Surely now there is more than a whispering chance, Mona McSharry neatly positioned to go where no Irish swimmer has gone before and on to the medal podium at the World Championships.
After two highly competent swims in Doha on Monday, McSharry progressed to the final of the 100m breaststroke ranked second fastest of the lot, Tuesday evening’s medal showdown (5.45pm Irish time) likely to be a race off between herself and two Chinese opponents.
Chief among them is Tang Qianting, the 19-year-old winning the second semi-final in 1:05.36, ahead of McSharry, the 23 year-old from Sligo touching home in 1:06.11, with the second Chinese swimmer Yang Chang third in 1:06.27.
The first semi-final was won by Dutch swimmer Tes Schouten in 1:06.30, McSharry’s best of 1:05.55 clocked at last year’s World Championships in Fukuoka, where she later finished fifth. Tellingly, the four swimmers ahead of her there are not in this event in Doha.
Irish swimmers have previously won three medals at the World Short Course (25m) Championships, in Shane Ryan (2018 bronze), Ellen Walshe (2021 silver) and McSharry herself (2021 bronze), but never in the long-course Olympic size pool.
“Really happy with that, progressing it on from the morning which was my main goal,” McSharry said. “And excited now to see what I can do in the final, and just race it.
“I think I’ve set myself up in a good position, in a good lane, once you get into the final, you can only race whose in the pool next to you, and try to get your hand on the wall first.
Earlier, Conor Ferguson also dipped under the 54-second mark for the first time in his career, swimming a personal best of 53.95 in the heats of the 100m backstroke; Ferguson’s previous best had sat at 54.01, the 24-year-old second in the first of the seeded heats.
Although Ferguson later improved that again to 53.90, ranked 13th overall in the semi-finals, that left him just short of the Paris Olympic qualifying time of 53.74.
“Bittersweet, because I want the Olympic time,” he said, “but I have to be happy with another personal best, it’s moving in the right direction.
“I just have to now refocus and recover for this relay, we’ve a real opportunity to get that relay across the line. There’s nothing more privileged and inspiring than an Irish relay and I want to be a part of that and I want to lead it off.”
That was his weakest of the three events he’s swimming in Doha, after the 800m and 1500m freestyle, the 22-year-old from Armagh finishing in seventh, clocking 3:46.65. Wiffen finished fourth in both the 800m and 1500m events last year in Fukuoka.
Victoria Catterson will also be seeking the Olympic qualification time in the 200m freestyle of 1:57.25; Catterson holds the Irish record at 1:59.75. Darragh Greene also returns to the pool for the 50m breaststroke heats.