Derval O’Rourke’s stunning silver medal in the 100m hurdles at the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona should have had John Foley — the former Waterford Crystal boss who’s now chief executive of Athletics Ireland — breathing a sizeable sigh of relief.
However, the Cork woman’s stinging criticisms of what she sees as the AAI’s failure to properly support our athletes indicates that the perennial problems within Irish track and field remain unresolved.
While she’s “happy with my own team… I’m not necessarily happy with where ‘high performance sport’ is in athletics,” she revealed on her return, adding “if you don’t paddle your own canoe in Irish athletics, you’re going nowhere and that’s a little bit sad.”
Referring to the High Court case taken by former AAI chief Mary Coghlan that cost the cash-strapped governing body nearly €400,000 in legal fees — money that could have been much better spent — O’Rourke said: “It’s been a bad year but I don’t think athletes are the problem… high-performance plans keep coming out and are not followed through on.”
Indeed, she’s perturbed that the AAI’s latest blueprint is primarily focused on Rio, the Olympics after the London Games. “I find it difficult hearing about 2016,” the 29-year-old admits. “I think it’s somewhat disrespectful to the current crop of athletes who are doing very well. Give us some support for 2012 and recognise that AAI are lucky to have the athletes they have now.”
Sports Minister Mary Hanafin said this week that with the lands at Abbotstown still available, a national indoor track remains “a possibility” — it’s just finding the right time (and money). Well, might there not be a better time that when the construction industry is on its knees? Yet, not one of the proposed training centres have even been tendered for yet when construction prices are at rock bottom.
As O’Rourke observes, “Wanting an indoor facility seems to be too big an ask, wanting systems and structures in place seems to be too big an ask, but I think it’s unfair to criticise athletes this week because there’s deeper problems. We are in a situation where we pay high-performance consultants’ fees and we pay high-performance managers but we don’t pay coaches. That is very strange to me.”
O’Rourke, who stressed “I love putting on the Irish kit and going out there and running my absolute best”, is in a position to call it straight. Others feel they can’t for fear of being branded ‘sore losers’.
Stoutly defending a “gutted” David Gillick’s disappointing fifth-place showing in Spain, she said: “We have a 44.77-second 400m runner and it is so Irish to criticise him.
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