Many Irish athletics fans wonder just why Ciara Mageean, having reached the qualifying standards, was omitted from the Irish team for the forthcoming European Indoor championships in Paris. True she finished second to Mary Cullen in last weekend’s finals at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast.
The ‘future Sonia O’Sullivan’ – a nickname which will always make the young Irish athlete blush - quickly cleared up the mystery behind her ‘disappointing’ display in the Irish Indoors at the Odyssey at the weekend. That was quickly followed by the 18-year-old’s withdrawal from the Ireland squad for next month’s European Indoors in Paris.
The Portaferry girl has had a strength-sapping season — including the Commonwealth Games in India — which appeared to catch up with her at the Odyssey when she could only finish third in the 1500m.
“I want to take a step back and re-charge,” revealed City of Lisburn AC’s Mageean talking with “ The Belfast Telegraph” , then explaining that she felt the European Indoors was not the way forward for her.
“I don’t think it would be the best decision right now for my long term athletics future.It would be fantastic in terms of experience, but my main aim this season is the European Juniors in the summer”.
“So in the long run I think it’s better that I take a step back and re-charge the batteries and be ready for the outdoor season.
“The European Juniors (in Estonia in July) is the big goal for the whole year. My main target is always the outdoor track season.
“I discussed the European Indoors with my coach Eamonn Christie. It was something I had wanted to do, but sometimes you have to reassess things and work out what is best for yourself and your long term athletic career.
“It would be fantastic to go and get that experience, but we just felt it would be best to take a bit of a rest and get ready for the outdoor season.”
Ciara agrees that her main focus is still the London 2012 Olympics.
“Definitely, without a shadow of a doubt. It’s always there. That’s my long-term goal,” she said.
“I’m keeping my eye on the Olympics, keeping my eye on the qualifying standard. Hopefully I will achieve the standard.”
Had the long season in 2010/11 been a very demanding one for such a young athlete? Here is what she had to say on that subject to the Belfast Telegraph athletics correspondent:
“It’s been a busy season and was a pretty late track season as well. Then it was straight into cross country and then the indoors after that.
“My legs just tied up at the Odyssey, but the other girls ran fantastic races. I’m not looking for excuses — they ran better than me.“The girls ran brilliantly and really kicked at the end.
“My training had been going well and I felt in good shape.
“So I felt disappointed with my finish — I don’t understand why I tied up.
“It’s something I will have to look at with my coach.
“I’m going to rest now for about a week and then get back into hard training.
“It will be quite hard not going out for a run in the week ahead. I will have to be disciplined and not go for a sneaky run!” she laughed.
“But rest is as important in athletics — as it is in other sports — as going out and training.
“So you have to welcome rest — it is just as important as any other aspect of training.
“When your body needs it, your body needs it.”
As we reported here on SportsNewsIreland at the weekend, the World Junior silver medallist faded to third in the 1500 metres behind Sligo’s Mary Cullen herself making a welcome return to top form following a series of injuries.
Coach Christie explained that following discussions with both Mageean and Irish officials it was agreed it wasn’t in the interests of the athlete or the team to include her in the squad for Paris.
On Mageean’s Odyssey performance, Christietold the’Belfast Telegraph’ : “Ciara is only 18 and we just put this down to a bad day at the office.
“She remains very positive and will bounce back from this.”
Mageean recently secured the most lucrative sponsorship deal in the history of Irish junior athletics- She was snapped up by American sportswear giants New Balance in a six-figure deal which will run for three years, with the option of a fourth.
The agreement will provide the County Down teenager with flights to and from all competitions, warm weather training and all training gear. The deal ended speculation that the 18-year-old would take up the offer of an NCAA colleges sponsorship deal in the USA. An outstanding Junior runner, eighteen year-old Mageean is one of the most promising young middle distance athletes in the world.
“I’m very excited to start competing for Team New Balance,” says Ciara. “I feel that I share many of the same values and philosophies as the New Balance brand and after talking to several Team New Balance athletes, including Jenny Barringer Simpson and Andy Baddeley at November’s NYC marathon, I’m excited to race for a brand that has embraced me like a supportive family.
Coach Eamonn Christie told Athletics Northern Ireland : “I am delighted that such a major sports manufacturer has come on board. This deal is the last piece of the jigsaw that will enable Ciara and myself to go to the next level. It is great that the New Balance deal still gives us total control of coaching plans and race plans“.
“We are thrilled to have Ciara join Team New Balance,” says John Evans, sports marketing manager at New Balance. “We are always looking for the top domestic and international talent to represent the brand and Ciara’s passion, energy, talent, and dedication to the sport make her a valuable addition to the team.”
In joining Team New Balance, Mageean turned down numerous NCAA college scholarships and other shoe company offers, following a brilliant 2010 season.
In 2010, Mageean took the silver medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Canada in the 1500m – the only non-African born athlete (male or female) to medal in a distance 1500m or longer in Moncton. In October she finished 10th in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India.
She is the Irish Junior record holder in the 800m (2:03.07) and 1500m (4:09.51) breaking records previously held by Irish Olympic silver medallist and world champion Sonia O’Sullivan.
Despite her prowess on track and in cross-country, Ciara s first competitive sport was Camogie for her club Portaferry where she flourished in under-age teams,and was selected on the 2010 Ulster Colleges All Stars team .
Ciara’s Dad , Chris “Hunter” Mageean , was a regular for Down and Ulster hurling sides for over a decade, scoring the winning point against Kilkenny at Nowlan Park in 1993, a never to be forgotten day when the Down men beat a Kilkenny side at the home of Kilkenny hurling with 12 of their All- Ireland winning team on board, and packed them off to Division Two.
Ms Mageean’s Aunt , Edel Mason also represented Ulster at Camogie as well as being a dominant player for both Down and then Antrim for over a decade. Growing up in Portaferry in the Ards Peninsula, following in the footsteps of father Chris , young Ciara was one of the best Camogie players in Down and that was her first love. Pucking a ball around the local hurling field with her sister every day and later , when she started running, pounding lap after lonely lap around the same muddy field.
She has come a long way since – and hopefully her best is yet to come.Though the very mention of O’Sullivan makes Mageean blush, there seems little doubt but that that comparison is something she will have to learn to live with in future for as she progresses from Junior to Senior ranks she will surely become the great hope of Irish athletics for years to come. And of course she will be in good company IF she qualifies for London 2012 for Ireland’s Chef de Mission is none other than Sonia O’Sullivan.