Frustrated Ciarán Ó Lionáird feeling left out in cold system
“Because I want to put on the Irish vest and be the best I can. But sometimes I ask myself would I be better off running for the US”
Nor was the frustration Ó Lionáird spilled out to me this week about regaining the sporting “edge” that most of us talk about, either – because he’ll always have that: last March, his Achilles injury still nagging quietly at him, he went to the European Indoors, in Gothenburg, and won the bronze medal in the 3,000 metres. It was a brilliant performance, believe me, and still Ó Lionáird was disappointed because he’d run that race to win it.
Holding him back
What is frustrating Ó Lionáird more than anything is that he wants to embrace the responsibility of being one of Ireland’s few genuinely world-class distance runners right now, and still something is holding him back: it frustrates him that he feels the responsibility of making the absolute most of the €20,000 grant he gets from the Irish Sports Council, and yet some days wonders if he’d better off running for the US, even if that would mean getting no grant money at all.
So he came home at the start of last month, determined to finally sort out his Achilles injury. The problem is not your average acute tendonitis, but rather chronic tendinosis, where the tendon becomes a bit like a frayed rope, and requires slow and deliberate rehabilitation.
Five weeks later he’s just not sure if the system is as willing to embrace that responsibility as he now is, at least not when he’s ringing a journalist to vent his frustration.
“I don’t wait to snap a tendon to prove a point, or risk a career-ending injury. My shoe contract with Nike is already at risk, and I’m losing out on the chance to make some money by not racing. But I feel that being a carded athlete I should be accountable. Sport is a business, and you should want to protect your investment. This is taxpayers’ money, after all, and it shouldn’t be about handing the athlete the money and saying ‘there you go . . .’ But if this is what they mean by the system then it isn’t working.
“For instance, I’ve being five weeks trying to get to see Dr Hakan Alfredson in Sweden, the best Achilles doctor in the world, and there’s still nothing happening.
“Because I want to put on the Irish vest and be the best I can. But sometimes I ask myself would I be better off running for the US. That’s a dramatic statement, I know, and I only throw it out there because I sometimes wonder what makes me think it. Because I shouldn’t be. I take great pride in running for Ireland, and always will, but I want to represent it as best I can, and right now I feel I can’t do that, and it’s become beyond frustrating, really.”