Medal hero O’Rourke’s superb achievement is built not just on her own courage, but on a back-room team that drives her to success, writes Cliona Foley
THAT feisty kid who ran straight into a wall and split both knees just to beat the boy from her Douglas estate who dared to throw down the gauntlet to her has never changed.
Twenty years on, Derval O'Rourke (29) keeps smashing athletics barriers while, crucially, never touching the flight of 10 that stand between her and her next championship medal.
If anyone doubted her superstar status, they got their answer in Barcelona's Estadio Olimpico on Saturday night, when she produced another national record (into a minus 0.5 wind) and forced relatively unknown Turk Nevin Yanit to do the same to snatch gold from her by two-hundredths of a second.
After matching her childhood hero Sonia O'Sullivan by becoming only the second Irish athlete to claim a medal at two European Championships, she finally ground to a halt yesterday. It took a sleeping tablet at about 5.0am to finally knock O'Rourke out.
She only had a few drinks, made a rare visit to a fast-food joint en route back to her hotel at 2.0am, but still O'Rourke couldn't sleep, buzzing with the same adrenalin that made her mentally screech "win, win, win" as she powered down lane seven to try to go one place better than Gothenburg in 2006.
Another silver medal -- to match the soles of her shiny leprechaun-green spikes -- was still plenty reward for 12 more months of dedication, pain and sacrifice.
The seeds for this one were sown late last February when a groin injury belatedly forced O'Rourke out of the World Indoor Championships in Doha.
She refused to indulge in "a pity party" or a chocolate orgy, just told herself "keep your shape, train even harder and make it count in Barcelona".
'Team Cahill' is what she and her three training mates jokingly call the group, which is so expertly coached by husband and wife team Sean and Terri Cahill.
Sean is a towering Meathman from Skryne, whose deceptively genial and laconic personality belies the fact that he is a former Irish 110m hurdle record holder.
Terri (nee Horgan, from Mallow) was the equivalent at long jump and, sadly, had to return to Ireland from Barcelona last Tuesday because of a family bereavement.
Tomorrow morning, Sean will be back working at his electrical contracting business where Terri runs the office.
They have three children under nine and yet somehow find the time -- gratis -- to train a world-class sprint hurdler.
Another vital cog in 'Team Derval' is Mark McCabe, whose Sports Med Ireland headquarters in Kildare Street is opposite Dail Eireann.
McCabe's a chartered physiotherapist with a Masters in sports medicine who does Ironman triathlons for fun.
Sean Cahill first met him in Beijing Airport on the way back from the Olympics in 2008 and raves about his ability to tailor 'sports-specific' weights programmes. To help him understand the physiological demands on O'Rourke, he has made McCabe run over hurdles.
O'Rourke reciprocates by raving about all three. "They all bring such different things. Mark is the most rational man in the world, Sean's like me, a little emotional, and Terri's in between, quite calm."
She admitted to "having a rant" at McCabe two weeks ago when she was unhappy at not breaking 13 seconds ahead of the European Championships.
McCabe said: "Look, everything's better this year, you're running better, you're lifting better, why are you worried? Cop on. You just need to run quick on one day."
Boy did she, repeating her season's best in the heats with another in the semi-final and pulling out another Irish record in the final, just as she did in Berlin last summer (when fourth in the World Championships), in Gothenburg and also in Moscow in 2006 when she won world indoor gold.
Team Derval's back-room crew have a little diamond out front themselves, with the heart of a lion and nerves of steel.
Grand Prix racing will never excite her, simply because there are no medals at stake.
"I'd be devastated if I ran 12.60 in Lausanne and ran 12.90 here," O'Rourke explained.
"The whole point of every season is always championships. I think I just enjoy a battle, it's not that complicated," she said.
After a rare false start on the same Barcelona track recently, her team were worried, and her cautionary momentary falter in the blocks, Cahill believes, is the only reason O'Rourke didn't win gold.
Yet despite that, and being Ireland's last shot at a medal, there was still ice in her veins.
"Sean, we've got the federation (depending) on us," she quipped at the warm-up track and they both cracked up laughing.
After two years disrupted by injury, winning European indoor bronze and coming fourth at the World Championships last season restored her legendary cool.
If you thought she'd ease up next year, forget it.
O'Rourke will run European Indoors and then the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, because well, who know's what could happen before London 2012.
"Worlds and Olympics are the two I don't have a medal from and I'd love to finish my career and have a medal from everything, that would be an unbelievable achievement," she admitted.
And if that's not enough, she's got just 14 days left to submit her 16,000-word thesis to complete a Masters in business management.
"I've had plenty of time, just been lazy with it," she said, grinning.
Can she make her academic finish line with another PB?
As they say in Cork: "Doubtcha girl!"