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Mageean: Irish Times Sportswoman of the Month

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from Athletics Northern Ireland Back in July, Derval O’Rourke’s silver medal-winning performance in the 100-metre hurdles at the European Championships captured, understandably enough, the bulk of the sporting headlines.
In the same month, though, another Irish athlete was confirming her potential with an exceptional run at the World Junior Championships in Canada, 18-year-old Ciara Mageean’s 1,500 metres silver the first track medal won by an Irish athlete at the event.

It’s months of that nature that are the stuff of nightmares for judging panels, O’Rourke’s achievement clinching her the July award, but Mageean’s absence from the list of 2010 winners making it look less than complete.

Come October, though, the runner from Portaferry, Co Down, gave another glimpse of that potential when she reached the final of the 1,500 metres at the Commonwealth Games, her first major senior championship.

“She was disappointed with finishing 10th,” said her coach, Eamonn Christie, “but she didn’t seem to realise what she was up against – a world class field that included the Olympic champion, Nancy Langat, who won the race.

“She ran 4.12 and 4.10 back to back, in less than 24 hours, so I couldn’t have been happier with her. It was a big step up, which she acknowledged when she got back home and thought about it. She always wants to win, though, that’s her way.”

Christie, a former distance runner, has worked with Mageean since she was 12, the Lisburn AC coach recalling her first race under his tutelage.

“It was about three months after I started coaching her, it was in Tullamore, the 1,500 metres at under-15 level. Herself and another girl were well ahead of the rest, but I thought Ciara would finish second. Then with 300 metres to go she took off and won the race. My jaw hit the ground, I just thought ‘Oh, my God’. Now? She’s one of the most exceptional young athletes in the world.”

Committed, too. This week she had a well-earned break in New York, but still squeezed in a couple of half-hour runs in Central Park, said Christie. “And she was studying for her A levels this year, then heading out at 9.30 at night in the snow and the rain to go training.

“She gives it everything, always has. She got two A stars and an A , so she’s a bright girl too. She’ll decide on what college she’ll go to next year, but she’s been putting all her focus on running since her exams.”

That focus paid off beautifully in Canada where she knocked nearly six seconds off her Irish junior record, running 4:09.5 on her way to silver behind Ethiopia’s Tizita Bogale (4:08.06). “Unreal,” said Christie, “the best four minutes, nine seconds of my career, as a runner or coach.” The time was the eighth fastest ever run by an Irishwoman – and Mageean, remember, is just 18.

It wasn’t, though, the only medal Mageean won this year. Between the World Junior Championships and the Commonwealth Games she captained Portaferry’s minor camogie team to victory in the Down County Championships, beating old rivals Ballycran.

“And she scored something like 1-3 from defence,” said Christie. After the final, though, she told her team-mates it would be her last camogie match, for a while at least.

“Hurling and camogie are in the family blood,” said Christie, “Ciara’s father Chris played for Down. But she knew she had to put her focus on her running, and really couldn’t risk picking up an injury. Camogie was good for her, though, running can be a lonely business so she enjoyed being involved with a team.”

Next in the schedule for Mageean are the European Cross-Countries in Portugal next month, while 2011’s major event will be the European Junior Championships in Estonia in June, her last international track championship at junior level.

After that? “We’ll see,” said Christie. “If she has a good, injury-free summer then London 2012 is a realistic target. It would be a great experience for her, she’d only be 20 so wouldn’t go in to the Games with too much pressure on her.

“Longer term Rio 2016 is the big goal, but that’s a fair way away yet. For now she just has to keep doing what she’s doing.”

Winners so far…

January : Aoife Hoey and Claire Bergin (Bobsleigh); February : Jessica Kurten (Equestrian); March : Katie Walsh (Horse racing); April : Dora Gorman (Soccer); May : Valerie Mulcahy (Gaelic football); June : Danielle McVeigh (Golf); July : Derval O’Rourke (Athletics); August : Gráinne Murphy (Swimming) and Madeline Perry (Squash); September : Katie Taylor (Boxing).