Friday 18 October 2019

‘I have the speed – I know I can take it home'

Bullish Healy eyes indoor glory on huge weekend for Irish athletics

Phil Healy of Ireland during the previews of the European Indoor Athletics Championships at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Phil Healy of Ireland during the previews of the European Indoor Athletics Championships at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Sixteen athletes, three potential medallists - this could be one huge weekend for Irish athletics.

Phil Healy, Mark English and Ciara Mageean don't need telling how much is on the line at the European Indoor Championships, which get under way in Glasgow today, each of them wanting - perhaps needing - a medal for various reasons.

Healy, the fastest Irishwoman of all time, is an athlete who has made such rapid progression in recent years that a shiny piece of silverware seems her rightful reward, but to get it she'll face the fight of her life.

She should have little trouble breezing through this afternoon's 400m heat, seeded in the prized outside lane, but a colossal amount will hinge on this evening's semi-final.

In the chaotic event that is the indoor 400m, with runners breaking from lanes after the first lap, her speed will be a powerful weapon.

"I know I have the speed in my legs to get ahead of these girls so it's not about sitting back and letting someone else go," she says. "I can be ahead and I know I can take it home as well."

Sophie Becker warms up at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow. She will be one of seven Irish athletes making their senior individual debut at a major championship European Indoors begin today. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Sophie Becker warms up at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow. She will be one of seven Irish athletes making their senior individual debut at a major championship European Indoors begin today. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Aggression

But aggression will also be essential, something two-time European indoor 400m champion David Gillick knows.

"It's like a footballer or a rugby player going in to a tackle at 60pc - you're going to come off worse," he says.

"If you go in to that break and you're dithering, good luck to you. You have to grab it and when you look at the great indoor 400m athletes, that's what they do."

For Mageean, a medal would erase the frustration felt after finishing fourth at the European Championships last summer and make her one of the few Irish athletes to have won European medals indoors and out, her bronze from the European outdoors in 2016 still the crowning achievement of her career.

Britain's Laura Muir should prove unstoppable in that 1,500m final on Sunday but, if Mageean can navigate a safe passage through this evening's heat - where only the first two advance automatically - she should be in the shake-up for the minor medals.

"In every championship I go to, you're always there to try medal and I want to put myself up there," said Mageean.

"I'll hopefully get to the final and it's anyone's game from there."

For English, a podium finish would prove his best years are no longer behind him, even if it seemed that way in recent years as his career faltered with injury.

He has little to fear from his rivals in the men's 800m, and should prove a cut above in tonight's heat.

Only four Europeans have gone quicker than the 1:46.92 English ran this season, and the manner of that victory - he kicked to glory with a blazing final lap - suggested there is more to come.

Thomas Barr will take to the track in this morning's 400m heats, but it will be a surprise if he advances, drawn on the inside lane in a race where he has the slowest season's best.

He was barged out of the 400m final at the Irish championships a fortnight ago, an experience he plans to put to good use in Glasgow.

"I know what I need to do now - get out faster," he says. "I'll go out there and enjoy it and go as fast as I can."

Irish in action

*pending qualification

Men's 400m heats: Cillín Greene (10.36am), Thomas Barr (10.44am)

Women's 800m heats: Síofra Cléirigh Buttner (11.26am)

Women's 400m heats: Sophie Becker (12.33pm), Phil Healy (12.41pm)

Men's 3,000m heats: Sean Tobin (1.20pm), John Travers (1.33pm)

Women's high jump qualification: Sommer Lecky (7.0pm)

Women's 1,500m heats: Ciara Mageean (7.20pm)

Men's 800m heats: Conall Kirk (7.56pm), Mark English (8.04pm), Zak Curran (8.12pm)

Women's 400m semi-finals: 8.36pm: *Phil Healy, Sophie Becker

Men's 400m semi-finals: 9.0pm: *Thomas Barr, Cillin Greene

European Indoor Championships,

Live, RTÉ2, 6.30

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