The Last Word by Kieran McCarthy
PHIL Healy struck a blow for ‘middle children’ everywhere this week.
There’s a popular theory on ‘middle child syndrome’ that suggests that a middle child, bookended by one older and one younger sibling, feels left out.
As a middle child myself, that middle ranking was always used as leverage when needed – not to much success, my parents were far too wise – but Ballineen sprinter Phil Healy has blown that out of the water with her heroics last weekend. (She has two younger brothers, Diarmuid and Padraig, so technically she is a middle child).
Lost in the media frenzy that’s engulfed Phil (21) this week, following her incredible comeback victory for UCC in the 4x400m relay last Saturday, was the success of her older sister, Joan (23).
After three injury-ravaged years, Joan is back on the athletics scene and she showed good form in the indoor season earlier this year. She translated that, and in stunning fashion, to the outdoor track at the Irish Universities Track & Field Championships at Santry last weekend.
Joan and Phil came through either side of the women’s 100m and squared off in the final, with Joan taking the plaudits, and gold medal, by just two hundredths of a second – Joan ran 11.64, Phil was second in 11.66.
‘Joan got a flying start and she was gone. I’d a bad start, was left in the blocks, and I was catching up with her – but she won. It’s great to see Joan get the win, especially after being out for so long,’ a thrilled Phil said, but the younger sister had a trick up her sleeve to overshadow her older sister – one that has garnered national and international coverage, and given Phil exposure that she could never have dreamed of.
It’s also worth noting that the third year UCC nursing student won the 200m in a new college record time of 23.93 earlier on Saturday, before she was asked 20 minutes before the 4x400m relay if she’d run a leg for the Cork college. She said yes, and the rest now is history.
Running the last lap, Phil took the baton with UCC in fifth place and her at least 100 metres behind the leader, and the hunt began. One by one, she picked off her prey (including a Rio-bound athlete), and in a sensational finish, she sprinted to one of the most unlikeliest wins you’ll ever see.
That it was just her second 400-metre run adds another layer of legend to the folklore – the first was in Spain a few weeks back when she was on a warm-weather training camp.
The video of Phil’s amazing run has gone viral across the world, and it has been viewed over 450,000 times and counting. She has made sports headlines in America, Australia and New Zealand, as well as mainland Europe, England and nationally at home.
She had more interviews on Tuesday than in her entire career to date, and it’s all well deserved for this Bandon AC sprinter, who has been championed by this newspaper and the Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star awards for several years.
Phil would be the first to admit she’s not the biggest fan of interviews – not that you would guess that by her radio chats on Wednesday – but she needs to make the most of this media storm and newfound celebrity status before the next story comes along. She might never get this much media attention again, no matter what she will achieve in future years.
This is a ‘lightning strike’ moment for Phil who, as well as helping improve the profile of athletics here at home, has also boosted her own profile no end.
Hopefully, with this new-found attention, a sponsor will come on board to help Phil achieve her dreams. She has won several national titles in the past (indoor and outdoor) and has represented Ireland on the international scene, but it costs money to compete at the elite level, money that comes out of her own pocket.
As an unsponsored athlete, juggling college and training, it’s a hard slog. Plus here in Ireland, running outdoors means a constant battle with wind and rain, even in the summer, while athletes in Europe, for the most part, benefit from warmer and sunnier conditions.
Life will, in a few days, return back to some semblance of normality for this level-headed Ballineen athlete, and she still has an assignment to have finished for UCC for early next week, but she will continue to break records and win races in the coming months and years.
This global interest could be the platform for bigger and better things. But whatever happens, Phil showed that middle children everywhere can dominate the headlines and steal the limelight from their older siblings. (Sorry Joan, but we have to give Phil this one!)