Brian Gregan beats former British rival to Irish title
Transfer of allegiance now suiting Ireland as shown at new National Indoor Arena
Ciara Mageean of UCD AC with her gold medal after winning the 3000m at the National Senior Indoor Championships at the National Indoor Arena, Abbotstown. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.
Brian Gregan always knew Luke Lennon-Ford had family from the same part of Tallaght. He just never imagined needing to beat his former British rival to win an Irish indoor 400-metres title.
These are still fickle times for that rule on transfer of allegiance, recently frozen by the IAAF, even if in this case it’s essentially to Ireland’s advantage: Lennon-Ford has won three major championship medals indoors with the British relay team, also selected for the 2012 London Olympics.
He still lives in London, coached by Linford Christie, although Lennon-Ford is now representing Ireland. His transfer of allegiance was completed just before the IAAF announced that moratorium, and he’s looking to wear his first Irish vest as early as next month’s European Indoors in Belgrade.
Gregan is being duly diplomatic about the situation. Both athletes are now 27, and raced up close at the 2011 European under-23 championships, when the Irish man won silver, the then British man winning bronze.
He also got the better of him on this occasion, Gregan producing one of the standout performances at the newly opened National Indoor Arena at Abbotstown.
His winning time of 46.59 seconds is his fastest indoor mark in four years, and jumps him to number seven on the European rankings, just in time to present a proper challenge in Belgrade in a fortnight’s time.
Lennon-Ford was second in 47.05, running for the same club now too, Clonliffe Harriers.
“I’ve certainly no problem whatsoever with Luke,” said Gregan. “I’ve always known he has family from the same part of Tallaght, and look, he pushed me hard today, made a good race of it, which is exactly what I needed.
“But I suppose you would have the question the motivation for changing, when someone has already won medals for that country. We also saw how Fionnuala (McCormack) felt about it, and I could see her point.”
McCormack has been openly critical of athletes switching allegiance, having been run off the medal podium at the European Cross Country in December by two Kenyans now representing Turkey.
Lennon-Ford insists both his motivation and qualification is legit, the later unquestionably so: his mother is from Tallaght, his grandfather from Sligo.
“My granddad actually died recently and I thought it would be really nice to represent the country he’s from,” he said. “My mum being Irish too, from Tallaght. My granddad and grandma both pretty much raised me as much as well.”
He accepted, however, the rule is often perceived to be bended or abused: “Definitely. I mean changing country because you have relations there is one thing. But coming from a different continent to another one is a bit . . . well, I’m not going to judge anybody.”
With an outdoor best of 45.23, Lennon-Ford may well be seen in an Irish vest at the World Championships in London this summer, but not in Belgrade.
Definitely intent on being in Belgrade and hunting for a medal too is Ciara Mageean, who bounced back from a sub-par run in Athlone last week to win the 3,000m on Saturday: there was talk of doubling up in the 1,500m but instead she returned him to Portaferry for the funeral of her grandmother, who died on Friday evening.
“It’s been difficult week, battling a cold on top of everything else, but at least I have something to show for it,” said Mageean, her winning time of 9:08.83 enough to hold off Michelle Finn and McCormack: she’ll run only the 1,500m in Belgrade, and while admitting she still has “some work to do”, she’s certainly in contention for a medal.
The most exciting finish of the afternoon was reserved for the metric mile, John Travers of Donore Harriers producing the most inch-perfect finish to gun down Paul Robinson, winning in 3:50.44.
Still both athletes had reason to be satisfied, Robinson making a bold bid for glory from three laps out.
Two years ago, Robinson was unable to run at all, arthritis in his toe causing a myriad of injuries, which he’s only now got under control.
At 27, still motivated by his fourth-place finish at the 2014 European Championships, the Kildare athlete still feels his best is yet to come.
Likewise with Travers, this being his third indoors title, who feels a better life balance (he’s now teaching at a special needs school in Sligo) has reinvigorated his career: “Everything is starting to settle in nicely, and when you get the balance, you feel unstoppable,” said Travers, which is exactly how he raced and won here.
The Irish team for Belgrade will be announced on Monday, and Ciara Neville did just about enough to seal her call for selection with a victory in the 60m.
Still only 17, she was actually second two years ago, making this a sort of second coming of sorts for the Limerick sprinter, who recovered from a sluggish start to snatch victory in a photo finish – her 7.43 earning her gold, Joan Healy and Molly Scott both timed at 7.45.
Healy’s youngster sister Phil (she of the YouTube “depths of hell” classic) also looks Belgrade bound, the Bandon AC woman winning the 400m from the front to clock 53.49 seconds, well inside the qualifying time of 53.75.