The start of the wave?

After a seismic achievement for former UCD student Ciara Mageean, Andrew Dempsey has a look at what may come next for Irish Athletics in the wake of the Doha World Championships.

Incredible. Outrageous. Unprecedented. They are just some of the words that have been used to describe Ciara Mageean and her phenomenal display at the World Athletic Championships in Doha earlier this month. A former UCD student and prodigy of the UCD Athletics Club, Mageean surprised many with her gallant showing in the final of the 1500 metres final, setting a personal best time of 4:00.15, just a mere nine seconds off eventual winner Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, who clocked a championship-record time of 3:51.36.

In truth, it was a superb result for Mageean who became only the second Irishwoman in history to reach the final of the 1500m World Championships final – with a certain Sonia O’Sullivan being the only other to achieve that feat. As she told RTÉ Sport after the race, the Down native was overjoyed with her performance in the sweltering Qatar heat; “I’m absolutely over the moon. I said I’d come in and throw the kitchen sink at it. I did, that pace went out hard. I know there’s girls out there who have ran 3.56 – I’m just not there yet. But whenever the pace went, I said ‘Ciara don’t get disheartened. You’re at the back of the field but that’s OK.

“I came into this competition ranked probably 14th or 16th and came 10th in the world. That’s not a bad place to be for a wee girl from Portaferry. I’m delighted, it shows me that I’ve a lot of work to do to be where I want to be. First place is my goal in life and I’m going to work super hard over the next while to close that gap.”

A recent graduate of Physiotherapy in UCD, the 27-year-old continued; “Coming down that last home straight, I was hurting. And it’s very hard whenever you know you’re at the back of the field. Sometimes your mind can go. I did everything I could to catch the Ugandan girl and listen, 10th in the world – I put the swan on a lead and I tried my best to keep hold of it! I ran out and ran 4.01 in a split of a mile over in Monaco and it just showed me where I can be. Give me another race and I could run sub-four but it’s October. I’m ready for a break, I’m going to fly into Dublin, watch the girls play football in Tallaght. I can’t wait! I’ll see my boyfriend, see my family and then the hard work starts again.

“I want to say a huge thank you to everybody out in the crowd. I saw the tricolours and the Down jerseys. It’s an absolute credit and I’m so grateful for that. I see the messages coming through and it really means so much, it gives you a lift. I think everyone can see I’m a different athlete now, it’s clear to see how much I’m enjoying it. I’m grateful to be able to wear this vest, to be able to represent my country, my hometown, my county and my team in Manchester.”

Clearly overjoyed by it all, many questions have emerged in the midst of Mageean’s achievement – with one of the most pressing being, where can we go from here? Are we on the crest of a wave in Irish Athletics once more? Who knows really, especially given the disappointment regarding both Thomas Barr and Mark English in their respective events. English, a fellow former UCD student came seventh out of an eight man field in his semi-final heat with a 1:47.25 time – which was ultimately not enough in his 800m speciality.

While English’ performance and subsequent time did not come as a surprise to many of those who would keep a firmly fixated eye on Irish Athletics, there will undoubtedly be a feeling of who knows what comes next for the Donegal native – a previous psychology student and recent physiotherapy graduate. English will be 27 by the time Tokyo 2020 comes around, and he will be 31 come Paris 2024 so this could, in theory be his last shot at glory on the Olympic stage, and to produce another performance on the world stage that many believe he is capable of showcasing. But, what better way would it be to do this on the greatest stage of all next summer.

However, Tokyo is still quite a long distance (pardon the pun) away, that much is clear. There is plenty of time for form to be won and lost, injuries to be picked up and shrugged off, and a scandal or two to emerge before the serious business kicks off in Japan next summer. Perhaps it is slightly premature to make any assertion as to what Doha achieved for Irish Athletics. It was definitely a step in the right direction however, that must be accepted, but will it have as much of an impact as the Olympics will have? 

Probably not, but that’s the question we will all love to find out the answer to. As for now – Doha needs to be seen as a stepping stone, a platform even, for greater hopes and dreams to be realised in the coming years, one can hope.