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Killarney sprinter Sarah Leahy ‘over the moon’ to make Irish 4×100 team

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Killarney Valley AC sprinter Sarah Leahy clocked a PB and reached the final of the 100 metres at the National Senior Championships in Dublin last weekend.

Adam Moynihan caught up with the 21-year-old to discuss her impressive performances, and her subsequent call-up to the Ireland U23 squad.

Hi Sarah. Congrats on your recent success. What were your expectations going into the National Senior Championships and how did things pan out on the day?

Thanks. I didn’t have too many expectations really. My first goal was to get another PB – the two weeks prior I was getting one every time I ran. My second one was to make the final. Looking at the names and the times, I wasn’t too sure I was going to make it. But I was delighted that I did make it and I was able to attain both my goals.

You have been selected to represent Ireland at the European U23 Championships (4x100m). When did you find out about that and how did you react?

I found out on Sunday night when I came back from Dublin. I was over the moon. I probably ran faster down the stairs to tell my parents than I did in the 100 metres! My brother heard me roaring about it in the next room.

And was your selection a direct result of your performances over the weekend?

Very much so. Three weeks ago, nobody really knew who I was. My name wasn’t in the mix at all because I hadn’t been running. Then my name kind of came up at the AAI Games, and at the U23 Championships I got a glimmer of hope that I might be in the mix. Running well at senior definitely helped. That’s what pushed me over the line.

It must be a proud moment for you and your family?

It has been a dream of mine for years. I didn’t really think about it this year because I had just come back (to running – Sarah had been playing with the Kerry ladies up until last year). I didn’t think it was an option because I didn’t think I’d be running this well. It’s a dream come true. I can’t wait, I’m so excited.

You will be competing in the 4x100m. Do you have any experience with this type of race?

I did the mixed relay at the Community Games years ago and we got a silver medal one year and a bronze another year. So I have some experience with the relay.

The championships are on in Estonia from July 8-11. Are you looking forward to getting over there?

Yeah, I didn’t realise how close it was. We’re leaving in like a week.

And what about your teammates (Gina Akpe-Moses, Aoife Lynch, Lauren Roy and Molly Scott)? Would you know them well from competing against them?

I would, yes. They are elite athletes and they have all ran for Ireland multiple times already. Two of them were in the World Relays there a few months ago in the 4x200m and they came second. So they have a lot of experience and I can’t wait to run with them.

What will be the team’s goal heading over to Estonia?

We’re having a meeting on Friday (today) so we’ll find out then. I’m sure the aim will be to run as fast as we can and aim for a medal.

Is it challenging switching over from 100m to the relay?

I don’t think it should be too hard, although there is a bit more pressure. Obviously, the baton change is highly important in a relay. If you mess that up, it can mess up your time and your placing. But overall the relay can drive you to run even faster because you’re not just running for yourself, it’s for your whole team. Especially now with Ireland… You’re representing a lot more than just yourself. But yeah, [running the 4x100m] shouldn’t be too much of a difference. Don’t drop the baton is the main thing really!

In terms of training, what does your weekly schedule look like?

I do a bit of gym during the week and I train four times – Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday – all at the Killarney Valley AC Arena. I train with a whole pile of athletes in the sprint and jump group. I’m one of the oldest there. They’re all very dedicated and very fun, I’m really enjoying the training at the moment. Tomás Griffin is my coach and he’s excellent. Obviously the training he’s doing with me is definitely working. It’s all very enjoyable. It doesn’t seem like hard work.

Has the new track benefitted you and your training?

100%. The track was one of the main things that made me go back to athletics. It’s so handy, I can be down in training in five minutes. Before, we were training on grass or we were driving to Castleisland. The track is of huge benefit. A lot of work went into it and I can’t praise the people involved enough.

Athletics can be very technical. Is there any aspect of your running that you feel you need to work on?

I think there’s plenty! My trainers are very nice, they think I’m running well. But me and my mom see a few things. My arms could be improved, and things like lifting up my knees. When I look at myself compared to the other athletes, I feel like I look a bit silly. They’re so perfect technically. I have plenty to work on, which is exciting because when I get those things improved, I should be going even faster.

And looking ahead to the future, after Estonia, what are your long-term goals?

I suppose the typical answer for every young athlete is the Olympics. Right now, I would say that’s the dream rather than a goal. For the next year, I have PBs I want to get to and new times I want to reach. And hopefully, after experiencing it next week, I’ll get to represent Ireland again.

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Popularity of Ladies Gaelic Football on the rise

According to official TAM Ireland figures, 491,000 tuned into TG4’s coverage of the TG4 Ladies Football finals on Sunday with an average audience of 204,900 people watching the live broadcast […]

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According to official TAM Ireland figures, 491,000 tuned into TG4’s coverage of the TG4 Ladies Football finals on Sunday with an average audience of 204,900 people watching the live broadcast of the Senior Final between Meath and Kerry.

The match had a 30.6% share of viewing among individuals. Viewing peaked at 5.10pm with 279,800 viewers as Meath closed in on the two in a row to retain the Brendan Martin Cup.

A total 46,400 attended the match in person in Croke Park on Sunday, the first TG4 Ladies Football Final to have full capacity allowance since 2019.

Viewers from over 50 countries tuned into the finals on the TG4 Player with 14,000 streams of the game from international viewers. Over 20,000 streams were also registered from Irish viewers.

TG4 Director General Alan Esslemont said: “My deepest gratitude to all the counties especially Wexford and Kerry who battled to the end through this season’s Championship, hearty congratulations to both Laois and Meath and I am really looking forward to the re-match of Antrim and Fermanagh which will be carried live on TG4. A special word of thanks goes to the huge crowd which travelled to the Finals from all the corners of Ireland. County Meath especially have become a role model for other counties in how to build huge attending support for LGFA in both genders and at all ages. Sunday’s massive expression of Meath ‘fandom’ in Croke Park brought their county the greatest credit.

Sunday’s broadcast was the 22nd edition of the TG4 Ladies Gaelic Football Championship, a unique history of a sport minoritized by society being championed by a language media minoritized by the state. By consciously standing together we have grown together. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the LGFA in 2024 let us all hope by that time that we are even further along the road towards true equality of opportunity for both Ladies Gaelic Football and Irish language media.”

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Following her World Championships debut, Leahy is hungry for more

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Adam Moynihan met Killarney sprinter Sarah Leahy at the Killarney Valley AC Arena to chat about her recent appearance at the World Championships, her goals for the rest of the year, and a very special pair of socks

Hi Sarah. Thanks for showing me around Killarney Valley’s facilities. It’s an impressive set-up.

The track facilities here are perfect. We have everything we need and Killarney Valley are always looking to improve the facilities and the club itself. All the people behind the scenes at are the MVPs, people like Jerry and Tomás Griffin, Jean Courtney, and Bríd Stack to mention just a few.

You recently competed in the World Championships in Oregon as part of the Irish 4 x 100m relay team, finishing eighth in your heat. How did you feel the event went for you?

We’re very proud of each other, and we did well, but we definitely could have run better. We had more. We were aiming for and felt we were capable of running a national record. But on the day, it just didn’t happen.

Personally, it was a great experience. I loved every second of it. But I will admit that the actual running part is a bit of a blur. I came onto the track and there’s this huge stadium, but I was more looking around at the people I was running against. Ewa Swoboda – I thought she’d win the World Indoor – she was four people away from me and I was looking at her… She was probably like, ‘Why is this woman staring at me?’ I was very nervous. But it was still amazing and I hope I can do it again.

The fact that I was running against international athletes that have been to the Olympics and been finalists, I was kind of star struck. My trainers are like, okay Sarah, calm down. You’re meant to be here. Don’t act like you shouldn’t.

Can you describe your mindset before a race? Do you often get nervous?

On the line it’s all about how you’re feeling, what you can do. You just have to get mentally prepared for a good start. Especially for me. Get out, and run as fast as you can. Just getting in the zone, I guess. I’ll know if I’m not in the zone, because I’m thinking of other things. If I’m on the blocks my head shouldn’t be wandering. It should be blank and all I should be waiting for is that gun.

Would you say that you’re an ultra competitive person?

I’m a competitive person, obviously. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be competing at this level. But I also come from a team background, and I’m friends with a lot of these girls, so I want them to do well as well. And if they happen to beat me, fair play. You put in the training, you did very well. I’m very happy for you.

We all kind of get prepared differently. A lot of people for the warm-up, which is an hour or half an hour before the race, have the earphones on, gameface on, not talking to anyone, not smiling at anyone. I’m completely different. The more nervous I am, the more I’m going to talk.

There was a situation in Greece where everyone had their earphones on and I was mad to talk to everyone. That could change but as of right now I do tend to talk a lot. And then, going on to the track, obviously there’s no more talking. You’re getting ready for the race and mentally preparing.

Tell me about the socks you wore in Oregon.

[laughs] My socks were a Valentine’s Day gift from my boyfriend, Daniel. They had his face all over them and they say ‘I love you’. So yeah, I just ran the Worlds with my boyfriend’s face on my feet. He was delighted!

Daniel was the person who pushed for me to go back to running. He knew I was no longer enjoying the football and he heard the way I spoke about athletics. He helped me make the decision to go back. It was the best decision so it was only right I wore the socks and he was there in some way. I probably wouldn’t have been there without him.

Did you have some of your own supporters over there?

Yes, my mom and dad (Marie and Mike) actually travelled over. They spent the week and it was unreal to have them there. And then my cousins from Vancouver in Canada drove down which was I think over 10 hours. I was actually warming up before the relay and then I saw and heard my family with all their Kerry jerseys, Irish jerseys, Irish flags, roaring my name. That was really nice.

What’s the plan for the rest of 2022?

I was hopeful that we were going to send a 4 x 100 relay team to the Europeans but I just got an email saying that we wouldn’t, which is disappointing. I know some of top 2022 female sprinters aren’t available but some are and with any of them we would do well over there. We would be competitive. We held our qualification of being in the top 16 teams all summer so it’s a pity that, at the last second, we aren’t going.

In saying that, the women’s Irish relay will continue to work hard and we have a lot more to give. We will prove that next year.

You’re moving to Dublin for work later this year. How will this affect your training?

I might have to change coaches again, which I’m a bit sad about because I really liked the Limerick training group (Leahy was in UL where she trained with the Hayley and Drew Harrison). I think I performed well and I loved the training. I was surrounded by the right people who were really lovely. I hope to find a group like that in Dublin and keep running well and performing better.

And what about next season?

I’d like another good indoor season. I was talking to Lauren Roy in Stockholm and she told me that I have the European standard in the 60m from last year. Which I didn’t know! So that’s kind of in my head now to try and get there, to improve my time. I think I could actually run faster. I ran 7.39 and I’d like to run at least 7.30, hopefully get another European standard, and actually go to the Europeans. I think it’s in Germany. That’d be my target.

And then next summer, there’s the Worlds again. So it’d be nice to continue making the Irish relays and definitely improve my time, because there’s more. I can definitely run faster over 100.

What is your current PB in the 100m? Are you close to bettering it?

I ran 11.67, which I was delighted with. But it was my first run of the season. It’s quite rare that you run a PB in the season opener. But I ran it, and I haven’t ran it since. The closest was 11.70 in Switzerland. So I definitely think there’s more in there. And I think I have a lot to learn as well. I’m still new to the sport and I’m a powerful kind of runner. I was doing a lot of gym work at the beginning of the year, before I ran my PB, and then afterwards usually people taper it off. So I did what other people do. I think that affected my running a little bit. I’m slightly weaker. So I’ve learned that maybe next year I shouldn’t do that. Then hopefully I’ll be running PB after PB, instead of just a one-off.

Onwards and upwards. Chat to you again soon.

Thanks Adam!

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