State of the Nation podcast (part one): what Irish athletics is missing

Irish athletics is changing, but is it for the better? That’s one of many questions posed in this two-part podcast, recently recorded with Irish elites David Campbell and Ciarán Ó Lionáird and edited by Ronan Duggan. 

In the first part, Campbell and Ó Lionáird discuss what they feel Irish athletics is missing, and why they believe athletes need to take a risk and invest in themselves to make a big breakthrough.

“Buying a house is a huge debt you put on yourself, but people who go to medical school put themselves in 200,000 of debt,” says Ó Lionáird. “If you want to be successful, you have to be willing to take that bet on yourself. You’ll never get any big payoff without pushing all your chips in. Dave said he was going to do it or going to quit and I don’t see that in a lot of other athletes.”

Risk and Reward

Campbell, meanwhile, tells the story of how he transformed himself from a “booze hound” into a 1:45 800m athlete, while also discussing the lifestyle factors needed for athletes to reach their potential.

“I saw it as the complete opposite [to a risk],” he says. “All my friends were finishing off their degrees and settling down to 9-5s and buying houses and that was a scary-as-hell thought, so I got myself as far away from that as I could.

“I would have been 21, 22 and reached a crossroads: never to run again or give it a go. I wanted to be an Olympian and I gave myself that target. I was living at home in Maynooth and a bit of a booze hound. I saw the best environment in the country, DCU, then I saw the next opportunity, sold off my car and moved to South Africa, and after one year I met Nic Bideau. Once I went there it was all about leaders; Sonia was the leader and Craig Mottram and Benita Willis learned from her.”

JumpingTheGun founder Feidhlim Kelly joins the debate, noting the attitude displayed by champion Irish athletes such as Catherina McKiernan seems to be lacking in many current athletes. “You have to learn how to be an athlete and a lot of people don’t get that,” he says. “It’s not just about the training. How many Irish athletes are going to bed tonight able to say they did everything right? I don’t think there’s that many who can say they can.”

The panel also discuss the common traits they noticed among high-performance systems, and athletes, in the various setups they experienced around the world, and why for them, sport requires a different approach to that taken by the masses.

“Running for me is getting to that peak level and if I can’t do that I don’t want to be hanging around,” says Ó Lionáird.  “That’s a trait a lot of top athletes have: if they’re not going to be successful in athletics, they will in something else.”


The senior men's race at the 2017 IAAF World Cross Country in Kampala, Uganda (Roger Sedres for IAAF)
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Dual stars: David Campbell (left) winning the national senior 800m title in 2007 and Ciarán Ó Lionáird (right) taking victory at the Boston Indoor Grand Prix in 2012. Images: Kieran Carlin & PhotoRun
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Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy is a freelance journalist, a once-serious, now-retired athlete who writes for a number of international publications in the running industry. He previously worked for the Sunday Tribune, Irish Runner magazine and has written for the Sunday Independent, Irish Independent, Irish Examiner and the Guardian. He is also a regular contributor to Runner's World.
His banter levels are often poor, occasionally exceptional.

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