Ruairi Finnegan has been making giant strides of late and the Letterkenny Athletic Club teenager’s progression reaches its highest point to date with his participation in the IAAF World Youth Championship in the French city of Lille this week.
The 16-year-old is part of the sevenstrong Irish party taking part in the event in France with Bernie Alcorn from Finn Valley Athletic club also making the trip in her role as team manager. It marks the start of an exciting month for Finnegan, who will also be taking part in the European Youth Olympics in Turkey from July 24-30. “It’s the biggest event of my career so far and will certainly be a new experience as I have never competed in a major championships outside of the country, “ Finnegan said before travelling to France on Sunday.
“I made the standard for competing in Lille a few months ago but since the standard will be so high in France I will probably have to run a PB to make the final. My PB at the minute is 3:51.88 but to qualify I would need something like 3:48 but I think it’s well within me.
“The fact I have four days recovery, if I do make it through, means that I can go out in the heat and absolutely race it and go as fast as I can. If all goes well, the four days will stand me in good stead. There will be Africans in the race and they will going off at a great pace, running something in the region of 3:43. I really just want to sit in and do enough to make it to the final.”
The St Eunan’s College student, who has just completed Transition Year, has form on his side. Last month, he won the 1,500m at the Irish schools Tailtann Games at Tullamore Harriers in Offaly. It was a race to savour with Shane Fitzsimons from St Joseph’s Rochfortbridge setting a strong pace from the start, closely tracked by Finnegan and Patrick Monaghan from St Colman’s Newry.
Fitsimmons led at the bell, but 100 metres later it was Finnegan who charged into the lead, but did not drop his rival, who powered into the lead again with 150 metres to go. Finnegan dug deep and his effort again brought him into the lead and he held it to the line for a god win.
His winning time of 3:54.8 was a new Tailteann record, bettering Davy Wilson’s 1985 time of 3:56.9 in what was widely acclaimed as the race of the day. “I broke the All-Ireland schools’ record in Tullamore and at the minute, I suppose that’s the highlight for me but hopefully I can add to that with a good showing in Lille.” Finnegan played U-14 football for St Eunan’s in Letterkenny and was also a member of the Glencar Schoolboys side and played with Donegal in the Kennedy Cup at University of Limerick in 2008. It was after that competition he decided to concentrate his efforts on athletics.
Finnegan’s development is just the latest in the production line coming out of the athletic club in Letterkenny. Mark English and Darren McBrearty are two stars in the making, while Daniel Mooney is another prominent club member “Darren and Mark have both qualified for their Europeans as well. Mark will be in Tallinn in Estonia and then Darren will take part in Ostrava in the Czech Republic and they are flying the flag for Irish middle-distance athletics at the minute.
Everyone is looking up to them as big contenders for the Olympics in 2012 and 2016. It’s class to be training with them. Daniel, too, is always helping me out and is supportive. “The lads are always giving me advice about running, Darren especially so as he runs the 1,500m as well but Mark shares plenty about the 800m. We all get on pretty well. Mark has just completed his Leaving Certificate and I’ve spent a good bit of time with him since he finished up. The day he finished up we went for coffee, to the cinema and played a game of tennis.”
The competition in Lille is expected to be white hot, but thankfully for Finnegan, the temperature on Thursday morning when he takes part in the heat, are not. A good showing will be enough to seal a berth in the final on Sunday. “I was looking at the weather in Lille and on Thursday morning it’s predicted to be 19 degrees Celsius, which is pretty much as it is here, “ he continues.
“I’m trying to do as much as I can to prepare mentally so I don’t land over there and wonder what I am doing there. It’ll be something new and I will get to attend the stadium in Lille on Wednesday to soak up the atmosphere and see what I can expect on Thursday. “It’s about focusing on the event and not panicking. I can’t wait and everything is well prepared and it’s just a matter of getting over there now and hopefully getting the job done.” Finnegan’s race will be screened live on Eurosport at 10.15am on Thursday.