'I said if he wants to beat me, he'll have to be willing to die for it as well'
Shortly before the senior men's race at yesterday's National Cross-Country Championships, Liam Brady's father, Kevin, gave him a last-minute pep talk. "My Dad is a great motivator and he said, 'I'll have an ambulance waiting for you at the end,'" recalled Brady.
As it turned out, it was his rivals who were more in need of medical help after 32 minutes of gruelling slog around Abbotstown. The 27-year-old Tullamore Harrier hit the line by far the most euphoric champion of the day, one who had put himself in a deep, dark place to earn his first senior title.
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"I can't explain how bad I wanted a national senior title," he said. "I've won titles from juvenile all the way up the ranks but the one that kept getting away is the national senior title. We've all heard of the great minors that never made it to senior and I didn't want to be that. If it took until I died, I was going to get it."
After a steady early pace, Brady surged clear of the pack halfway through the 10,000m race and built a lead of 50 metres entering the final 3,000m. "I said I'd do it my way," he said. "I'm glad I got it out there and expressed it. I actually enjoyed it. I was dying inside with pain and oxygen debt but I was loving it at the same time. I was like, 'lump it on.'"
Only when Brian Fay of Raheny gave chase did the deficit between Brady (right) and the chase pack start to reduce, and Fay got to within 10 metres of Brady with a half-mile to run, at which point it seemed ominous given Fay is a four-minute miler with blazing finishing speed.
"I was genuinely getting worried but I had to make myself hurt, to bury myself in the ground and go again," said Brady. "I did doubt myself a small bit and I said if I keep the rhythm I'll be okay. I said if he wants to beat me, he'll have to be willing to die for it as well."
The Tullamore man found something extra to prevail by five seconds over Fay in 32:50, with Clonmel's Seán Tobin third in 33:05.
He admitted the calibre of his rivals made his achievement all the sweeter, though Brady rejected the assertion that he was up against athletes with a bigger reputation.
"I had my own reputation that I was going to stamp today, that I'm Liam Brady and that's it, I'm going," he said. "But we all have the same struggles, the same things we have to get over to compete and I've so much respect for those guys. That's why I'm so over the moon."
Brady admitted his progress had stalled in recent years as he battled illness and he also took some time away from the sport to complete his education. Of the many he thanked in the aftermath, he paid special tribute to his parents and his coach, Olympian Maria McCambridge, who had helped him reach the top.
"You don't make a living out of athletics and I had things I wanted to achieve and get through college," he said. "I had to get my priorities right. I got the work-life balance right this year but it took me years to get the love back for running - sometimes you get a bit sick of it.
"It's a real relief to finally have it in the bag. I can say to every young fella and girl in Tullamore now: you can do it if you put your mind to it."
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