IT’S little wonder that Darragh McElhinney has an extra pep in his step this week – he is a national senior champion for the first time in his career.
The Glengarriff teenager (19) was one of the big success stories at the first weekend of the Irish Life Health National Track and Field Championships in Dublin, as he stormed to a sensational gold medal in the men’s 5000m.
Having emerged from the junior ranks as the best young middle-distance runner in Ireland, he has made an instant impact in his first season at senior level.
At the Irish indoor championships earlier in the year McElhinney finished third in the men’s 3000m final with John Travers winning gold. That was the West Cork teen’s first time competing as a senior. Last Sunday was his second time running at senior level, and his first outdoor senior championships, and he raced to glory, out-sprinting John Travers down the home straight to win in 13 minutes 56 seconds.
‘When I raced in the indoor 3000m and came third, John won that race. That day I sat in for 2,500 metres and with 500 to go I hit the front, but he made the last kick with 200 to go,’ McElhinney explained.
‘Basically, my coach and myself said that we weren’t going to make the same mistake this time and I was going to leave it as late as I could. I think too that every lap that John, who was at the front, couldn’t shake me probably hurt his confidence but grew mine. I was trying to hold on for as long as I could and thankfully I had a good bit of energy left for the finish to push on.’
McElhinney, the former Bantry AC runner now competing in UCD AC colours (he’s in college in Dublin), made his move with 200 metres to go, bursting past race favourite Travers and led down the home straight.
‘The final 80 metres was the perfect balance of being exhilarated and being in pain at the same time,’ McElhinney said.
‘The wind was pretty strong so when I came around the final bend, after 4,900 metres at a pace that was outside my PB pace, I was hurting and you’re just staring at the line. I knew John was behind me but I was hoping and hoping that he wouldn’t come up behind me. I could sense that he wasn’t right behind me with 20, 30 metres to go, and I was able to relax for the last 20 metres.
‘For that 80 metres after turning the bend it felt like a lifetime but also exhilarating because I could see the finish line and a national gold medal ahead of me.’
With a senior national title already under his belt, McElhinney has taken the transition from junior to senior in his stride – and he’s keen to kick on. ‘To beat John, who has won so many national titles, leaves no doubt in my mind and anyone else’s mind that I have pushed on from being a junior – that feels brilliant. It’s certainly started my senior career off on the right note,’ McElhinney added.