Letterkenny Athletic Club continues to set the pace

As Teresa McDaid craned her neck to look around the room at the Clyde Court Hotel in Ballsbridge on Saturday night she soon noticed something that differentiated her table from the rest.

As Teresa McDaid craned her neck to look around the room at the Clyde Court Hotel in Ballsbridge on Saturday night she soon noticed something that differentiated her table from the rest.

McDaid had just obtained the unique distinction of winning the Coach of the Year award for the second successive year at the National Athletics Awards in association with Woodie’s DIY and Tipperary Crystal. But he triumph was not an isolated one for Letterkenny Athletic Club.

“The thing about a national awards ceremony is that you get a chance to take stock of things,” she says. “Just when you see the list of nominations and then look at the big screen and see we’re making an impact. But having been nominated, to come back then with the crystal makes it special. And there was more crystal on our table than any of the others.”

Mark English, Ciaran Doherty and McDaid all picked up awards on the night, while Olympian Brendan Boyce was also nominated for an award.

English had a remarkable year in which he lowered the national junior 800m record to 1:45.77 in Oordegem in Belgium in May, which was only a sixth of a second, 0.17, off the Olympic A Standard. However, injury prevented English from having a another bite at the cherry but his tale still has some unwritten chapters to have penned.

The UCD student also finished fifth in a highly competitive 800m World Junior Championship final in Barcelona in July. The race was won by Botswana’s Nijel Amos, who would go onto finish in second place behind David Rudisha of Kenya at the Olympics in London. Another Kenyan, Timothy Kitum, was third in London and second in Barcelona, which showed the level at which the Letterkenny native had toed the line. English was the recipient of Junior Athlete of the Year, having also been nominated for Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

“Mark broke his own junior record and made an impact in the senior standings with his 1:45:77 in the 800m,” McDaid adds. “Overall, he had a good season but there was disappointment with the Olympics and it will probably haunt us till 2016.

“Even more so than the junior award, Mark’s nomination for track and field athlete was, personally I thought, even more impressive. There’s a recognition there of the standard of the world juniors that were followed up in the Olympics when the two guys that came first and second in the juniors were also featuring in the Olympic final.

“When you put down how much Mark missed out on, in context of distance, it’s barely even a stride. It was so close. He ran that race with such ease and I felt he could’ve ran a second faster had he got the opportunity. It was so unfortunate he picked up a hamstring injury at the time. He could’ve ran a second faster.

“But Mark has certainly got a very bright future ahead of him. I would describe him as someone who ticks a lot of the boxes. To be a successful athlete and a medallist at a major championship, you need to be talented, have ability, application, strength, tactical awareness and have a racing brain. He’s a very rounded young man.”

The Master of the Year award was presented to Doherty after claiming the gold medal at the World Indoor Masters Championships in the 3,000m in Jyväskylä back in April. Doherty’s success in Finland adds to his 3k steeplechase outdoor masters title in Sacramento. The Burtonport native was also second at the national seniors in July.

“From a club perspective, it’s a very interesting balance,” McDaid continues. “From the junior to the master – that reflects a lot what we’re about. Ciaran had a fantastic year. His occupation as a fisherman doesn’t always allow consistency of training and he can be away for a few days at a time.

“He has to adjust and sometimes even be a little inventive just as to where he has to train and how he trains. He has a treadmill on the boat and has a couple of different ports where he might just have a pier to run up and down. The race he won was done in Finland was in such a respectable time and then to show up so well and win a silver at the national seniors steeplechase added to his credibility.”

Although Boyce was not an award winner on the night, his nomination in the Race Walker of the Year category perhaps contained the hottest level of competition.

Cork’s Rob Heffernan was named as the Athlete of the Year after he had the walk of his life at the Olympics and his fourth place finish in the 50k walk was the standout performance by an Irish athlete at major championships this season. In the process Heffernan was also awarded the Race Walker of the Year Award.

Boyce also had a day to remember in London in August, having smashed his previous PB of 3:57:03 by setting a new time of 3:55:01 en route to finishing in 29th.

“It was the year of the walks so Brendan was in very good company,” McDaid adds. “The highlight of that, from my point of view, was to come out of the Olympic Games with a PB. That’s the true calibre of a person. Brendan had been at home in Donegal. We had a great evening in the club last week when he gave the kids a class in walking but he’s gone down now to Rob Heffernan so he can do some training and they’re both racing in Spain soon.”

Whilst glowing in her praise for the club’s athletes, McDaid was modest in her assessment of her own role, one that saw her named as Coach of the Year for the second successive season.

“I would like to think I’m a factor,” she says when looking at the overall club picture. “As a coach I’m dedicated in what I do and anything I go to do I try and do it well. Like any club, it’s important to fit all the pieces together. There’s good support from home and good support from the clubs.

“I’ve been allowed to develop myself as a coach and in turn to develop the athletes without pressure. It’s hard to put your finger on it. I’m involved with a Performance Excellence Programme with the Irish Institute of Sport for High Performance coaches and it was put to me there it would make a very worthwhile thesis.

“It’s down to a lot of factors. We’ve a very good culture at the club and have always produced athletes. We work hard at it and I am happy taking responsibility of athletes in their transition from juvenile to senior. We’ve done well in that for a last couple of years. We’ll just keep trying and look after them.”

Letterkenny Athletic Club showed up extremely well at the awards ceremony in Dublin and thanks to a coach like Teresa McDaid, some of the club’s excellent athletes continue to let their feet do the talking.