Wednesday 13 December 2017

From the Stands: Athletics prepares to follow the leader

John Greene, Seán Ryan, Dermot Gilleece and Marie Crowe

The European Youth Olympics are just around the corner and while there is no obvious reason for any turbulence in the build-up, Athletics Ireland sadly stumbled needlessly into a bit of trouble.

Ireland will be represented at the games in Utrecht from July 14-19 in athletics, swimming, gymnastics and cycling. The athletes across all four disciplines will have coaches and a team manager appointed by their own federation accompanying them, except in athletics where AI saw fit to appoint a team manager and a team leader. What the difference is nobody is quite sure, although it raised a few eyebrows in the boardroom.

AI interviewed several candidates for team manager, but objections were raised internally when it appeared that all those interviewed were to be passed over. Subsequently, Bernie Alcorn from Donegal, one of those who had been interviewed, was named as team manager, but the surprises weren't finished there because Jacqui Freyne, AI's director of coaching, was parachuted into the newly-created role of team leader. Freyne had sat on the original interview panel for the team manager's job. Cue more raising of eyebrows.

All very strange it has to be said.

* * * * *

ONE of the most interesting stories to emerge from the first half of the Airtricity League – now on its mid-term break – is the success being enjoyed by Stephen Kenny at Dundalk.

Kenny, who was sacked after an unhappy spell with Shamrock Rovers last year, is working off a budget that is 30 per cent of what he had with the Hoops. However, he has the Lilywhites in fourth place, six points ahead of his former club.

According to Kenny, he has never failed to qualify for Europe, "any season I started – and finished." That's fair warning to Rovers, who missed out on European involvement this year after sacking Kenny, and he is now poised to secure a European spot next year at the Hoops' expense.

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During the climactic moments of the US Open at Merion last Sunday, the figure of leading golf photographer, David Cannon, could be seen beside the 18th fairway, capturing the superb four-iron approach by Justin Rose for posterity. It was a familiar role for Cannon, bringing to mind another final-hole photo he took of Rose, which was special for a very different reason.

The occasion was the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale where poor light made the snapper's lot all the more challenging. And though victory went to Mark O'Meara, the shot of the day had to do with the player who finished fourth. It was of Rose, then a 17-year-old amateur, holing out his pitch on the 72nd.

Recalling the occasion, Cannon said: "That was absolutely astonishing. I was photographing Justin with no idea how good the shot was. But I was aware of a building crescendo from the crowd as the ball headed inexorably towards the hole, before popping in.

"My feeling was that Tiger Woods was going to win, though I sort of knew he hadn't done enough, even when he sank a tramliner on the last. So I decided to wait for Rose, just in case he did something. I still shiver at the thought of the earth-shattering roar which accompanied him all of 90 yards until he picked the ball out of the hole."

* * * * *

Irish athlete David Gillick may be about to become a reality TV star on Celebrity Master Chef but he still has designs on continuing his athletic career.

Talking to, a new athletics podcast run by athletes Thomas Chamney and Feidhlim Kelly, the 400m runner revealed he hopes to be back in competition early next month after a torrid, injury-ridden 18 months on the sidelines.

The two-time European Indoor 400m champion, who is non-competing captain at this weekend's European Team Championships in Morton Stadium, feels he can add some benefit to the team and give something back to the sport as a result.

"Normally the team captain just gives a speech and then disappears and focuses on their own event. I hope I can be active, especially with the younger athletes."


Irish Independent

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