Performance pathway drop-outs ‘not lost to the sport’

ISA performance director James O’Callaghan points to former pathway sailors who have continued in the sport as coaches here or as sailing instructors overseas

August has been a busy month for championship events at home and abroad, especially regarding the “performance pathway” that feeds the elite sailing programme.

Today sees the start of the 420 class National Championships at the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dún Laoghaire, the sole double-handed class feeding talented crews into the ISA's performance system.

But while concerns have been raised before that the system gradually eliminates sailors in the hunt for Olympic talent, ISA performance director James O’Callaghan disagrees that good sailors are being lost from the sport.

"People are dropping out of the pathway but not dropping out of sailing; it's a myth," he told The Irish Times this week.


“What you find is that university team racing is picking up a lot of people. Or take the recent homecoming of the Commodores’ Cup when (team captain) Anthony O’Leary specifically name-checked the ISA Pathway programme as being a great supplier of talent into the big-boat racing scene.”

O’Callaghan points to former pathway sailors who have continued in the sport, either as coaches here or as sailing instructors overseas on college summer breaks.

Ben Lynch is another prominent sailor who didn't progress into the senior squad but was a watch-leader on the Volvo 70 competing in the Round Britain and Ireland Race.

Junior cycles

He also coached a youth Laser 4.7 team that competed in Norway. O’Callaghan says he’s typical of many ex-pathway sailors who return as coaches in the junior cycles.

“It’s what we want in terms of the culture we need in the sport. Other areas of the sport could harness the talent that’s coming out of the programme,” he says, noting the Irish Cruiser Racing Association and the Fireball class are seeking more involvement from younger sailors.

O’Callaghan reckons the programme is now delivering continuity as evidenced by the top results coming in across several classes.

In another pathway feeder class, Adam D'Arcy of the Royal Cork YC lost the overall Topper World Championship title on a tie-break to take silver, following on from Ballyholme's Liam Glynn's gold last year.

Optimist Europeans

Barely six years ago, the RCYC’s Seafra Guilfoyle finished 45th in the Optimist Europeans little in Poland which was then the best result Ireland had at the event in 16 years whereas the same event in

Dun Laoghaire

this year saw top ten Irish placings, which are now commonplace.

Guilfoyle has come out of the youth cycle with a silver medal at the Youth Worlds, Ireland’s second such medal in just two years, which O’Callaghan cites as further evidence the performance programme is working.

“You can see there’s a level of continuity coming through which is a direct result of a well-structured programme with good coaching.”

David Branigan

David Branigan

David Branigan is a contributor on sailing to The Irish Times