McMullen ready to make great leap of faith in Prague
Adam McMullen is, literally, making a great leap forward today as he attempts to do for Irish long-jumpers what athletes like Derval O'Rourke and David Gillick have previously done for Irish hurdling and sprinting.
The big Belfast man is the first Irish athlete into action at the European Indoor Championships in Prague because the qualifying rounds for the men's long jump and shot take place this evening, a day ahead of the start of the main programme.
Field eventers are well used to competing off-Broadway, especially in Ireland, so a qualifying group that will be played out in a relative empty 02 Stadium doesn't bother the Magherafelt, Co Derry native.
The last time Ireland had a male long-jumper compete at this level was Meath's world-class Ciaran McDonagh in Vienna 13 years ago and McMullen's international senior debut is a real leap into the unknown.
Plenty of Irish and elite foreign athletes - including the Jamaican sprinters at London 2012 - now benefit from McDonagh's expertise through his busy physical therapy practice in Lucan and he still remains Ireland's 'King of Spring', the only Irishman to break long jump's magical eight-metre barrier. His Irish record of 8:07m is now 10 years old and few have ever even got within half a metre of him.
Only 11 Irishmen have ever gone further than 7:50m and that includes the legendary Peter O'Connor, whose 7:61m in 1901 (almost 25 feet) was the first official IAAF world long jump record and stood for 20 years.
That's why McMullen caused such interest when he moved to second on the all-time Irish list with his leap of 7.80m (25 feet and seven inches) at the Irish Indoor Championships recently.
He had jumped 7.60m when he was just out of the junior ranks in 2011 but some injuries, including a torn hamstring, curtailed his progress.
His 7.80m marked a big step up in class and relegated Jonathon Kron to third on the Irish all-time list by just a margin of one centimetre.
At 6'5", McMullen is an imposing figure and, at 24, still relatively raw but his big leap forward has come on the back of some quality coaching.
If you got to either of the two Catholic schools in Magherafelt you cannot avoid playing Gaelic football and he played midfield for St Mary's Grammar in his early teens and also dabbled with basketball.
But he developed his athletics with the Mid-Ulster juvenile club and when he went looking for a senior club decided to join Crusaders of Dublin, largely because his friend Jason Harvey, Ulster's top 400m hurdler, was already competing for them.
McMullen believes his recent improvement has come from the two fundamentals of long-jumping; improving his flat speed for take-off and his technique.
Ulster sprint's coach Davy Reid - who coaches joint Irish 100m record holder Amy Foster - first took him under his wing and, in a year, his flat speed went from 11.2 seconds to 10.8m.
A final-year student of sports theory and practice at Ulster University in Jordanstown, he then benefited from working with UUJ lecturer Rodney Kennedy. In the past year Rodney's son Alan, a triple-jumper himself, has taken over his coaching and McMullen says he has a particularly good 'eye'.
"Alan's helped a lot, he's only 26 himself and it's nice to work with someone my own age," he says "He's got a really great eye for technique and form and I've done a lot of plyometrics and triple-jump drills with him which I think has helped my technique."
He knows well that he's going to have to step up in class today and that qualifying will be beyond him.
The field includes nine eight-metre-plus men (only eight will make the final) and it needed 7.92m to make the European Indoor final in 2013.
Trying to land a personal best is always difficult for jumpers in a championship arena and mixing with stars like Sweden's Michel Torneus and France's Kafetien will be intimidating for someone so inexperienced at this level.
For McMullen, the World Student Games this summer (7.80m was fourth there last time) is a realistic target, especially as the qualifying standard is only 7.50.
In his series at 'Nationals he jumped three personal bests - opening with 7.25 and 7.45, then landing 7.63, getting his breakthrough in the fourth round and finishing with 7.67.
"It was a really good series, everything just slotted into place, you can't really explain it, something just clicked and it felt right," he explain.
"Hopefully I'll be clean and tidy in Prague. From now on I just have to concentrate on practice and consistency. You can't get obsessive about getting to eight metres, you just keep working and hope it comes."