Little time to rest on the long road to Rio as Irish sport put a glorious summer to bed
“At the same time it is a little unfair to compare some sports with others. Some sports are more metric based, with a lot more variables, and can’t be as centralised as say boxing can be.
“What we can do is exchange ideas, with other coaches, and that has to be hugely beneficial. Billy, and Pete Taylor, are part of our pursuit of excellence team. We’re a small county, but sometimes there are benefits to that, too. I’d be quite excited about that we can do in the next four years, if we all work together.”
What is certain is that some sports appear to work better together than others. It’s no secret that Athletics Ireland have had their issues with high performance directors, and while most sports are in the second phase of high performance programmes since they became the standard, Athletics Ireland is in its fifth phase, possibly its sixth, if some of the interim phases are also considered.
Kevin Ankrom took over the position in April of 2011 when the sport found itself at a familiar juncture, and although he was always realistic about the targets in London, the projected one top-eight, four top-12, and five top-16 in fact worked out as one top-eight, one top 12 (both Rob Heffernan), and four top-16.
Considering Beijing and Athens were equally poor, and likewise Sydney, beyond Sonia O’Sullivan’s silver medal, there is the fear that Irish athletics is simply no longer competitive on the Olympic stage, beyond individual or isolated performances.
“That is a very important debriefing,” says Kirwan, “but at the same time you have to remember that it’s not just about one single event, either. You have to take the broad view. These sports have a world and European outlet, as well. The Olympics are the most important, yes, but not the only one.”
For now, the debriefing continues, the review already underway, and one thing flagged long before London was the overhaul of the carding scheme, and elite athlete grants: the days of handing out €40,000 might not be over, not yet anyway, but there is sure to be more accountability come 2013, more demands for return on investment, because that ultimately is what high performance is all about.
“We all accept the Government still has some hard decisions to make when it comes to funding,” says Kirwan, “but we have an incredibly strong case now for the continued support of high performance sport, Olympic and Paralympic.
“We’re conscious that we have to keep squeezing that investment as much as we can. We’re also aware there’s not always a direct link between funding and medals.
“But we believe the link is strong, and stronger again when you link funding and performance. The athletes in the Olympics and Paralympics have proved that.”
PRECIOUS METAL: What is a good return?
It is almost entirely subjective, but what does represent a good return on a sporting investment? Four Olympic medals for a basic investment of €2.9 million certainly looks like an excellent return, which is what Irish boxing delivered in London, and indeed five Olympic medals in total for just under €26 million is still not bad.
A return of 16 medals at the Paralympics for a basic investment of €2.1 million would be hard to beat, yet that’s the sort challenge facing the elite programmes in Irish high performance over the next four-year cycle to the Rio Olympics in 2016.
And what is an Olympic medal worth? Well, €10,000, for a start, which is the bonus that each of the 21 medal winners at the Olympics (5) and Paralympics (16) will receive from the Irish Sports Council – gold, silver or bronze each considered equal.
And what about accountability? Not quite as straightforward, at least not compared to UK Athletics, given their Olympic head coach, Charles Van Commenee, resigned this week after failing to deliver on his target of eight track and field medals, including one gold. Instead, Van Commenee helped deliver six medals, including four gold.