It felt every bit as easy as it looked, Ciara Mageean softly nailing her place in the European 1,500 metres final, and keeping it seemed plenty in reserve too.
Sunday’s final showdown back inside the Berlin Olympiastadion (7pm Irish time) will likely be faster, tougher and naturally more tactical, but Mageean also feels and looks prepared for whatever that final throws at her.
Thomas Barr was back on the track too, some 16 hours after his bronze medal heroics in the 400m hurdles, assisting the Irish 4x400m relay team in their quest for another final: Barr anchored the quartet, with Chris O'Donnell, Brandon Array and Leon Reid, and together they finished fifth in a season best of 3:06.55 - not enough to qualify, however. They ended up 11th overall, the top eight progressing (Reid clocking an excellent 46.1 on his leg).
Phil Healy did earn herself another run, progressing from her 200m heat into the semi-finals later this Friday evening (6.55pm Irish time): drawn in lane six, she'll have defending champion Dafne Schippers for company, and will likely need to improve on her Irish record of 22.99 to qualify.
“Absolutely more comfortable at that,” said Healy, who took third in her heat in 23.34. “The 100m is more fun for us, if anything, and the starting blocks wouldn’t be top of our agenda at training, working on more 400m stuff. But it’s a European 200m semi-final, and I feel there is more there. I’ll give it my all again.”
On a little cooler of a morning, Mageean ran the perfect race, finishing second to Britain's gold medal favourite Laura Muir, who took the final in 4:09.12, Mageean right on her heels in 4:09.35 - and again feeling and looking like the athlete who won bronze in this distance in the 2016 European Championships in Amsterdam.
The hardest part of the morning’s effort, it seemed, was coming through to the mixed zone, where Mageean had to briefly excuse herself. “Sorry, I just didn’t want to throw up on your shoes,” she says politely, after promptly returning.
“But yeah, it felt good, a bit choppy at times, but then everyone is trying to hold their position, and comfortable yeah, and it gives me confidence for the final. I came out to get the big ‘Q’ next to my name, so job done. My only tactic and instruction was too qualify, and to finish as far up as I could. I didn’t want to be sitting there worrying about a fastest loser spot, so I knew what I had to do, and my aim was top-three really, so all boxes ticked.”
Time now, she said, to draw on that experience of Amsterdam and beyond: “Of course, and I think less so for the racing experience, because you practice that all the time, but more so all the lead up too, knowing that I’ve been here and done that, and dealt with all these nerves before, and come out on top. And maybe give myself some credit for that, that I’ve done the work, and I’m ready for it.
“And the race is the easy part, because you’ve done the work, and once you step on the track and the gun goes, that’s when you feel most comfortable. Dealing with the nerves and all the little voices in the head is the tough part, but I can take confidence from all the championships we’ve done before.
“And with such a young team here, all the talk about all the newcomers on the senior panel, it makes me feel old, and also makes me realise how much experience I have at these championships, so time to draw on all of that in the final.
“I’ve done a lot of strength work too, and speed is easy once you’ve got the strength to utilise it, at the end. Coming strong is the main thing, especially in the last little kick.”
And with that strength and speed it seems her confidence has also come back: “I know some people think I’ve had a rough few years. I had a bad season last year. Most people forget that athletes are not robots, and constantly improving every year is not easy. Everyone has a wobble, but I’m not taking that as dent in me as an athlete. Everybody tells me that class is permanent. So I’m going to go out there and show that class that I have. And growing up in Portaferry playing camogie, I’m tough, and put in a hell of a lot of training over the last few years, and that should stand to me.”
No such joy for either Kerry O'Flaherty or Michelle Finn in their heat of the 3,000m steeplechase, both finishing at the very back of the field, and both outside 10 minutes - O'Flaherty clocking 10:09.81, and Finn 10:10.93.
The young Irish women's 4x400 quartet of Sinead Denny, Davacia Patterson (only 17), Sophie Becker and Claire Mooney finished their heat in eighth, their 3:35.96 also a season best.