SHANE Howard won’t forget 2019 in a hurry – this is the year he announced himself as the best long jumper in the country.
In February the Bandon AC man jumped 7.44m to capture gold at the Irish Life National Indoor Championships in Abbotstown, this was his first senior title. In July Howard added the national outdoor title with a long jump of 7.54m – again, his first gold in this competition at this level – and in between he set a new personal best of 7.61m in June.
And then to cap off a remarkable year, Howard represented Ireland at the 2019 European Team Championships in Norway.
It has been a long and winding road for the 25-year-old who announced himself on the international scene by accompanying another Bandon AC athlete, Phil Healy, as part of the Irish international athletics squad at the outdoor team championships last August.
Prior to his Norwegian adventure, Howard became the number one long jumper in the country and he enhanced his reputation with a solid showing at a weather-affected event.
It proved a productive trip to northern Europe as Howard finished ninth in the final of the men’s long jump.
Along with that personal accolade, the Stryker Project Engineer helped Ireland achieve a seventh overall finish at the international event thanks to a jump of 7.43m.
‘The main goal all year was to become the number one long jumper in the country and be selected for the European team championships in Norway,’ Howard explained.
‘I won the national senior championships and going to Norway represented my first senior international appearance for Ireland. The competition itself could have gone better for me but the weather was against us all the way through the championships.
‘A massive thunderstorm rolled in just as we were competing which was far from ideal. I did what I could at the time and jumped 7.43m but was hoping for 7.50m. The weather was against all the competing athletes though, so everyone’s results were a little bit down on what would have been expected.
‘It was still a brilliant experience, and I definitely took a lot from my time in Norway. There are things I learned that will help me in future championships, so yes, it was a worthwhile experience.
Prior to his maiden international appearance, a jump of 7.44m enabled Shane Howard to claim his first national title having already achieved glory at both junior and U23 level. Yet, his earliest memories of being bitten by the athletics bug involved running, lots of running.
‘I think I have been running since I was about five years old,’ Howard recounted.
‘I was always naturally quick from primary school onwards, but it wasn’t until my sister Roisin started athletics when she was about eight years old that I joined Bandon Athletic Club. From there, I just started training whenever I could, and things took off when I won my first national U9 title even though I was only seven years old at the time with Grange-Fermoy Athletics club.
‘Running and the long jump were my favourite events and I took to them because I was naturally quick and competitive at that young age.
‘Moving on to secondary school, even though I had always enjoyed playing GAA, that was when athletics began to take a bit of a back seat. I am six foot four inches tall now, but I didn’t start growing until I was in fifth or sixth year. Until then I was only about five foot five inches and pretty much got left behind in athletics terms.’
Howard put athletics on the back burner for a time as he was continually beaten both in sprinting and in the long jump. By his own admission, Howard was basically a child competing against grown men in that spell. There was little chance of making any impact until the current Irish men’s champion reached sixth year.
During that time-frame, Howard occupied himself with a range of alternative sports including lining out for his local GAA club.
‘Bride Rovers would be my local GAA club and I represented them at both hurling and football around that time,’ Howard commented. ‘I also played a bit of soccer, basketball and orienteering whilst in secondary school so I was quite busy and just enjoying as many sports as I could.’
Despite participating in a wide range of sports, athletics remained at the forefront of Howard’s mind. A move to Bandon Athletics club helped kick-start the Rathcormac native’s career as did the introduction of a new coach, Liz Coomey.
‘Athletics was always my chosen sport and once I began to grow, I spent more time at it and took it seriously,’ the Bandon AC long jumper noted.
‘It was a case of biding my time until I was physically ready. I was about 14 or 15 when I joined Bandon Athletic Club as then it was time to step up my training.
‘Being friends with a good few people from Bandon and in the (Bandon AC) club made things easier. It was a comfortable move and the right one at that stage of my career, important too to begin training with a group of fellow athletes because that really pushes you on. The club had and still has a fantastic reputation for nurturing young talent so, looking back, it was an easy decision.
‘Being coached by Liz Coomey has been hugely important to my career as I would be absolutely nowhere without her. My dad trained me for years before Liz took over when I was in college and about 21-years-old. I trained with Liz briefly when I was in sixth year but not full time until I started college.
‘She rebuilt me from day one and stripped out everything I had been doing. The national titles that I’ve won are down to Liz and the work she done with me.’
Under Coomey’s guidance, 2020 should see Howard continue his rise up the international ranks as one of Ireland’s up-and-coming athletes.