WITH the vast array of events under its sport, athletics has been the sport with the greatest challenge since Covid-19 began its devastating spread.
‘Athletics’ covers track and field, road running, cross country running, and racewalking.
Within the track and field folder alone, there are 44 separate events at Olympic level.
Picture: Dermot McGranaghan watches on at hurdler Joseph Gillespie of Finn Valley Athletic Club during a training session at the Finn Valley Centre. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Athletics clubs have had to be inventive to keep the athletes from the various interested, engaged and active through the lockdown.
From tomorrow, athletes are once again permitted to return to their clubs and Donegal-based Regional Development Officer Dermot McGranaghan can feel the fires burning in these parts.
While there have been concerns raised in many quarters about a possible decrease in participation, McGranaghan believes that absence may well have made athletic hearts grow fonder.
“We could gain,” the Finn Valley AC coach says.
“There has been a lot of talk about less participation, but with how it has all been managed I think it could go the other way.
“Donegal has been one of the top areas as far as being ready for a return and leading things out. That’s been clear to see and it’s great to see that in Donegal.
“Athletes are just itching to get back and I do think that we will see an increased involvement.
“People can see it’s a great environment and an enjoyable environment – and that’s key.”
The reformed Killybegs AC and the newly-created Letterkenny Running Club take to 12 the number of clubs under the umbrella of the Donegal Athletics Board.
McGranaghan notes the recent assistance from Myles Sweeney of the Donegal Sports Partnership in providing coach education.
“Things will grow with every club working together,” he says.
“As the RDO, I know Donegal’s future is bright. I’m excited for the return given how we have rolled out and engaged with everything since the action shut down.”
A forum between coaches recently saw positive and novel discussions with regard to the long-awaited return of competitions.
While that remains a little unclear, McGranaghan is optimistic for the end of June.
“Mark Connolly, the juvenile affairs officer, has drawn up a system of triangular meets, where three clubs would meet at one venue,” he explains.
“It’s a great concept. So, there would be smaller meets, likely in a regionalised format.”
McGranaghan is keen to stress that such meets would involve multi-events – ‘We’re not all runners.” – and these would be conditional on restrictions being further eased.
A new committee under chairperson Michael Galvin has given the sport something of a lift, with the likes of Connolly, Michael Logue and Patrick Galvin also to the forefront.
Before Christmas, McGranaghan introduced a novel virtual challenge that took off better than he ever imagined.
Over 500 young athletes from across his area – which takes in Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, Sligo and Leitrim – took part.
Clubs set up 500m courses and results were submitted with individual and team awards.
The challenge was adopted by Athletics Ireland on a national level in February.
McGranaghan says: “Donegal has stepped up and engaged with the virtual challenge and other exciting things to keep athletes and coaches involved during the lockdown.
“Donegal has been one of the top areas for engagement – and that’s something that really excites and encourages everyone involved in the running of the sport.”
One of his own athletes, Killygordon teenager Daniella Jansen, was confirmed on the Irish Under-20 squad. Jansen is working towards the World Under-20 Athletics Championships, pencilled in for August in Nairobi.
Tomorrow, athletes from across the county will return to their respective facilities and McGranahan has urged clubs to be ready, but calm.
“We want our clubs to have their protocols in place, their questionnaires and screening forms – be prepared,” the Castlefin man says.
“Also, don’t panic about getting fit and be mindful that the athletes have been out for so long. There is loads of time. The key to making it a successful return will be getting a fun environment again.
“The competitions will come in time – and that time will be welcomed by all of us.”
On all fronts, as he gazes across the vast expanses of the Finn Valley complex, normality feels a little bit closer.Tags: