GAA folk have some road to travel before they can match Hehir’s Herculean efforts
Dublin Marathon champion’s training schedule would make other sportspeople wince
Sean Hehir breasts the tape to win the Dublin Marathon last October. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Be careful where you step this weekend. All across the country you may find stones left unturned, broken barriers and broken walls, and slippery pools of sweat and tears. You may even find patches of congealed vomit, or in some places, possibly even blood.
It’s what happens this time every year, as teams of young men finish off their training for the intercounty warfare also known as championship. They’ll have lost track of the hours spent on the field and in the gym, or how many times they’ve fallen into bed not long after dinner, still wearing their GAA gear, and sipping on their third chocolate protein shake of the day.
Now, comes the easy part, payback time, as starting this weekend, and continuing through to the end of September, managers will stare into the eyes of those young men and tell them, “Lads, there’s nothing more you could have possibly done...”
But could they? Could they have run a 10k before breakfast, five days a week, alone or without anyone else to motivate them? Could they have made themselves a quick breakfast and then headed out the door to spend the day teaching a class of primary school pupils? Could they have come home that evening, and after a half-hour power nap, headed out again for their main training session, lasting at least two hours? Could they have helped coach some of those primary school pupils while they’re at it, too?
Could they have spent their Saturday mornings running six or seven mile repeats, all run under five minutes? Could they have run again that evening? Could they have spent their Sunday mornings running up to 28 miles in one go, all under six minutes, ensuring they log up the necessary 125 miles in the one week? Could they have found the time for a couple of sessions of massage and acupuncture every week, and paid for all of it themselves, too?
Could they have trained this hard, and still watched everything they eat, to make sure they don’t tip much over the 65kg? Could they have left a new television still gift-wrapped because they’d simply no time to watch it? Could they have spent a large chunk of their holidays training high up in the French Alps, where the thin air puts an extra drag on every little effort? Could they do this without one cent of Sports Council grant money and never once complain about it?
I know Jerry Kiernan will love reading all this, but I couldn’t help myself from writing it after meeting Sean Hehir this week, as he starts into another block of training in preparation for the defence of his Dublin Marathon title, next October.
The last thing Hehir wanted to do was make any comparison between the training he submits himself to, week after week after week, and the training of any GAA player – but he can’t help himself either, given his family background crosses that apparently great divide.
To some people in Kilkishen, in East Clare, the Hehir name is more associated with the Clare hurling team of the 1970s, and his father, the Sean Hehir who played centre back on the Clare team that won the league in 1978, flanked in that half-back line by Ger Loughnane and Sean Stack – three men who reckon they know everything there is to know about hard training.
His mother, Cushla, might disagree, given she ran for Ireland as a junior, is still passionate about distance running, and reckons she knows everything there is to know about hard training. Anyway, with parents like that, no wonder hard training simply runs in the family.
“It’s funny alright, because my family would be split like that, 50-50 down the middle. My brother Diarmuid also played under-21 hurling for Clare, and my sister Cushla Og played camogie for Clare, and now runs as well.
“And I see the commitment my brother puts in, even with the club, and it is intense, and impressive. You have to respect the training of other sports, because sometimes they’ve other things to focus on, such as skills. For me, the only focus is running.
“But look, I wouldn’t really start comparing anything. I saw the DVD of the Clare hurlers, and how hard they trained for the All-Ireland, and that was certainly very intense. I would certainly respect anything they do.”
Hehir is indeed close to that Clare team – and was actually in the same class as their All-Ireland winning captain Pat Donnellan. He played a bit of hurling too at St Flannan’s in Ennis, but preferred athletics, even if he once finished 26th in the Clare Schools Cross Country Championships, and any athletics coach with a half-decent eye for potential would have told him to try something else.
Instead, Hehir stuck with the running, and the hard training, and after later moving to Dublin, then getting a teaching position at Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal, in Inchicore, he slowly edged towards the marathon, now under the guidance of former three-time Dublin Marathon winner, Dick Hooper.
His payback came last October, when in the days and hours before the 34th Dublin Marathon, Hehir looked himself in the eyes, and told himself there was nothing more he could have possibly done. It certainly looked that way as he crossed the line in 2:18:19, hardly sweating, although not without a few tears, as the first Irish men’s winner of the race in 20 years, since John Treacy last triumphed in Dublin in 1993.
Now, it’s back into the hard marathon training again, not just for Dublin in October, but also the European Championship marathon in Zurich, in August. At 29, the training doesn’t get any easier, and probably won’t either, unless perhaps Hehir goes back playing a bit of hurling.