August 24th, 2021 8:00 AM

By Ger McCarthy

Olympic hero Phil Healy features in the second edition of Girls Play Too which is exclusively available in Lidl stores nationwide. Photo Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

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Olympic finalist Phil Healy has a busy year ahead as she eyes more success on the  world stage writes Ger McCarthy

Phil Healy is wasting little time in preparing for a hectic year of World and European Indoor and Outdoor championship events following her triumphant return from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

The Ballineen-native felt the weight of expectation on her shoulders before flying out to Tokyo but was deeply appreciative of the thousands of messages of support received before stepping on to the track.

Healy’s homecoming and the outpouring of appreciation she received are memories the West Cork Olympian will never forget.

‘I hadn’t been home to Ballineen since March because of Covid and Covid risks and different things like that, that was a sacrifice in itself,’ Healy said.

‘To come back home and see all the posters, the banners, the flags, everything, like how much the community and not just Ballineen but West Cork were behind me was unbelievable.

‘Someone sent me a message showing the posters all the way from Ballineen to Beara to support the Olympians from West Cork. When I saw all the posters going up, initially, I was like, “oh God".

‘Realistically when I was going over there, obviously Olympic finals in athletics can be a step too far, being realistic. I was like, I’m not the rowers, where I’m not a mega favourite or anything like that, so there definitely was that expectation.

‘Once we got to the (relay) final I was ok. Having that support, and yes, there was empty stands over in Tokyo, but it was almost as if those supporters were in Tokyo because you really felt every bit of the support. Maybe it was magnified to a certain element because of the no fans in Tokyo.

‘So, it was just unbelievable to come home, to see everybody line the streets of Ballineen, Enniskeane and Bandon as well. Everybody was saying that it really brought the community together.

‘And that’s great, to lift everybody back home and lift the nation with everybody tuned in to the sport. It definitely gave us a lot of extra fans as well in the sport.’

Looking ahead, Phil Healy is facing into an extremely busy schedule over the next 12 months. Her Tokyo experiences should stand to the West Cork athlete as she prepares to compete in the World Indoors, European and World Outdoor championships. That is an unprecedented three major international events in one calendar year.

‘For me, the Olympics, obviously, is the pinnacle of every athlete’s career,’ the Irish Olympian stated.

‘That’s where you want to compete. And for me competing in three events, making history there, competing in an Olympic final, that was certainly beyond my expectations.

‘Looking ahead the potential is there to make (future) World Championship semi-finals and Olympic semi-finals so that’s a massive boost for me going forward and as we look into next year.

‘It is going to be a very busy year where we have the World Indoors, European and World Outdoors. We’ve never had three international major championships in the one year. It is very exciting.

‘I’ll have the 400m indoors because there is no 200m, so we may keep the focus more on the 400m, we might swap to a 200m for a certain championship or we might narrow it down to one event. It’s great then to have the relays qualified as well for the World Championships.

Hopefully, we can get an all-female team to the European Championships in late August of next year as well.’

Despite disappointment at not excelling further in either the 200m or 400m Olympic track and field events, there is no doubt that Phil Healy took the most satisfaction from helping Team Ireland qualify for a first ever 4x400m relay final.

Healy, Sophie Becker, Cillian Greene and Chris O’Donnell made history by becoming the first Irish relay team to reach an Olympic final and smashed the national record by running 3:12.18 in the semi-final heats.

Making a trade-off between future individual and relay events is something the Ballineen native is going to have to negotiate. As ever, Phil Healy has a plan for every eventuality.

‘It comes down to the timetable, like if it’s a European Championships, the individuals are always first. So, that will become the priority,’ Healy admitted.

‘It’s an Olympic Games and to have a relay team at the Olympic Games was unbelievable. We had the support from Drew Harrison and all the individual coaches. It was a great platform to show we have the ability to compete on the world stage against world class athletes, and to make that final was unbelievable.

‘So, it was definitely a platform and to me the best hope of making an Olympic final and sharing that with a full squad.

‘As we go on in the year, maybe I will take just one event, and I know for these Games, I know some people were saying I should have focused on one event, but to qualify for an Olympic Games is unbelievable.

To qualify in three events took so much work, dedication and planning. I was going to go out and do that and made history as the first Irish woman to do that.

‘As we go on, next year at World Championships, whether I pick the 200m over the 400m or vice versa will depend on the way things go. But that will play out by itself.

‘Looking back at the Olympic relay final, we had an aim of 3.14 going out there and we ran 3.12. That alone, shattering the national record by four seconds, and to make an Olympic final. Olympic finals in track events are just so rare in Ireland.

‘It was just crazy and to share that with five others as part of the team, was just unbelievable. Just to go out there and walk onto the track, knowing that it’s an Olympic final, it was just crazy. It was just a bit surreal.’

Phil Healy remains as engaging and entertaining an athlete off the track as she is on it. Excelling in European and World Championship events over the next 12 months could see the instantly likeable athlete increase her profile around the globe. No one deserves it more.

Phil Healy was being interviewed at the launch of the new ‘Girls Play Too 2: More Inspiring Stories of Irish Sportswomen’ book written by RTÉ Sports broadcaster Jacqui Hurley which is exclusively available in Lidl stores nationwide for only €12.99 until the 5th of September – just in time to inspire children as they prepare to go back to school.

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