Athletics doesn’t usually make the back nor front page. According to many athletics aficionado’s when athletics does makes any page is a shock.
This week’s lead Longford Leader story featuring Longford A.C’s Nelvin Appiah clearing the high jump at the national junior indoor championships caught the eye.
It wasn’t so much that athletics made the front page, but the stunning photograph caught by Sportsfile’s Sam Barnes which drew my eye through the newspaper front pages.
Longford for so many years was seen as a black spot in the country’s athletics landscape. There was the majestic Ray Flynn, one of just 50 men to break three minute 50 second mark for the mile.
Unlike their neighbours Cavan who spawned Caitriona McKiernan and Leitrim who are easily Ireland’s most successful county for producing high class athlete’s per capita, Longford was a barren landscape.
While Cian McPhillips smashed an Irish junior 1500 metre record when he won gold in 3:45.77 and the intriguing silver medal for high jumper Nelvin Appiah, just shy of two metres and Yemi Talabi Junior Women’s Long Jump silver, suddenly athletics is shining bright in the county.
It is fantastic to see, especially when local athlete’s write national headlines, credit is deserved to the Fenelon family and the Longford marathon, the spark that relit Longford’s running fame.
So back in 2001 when Liam Fenelon decided to honour his 100th marathon with some local encouragement, deciding to do the honours with a special Longford marathon.
What began as a one off, turned into an annual event and into a diary marker for people from across the country and oversees.
What it spurred back into action was the Longford people’s love of the sport. 18-years after Fenelon launched that marathon, Longford had their own national junior record holder.
The spark re-ignited passions for athletics that has seen new races, parkruns and national medals.
Cian McPhillips (Longford AC) runs a new CBP in the Junior men’s 1500m in a time of 3.54.77 breaking Kevin Walker’s record set in 1996! @irishlifehealth Junior & U23’s in @AthloneIT pic.twitter.com/Rvo6qZdbut
— Athletics Ireland (@irishathletics) January 27, 2019
Longford athletics itself wasn’t helped by the governing body, in its various forms, it is hard to understand why Longford County is assigned to Connacht under Athletics Ireland rules, where their natural home lies in the provincial championships of Leinster.
Although those bizarre decisions should be consigned to the past and Longford should move into their native Leinster home, the bizarreness from Athletics Ireland still reigns.
Two posts on their website this month alone, highlight how out of touch elements of the association are with its grass roots.
The first a “brief history of Lusk A.C” a county Dublin club, who faced challenges similar to Longford in the 1980’s and 90’s, where population and sporting development where serious challenges.
The brief un-by-lined history of Lusk highlighted the founding of the club in 1975 and it’s floundering in the 90’s, its next stop within its second paragraph,
“All aspects of Sport suffered from the lack of Volunteers during that period. But in the early 2000s, Sport was putting structures in place to protect children and adults, and Sports science had emerged as a new way of thinking about performance and development”
Athletics Ireland PR department obviously taking their que from the Sky Sports and Manchester United supporters mantra that soccer only began in 1992 when the Premier League was formed.
Seemingly eradicating from the history books, the good work done in founding the club and sucking up to the progress made by the governance models cascaded by Athletics Ireland.
The second madness was Athletics Ireland statement targeting 300,000 viewers of their own, mainly under-age and school events that are streamed over their facebook page.
Athletics Ireland claim that 90,000 people tuned into their technically poor production of the national indoor senior championships via facebook. When the “Live Watchers” button rarely found 300 views.
It’s very easy to throw crazy un-audited numbers into the air, especially when there is limited to zero appetite from any of the national TV broadcasters to carry their championship.
Athletics as a sport, similar to GAA in many ways and the local community that binds it together and work at grass roots keeps it alive.
While the blue and gold Longford A.C singlets will make more and more of an impact nationally, spurred on by the spark which restarted the club, Longford A.C itself has not forgotten its history.
The club accepting Ray Flynn’s old school trophies and re-commissioning them as the renamed “Ray Flynn Trophy” for various county competitions.
Longford athletics is set to become something big, but already it has remembered its roots.