THERE was a homecoming in Glengarriff for their local hero Darragh McElhinney on Wednesday night. His hard-won bronze medal from the U20 European Championships in Sweden last Sunday was there too, but Darragh was the person everyone wanted to see.
He’s the local lad that’s putting Glengarriff on the map and whose unquestionable talent has established him as one of Ireland’s top young athletes.
Darragh’s exploits at the U20 Europeans last weekend saw him become only the third Irishman ever to win a 5000m medal at these championships.
That’s a unique club that includes John Treacy’s silver medal in 1975 and Mark Carroll’s gold in 1991. That’s lofty company for the 18-year-old West Cork athlete.
Darragh had gone into his last U20 Europeans as the gold medal favourite and with the fastest 3000m and 5000m times in Europe this year, but they are no guarantee of success. He held high expectations himself and was eager to sign off on his junior days with a gold.
The Bantry AC athlete hit the front in the 5000m final with one kilometre to run and on the last lap he was passed out by the winner, Spain’s Aaron Las Heras, who ran a PB time of 14:02.76, and Turkey’s Ayetullah Aslanhan who won silver with a PB of 14:05.01. Darragh was third in 14:06.05, 12 seconds slower than his PB he ran in May.
Speaking straight after the race Darragh said: ‘I am disappointed, it is a bit of an anti-climax. At the start of the year, I wrote down my goals and I wanted to get a European medal. I have achieved that.
‘I think the way the season has played out and the form I have been in for the last few months, my goal was to try and win it. When you know with 200 to go that you’re not going to win it, it’s hard to keep on plugging away.
‘I'm happy to at least have got a bronze and bring something home for Ireland.’
Spanish athlete Las Heras passed Darragh out at the bell for the last lap and then Aslanhan moved into the silver medal position coming down the home straight, and Darragh had to battle then to hold on to third place.
‘I just got a bit excited with a kilometre to go. I was feeling controlled throughout the race. I felt okay until about 600 metres to go, my legs felt like they would with 200 metres to go,’ Darragh explained.
‘When Aaron, the Spanish guy, overtook me at the bell, I said this was my chance, sit in behind and just follow him. I just didn't have the legs for it today.
‘Initially, I was disappointed because I did come here looking for gold, I'm not going to act like I wasn't. With 100 metres to go, I was telling myself not to sulk and just make sure of the bronze. At least I did that because there was a fella coming for me.’
Darragh added: ‘To be brutally honest, I didn’t have the adrenaline. If I was in a gold and silver battle, sometimes the adrenaline would push you on. Genuinely, I was deflated with 100 metres to go. It was a mental battle to say, 'Come on, pick it up' because I was annoyed. At the start of the year I would have taken this but it is a bit of an anti-climax.’
While he couldn’t hide his disappointment after the race, in the days and weeks to come the magnitude of winning a European U20 medal will sink in. It’s another step in the right direction, another experience to learn from and another indicator that Darragh has a big future ahead of him. Expect to see Glengarriff in a lot more headlines in years to come.