionals in Arkansas and, having secured a spot at the NCAA Championships with his desperate lunge to finish third in the 1500m, it took him a few minutes to get to his feet.
When he did, the crippling fatigue was overridden by another pain. “I think my arm is broken,” he told a friend, with an X-ray and MRI scan later confirming he’d broken the scaphoid bone in his wrist and fractured his elbow. The medics wanted to put his arm in a cast for several weeks, but Doyle was 10 days out from the NCAA Championships and, as he puts it, he was “not ending my season over a hand”.
He kept running in the days that followed through pain that “almost made me sick with the motion” though after that it relented. In recent weeks, his only reminders were when he’d whack his arm against something or when grimacing through a post-race handshake with competitors.
Doyle had a flurry of those come his way last Sunday, when he utilised his enviable range of gears to win his first national senior title, outsprinting Shane Bracken, Paul Robinson, Luke McCann and Nick Griggs to come home a clear winner in the 1500m final.
Having been based in the US for the past 18 months, he’d been overlooked by many in the build-up. “Everything on RTÉ was (about) Griggs and McCann going into the race and I was like, ‘Give me some recognition here,’” he laughs. “I was second last year, but I didn’t get a mention.”
Doyle had closed fast in last year’s final to finish a close second to Andrew Coscoran, who went on to make the Olympic semi-final in Tokyo. “Last year I was eighth or ninth at the bell – so stupid – and I felt I should have won, it ate me alive the whole year,” he says. “I was not letting that happen again.”
Winning crowned a superb comeback from injury, given Doyle had run last year’s final with a torn plantar in his foot, which confined him to the bike for six months afterwards.
Beating an athlete like Paul Robinson, who Doyle had “looked up to” for years, was “pretty cool.” After the race he headed up to the Clonliffe AC bar that overlooks the track in Morton Stadium, sinking a couple of celebratory pints with his clubmates. He’s been a member of Clonliffe since the age of 15, and as a result the Morton Games have long meant something special.
“I started off as a basket kid behind the line and it’s cool to go from that to racing the junior mile and now the big-boy mile,” he says. “It’s going to be class.”
After finishing school at St. Aidan’s in Glasnevin, Doyle enrolled at DCU and after three years there he left for Portland, where he completed a master’s in business. Last year he lowered his 1500m best to 3:39.21 and this year he clocked 3:38.05, the equivalent of a 3:55 mile. But here’s the thing: Doyle’s actual personal best remains just 4:02.16.
“He always promised me he’d hold his first sub-four until the Morton mile,” says Noel Guiden, the meeting director of the Morton Games, who was among a horde of proud clubmates watching last weekend. “Sunday was very, very emotional for lots of people at Clonliffe – it was great to see the vest coming across the line in front.”
In recent weeks, Guiden has been putting in 15-hour days to put the fields together for the Morton Games, which is being staged for the first time since 2019. The event is now part of the Continental Tour, holding challenger status, and it will gather a typically diverse smattering of international athletes along with many of Ireland’s best.
Guiden is especially excited about the women’s 100m hurdles where Sarah Lavin is among four sub-13-second athletes, and the women’s 800m, where national record holder Louise Shanahan takes on fellow sub-two-minute athlete Ellie Baker of Britain and USA’s McKenna Keegan, the silver medallist at this year’s NCAA Championships.
As is tradition, the entire event will build towards the Morton Mile, which features 10 sub-four-minute men including Ireland’s Andrew Coscoran, Paul Robinson, Darragh McElhinney and rising star Nick Griggs, who clocked a European U-20 indoor mile record of 3:56.40 earlier this year.
With the track due to be renovated following the meeting, Guiden describes tonight as the “last hurrah” for the current iteration of Morton Stadium, and with entry just €10 on the gate and U-16s free, he’s hoping a sizable crowd turns out. “It’s great to have it back – an international meet in Santry,” he says.
For Doyle, tonight is all about using home advantage to maximum effect and trying to again come home in front. And after the finish, his eye will quickly turn to the clock to see if he’s joined that exclusive club.
“I should be comfortably able to run under four,” he says. “But it’ll still be a cool moment if it happens.”