Ruairí Finnegan was yesterday given a hero’s welcome on his return from winning gold at the European U-18 Youth Olympics in Trabson in Turkey.
It marked the conclusion of a fine month on the track for Finnegan, who also finished in 10th place, and fourth European, at the 1,500m final World Youth Olympics in Lille in France. He ran a time of 3:49.58 there, which shaved over a second off his previous fastest time of 4:51.18.
The 17-year-old was greeted by some of Letterkenny and Donegal’s big names in athletics after his fantastic performance. Olympians Danny McDaid and Maria McCambridge joined fellow club members Gary Crossan, Mark English and Darren McBrearty in the sizable gathering at the Market Square, while Irish Olympic team manager Patsy McGonagle joined Neil Martin, the chairman of the Donegal Athletic Board.
Irish team manager in Turkey Bernie Alcorn from Finn Valley Athletic Club was also in attendance as was Letterkenny Athletic Club coach Teresa McDaid and chairman Gerry Davenport. Letterkenny Town Mayor, Councillor Gerry McMonagle, led the tributes to Finnegan.
“It’s a privilege to welcome Ruairí back to Letterkenny,” he said. “At a time when a lot of young people are getting bad press he is one of the great stories. He surpassed what everyone expected and gold in the 1,500m says it all. He is a credit to his family and Letterkenny Athletic Club. Well done too to Bernie. She must be delighted. Also, well done to Karl Griffin from Donegal Town who too is home with a medal, in his case bronze in the 800m.
“With the Irish team coming back from Turkey with six medals that’s a great testament to Bernie. Patsy McGonagle, who is of course the Irish Olympic team manager, must be licking his lips with the crop coming through. Everything looks good for the future.”
From there, McGonagle passed on his congratulations for Finnegan and indeed the Letterkenny club as a whole, in what is certainly an exciting time for athletics in the county.
“Today is great one for Donegal athletics,” he said. “Congratulations to Teresa McDaid and Ruairí. Don’t be fooled because things like this takes a lot of planning and contact and concentration. There have been a lot of hours put into this but it all is worthwhile when it comes to fruition.
“Ruairí’s achievement in Turkey was great, but for me, there was an even more significant outing for him this summer. Reaching the final at the World Youth Olympics in Lille was a fantastic achievement. The whole McCormack family must be delighted with Ruairí. I’m sure they are all so proud to welcome him home.”
Martin also laid on the tributes. He said: “Well done to Bernie, she’s certainly got her dessert. Donegal athletics is going so well right now. As well as Ruairí and Karl coming home from Turkey with medals, Mark English and Darren McBrearty have been representing Ireland in the last month, in the European Junior Championships and the European U-23 Championships in Ostrava respectively.”
In Wednesday’s final, Finnegan took up the running from the gun and never surrendered his lead and if anything looked stronger the longer the race went on. He breezed home to win in a time of 3:53.78. Finnegan was followed home by Italy’s Samuele Dini on 3:54.45, while James Lamswood from the United Kingdom took bronze with a time of 3:54.45.
In temperatures of 28 Celsius, the St Eunan’s College student finished his first lap in 1:02.27, while he was 2:08.56 at the 800-metre mark. He was 2:40.82 at 1,000 metres and then 3:10.26 at 1,200. Finnegan’s comfort in taking the race by the scruff of the neck was apparent when it’s considered he did not even have to match his qualifying time of 3:49.18.
“I was delighted with the result,” Finnegan said yesterday. “The experience in France was really good and then going to Turkey the aim was to win a medal so it’s great. France made such an impact with heat and the pace of races. In Turkey I felt the going easy and I had confidence from running the PB in Lille. Before the final even started in Turkey I knew I had four seconds on the field and that certainly gave me confidence.
“I had planned to take up the running from the start and expected someone to take it on as well. Once I hit the front, the field nearly showed too much respect for me. I wasn’t willing to let anyone beat me and it was my medal for winning. I looked over my shoulder with about 50 metres to go as I thought there was someone behind me but I took a look over my shoulder and I knew then I had it won.
“It was relief more than anything but it’s brilliant and it’s great to see everyone here at home again. It’s nice to have the crowd here. I’ve not seen a few of them in a while as I’ve been quite busy so it’s great to be home with them all again.”