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THE LAST WORD: From Ballineen to the Bahamas, Phil Healy is still blazing a trail

May 12th, 2024 6:12 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Phil Healy takes the baton from Rhasidat Adeleke during the Irish women's 4x400m team's record-breaking run at the World Relays in the Bahamas. (Photo: Erik van Leeuwen/Sportsfile)

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AARON Tierney-Smith admits he’s a bit biased, but his belief that Phil Healy started the current resurgence of Irish women’s sprinting has a strong foundation.

Last weekend we saw the Ballineen Bullet shine on the world stage, again. On Saturday at the World Athletics Relays in the Bahamas, Healy ran the third leg for the Irish women’s 4x400m relay team that smashed the national record and also qualified for the Olympic Games this summer in Paris.

Ten years after she won her first national senior title – the 100m in July 2014 – Healy’s still performing on the main stage, and still taking Irish women’s sprinting to new heights.

From Ballineen to the Bahamas, her consistency needs to be highlighted. When Healy, who turned 20 in 2014, won her first senior national title ten years ago, Rhasidat Adeleke was just 11 years old. On Saturday night, the new superstar of Irish sprinting Adeleke handed the baton to Healy to run the third leg of their heat. In 2014, Sharlene Mawdsley was 15 years old and Sophie Becker was 16, and last weekend all four combined to produce a sensational time of 3:24.38 to win their heat and qualify the team for the Olympics.

Healy (16) has also won more national championships (indoors and outdoors) than Adeleke (4), Mawdsley (5) and Becker (6) combined, though Adeleke has been based in the US in recent years, and is on a trajectory to become the brightest of lights. Before her, Healy set the ball rolling.

‘I am a bit biased, but the whole resurgence of Irish sprinting started with Phil,’ says sprinter Aaron Tierney-Smith, who is part of Healy’s training group in Waterford. The Phil Healy Effect is very real.

She broke the Irish women’s 100m record in 2018, was the first Irish woman to break 23 seconds for the 200m, and was the first Irish woman in 40 years to hold both 100m and 200m records at the same time. She was also the first Irish female athlete to compete in three different disciplines at the Olympics (200m, 400m and 4x400m mixed relay at the Tokyo Games). The Bandon AC sprinter has competed in Olympic, World and European finals; her story is a remarkable one.

‘It had gone very stagnant, but then Phil broke the Irish women’s 100m record that hadn’t been touched in years. She qualified for majors, got to European finals, and there was no-one doing that for a long time,’ Tierney-Smith points out. 

‘I know we have Rhasidat (Adeleke) now doing amazing things, but Phil was the start of this, and it’s nice now that everyone who has come after Phil is on the team with her now and they have qualified for the Olympics.’

Phil Healy in action in the women's 4x400m relay heats during day one of the World Athletics Relays.
(Photo: Erik van Leeuwen/Sportsfile)

 

Tierney-Smith is right: Healy is a trailblazer. Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics this paper ran a story headlined ‘Why Phil is the queen of Irish sprinting’, highlighting the incredible impact that the girl who grew up on the family farm in Knockaneady, Enniskeane has had on Irish athletics and sport. 

Three years on, she’s still front page and back page news in her local newspaper, still putting her family genes to good use, taking those fast-twitch fibres from her dad (his side of the family were known as ‘the reathaí’, Irish for runners) and the endurance from her mom. Still producing the goods, despite the hurdles this speedster has had to jump.

Healy has made no secret of her struggles in 2022 and ’23. She hit a slump, traced back to a thyroid issue, Hashimoto’s disease, but now that’s under control, she’s back and has her game-face on. Healy snaffled up her 16th national senior title at the Irish indoors in February, was on the Irish women’s relay 4x400 team that finished fifth at the European Indoors in March, and now helped qualify that Irish women’s team for the Paris Olympics.

‘I think she was always destined to get back to this level,’ Tierney-Smith states.

‘Every athlete will have a blip, whether it’s an injury or sickness, but she took it in her stride, rolled with the punches and it’s paying off now. She’s back, and probably in better shape than she ever was. I am excited to see her running individual now because I feel she will drop a very good time.

‘I don’t think a lot of people would have come back like she has and contribute so much. It speaks a lot about her as a person and an athlete.’

There are so many pieces to the Healy jigsaw. Her DNA. Her attention to detail and professional approach, as Tierney-Smith explains, ‘Phil does all the simple, boring things that you need to do if you want to be successful.’ Her drive. The refusal to be beaten: think back to the 2021 national 200m final when Healy beat Adeleke by one hundredth of a second as she refused to relinquish her throne without a fight. Her stubbornness – older sister Joan, also a top-class sprinter, told us before that Phil just doesn’t give up, once she has a target she won’t stop until she reaches.

The Irish women's relay team of Sophie Becker, Rhasidat Adeleke, Phil Healy and Sharlene Mawdsley celebrate qualifying for the Olympics.

 

Becoming a two-time Olympian is a target, and Healy took a giant stride closer to that goal last weekend. She’s also part of the Irish mixed 4x400m relay team that qualified for Paris, and given that Adeleke is expected to focus on her individual 400m at the Olympics, Healy could have a busy summer ahead. That’s just how she likes, consistently performing at European and World events year after year.

In the summer of 2021 Bandon Co-Op produced Ballineen Bullet tee-shirts to honour their local woman in an Olympics, and a second batch of the must-have fashion accessory in West Cork should be on the cards for the summer ahead. If anything, it’s a reminder of how far Healy has come. 

Her legacy will endure, how she put Irish women’s sprinting on the front page of newspapers year after year, paving the way for the likes of Adeleke (21) and Mawdsley (25), but don’t expect Healy to move out of their way without a fight. She’s rolling up her sleeves once more. 

Her coach Shane McCormack said before ‘It’s that drive she has, what’s behind her exterior’. Aaron Tierney-Smith sees it at every training session. Healy’s ready to shine, again, and on the biggest of stages.

 

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