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Dream, Prepare, Achieve – The story so far of Cian McPhillips

 Cian McPhillips (pictured above after breaking the Irish U-18 1500m record)
Cian McPhillips (pictured above after breaking the Irish U-18 1500m record)

My name is Cian Mc Phillips and I am an athlete. More specifically, I am a middle distance athlete and I also do cross country races. I have been doing athletics almost as long as I can remember but I loved all sports. In primary school it was non-stop sport, Gaelic, soccer, tag rugby and athletics. I played for the school, my local GAA and soccer clubs and the Ardagh Community Games teams. I was OK at Gaelic and soccer, playing midfield in both, but it was in athletics that I seemed to stand out. Playing for the teams was great craic and we won lots but there was always a bit of pressure from the fear of making a mistake and letting the team down. I could hear the shouting from the sideline, and that would make me even more nervous. In athletics it was totally different.

When the gun went, it was just me against the other lads or maybe the clock. There were no real tactics, no late tackles and no strange refereeing decisions. There was very little shouting from the stands and first across the line always won. If we won a county final in Gaelic or soccer, there were a lot of people there and after the match there were lots of nice comments from everyone, a meal in McDonalds, or food and speeches back at the club house. Those were great memories and we talked about it in school for weeks afterwards. In athletics, there were only a few parents from Longford there and after the medal was handed over, we usually got in the car with my Mam, Dad and sister and went off to get some food somewhere. However, I got to know all the lads from all the athletics clubs around Ireland and even though we raced against each other we also got on very well after the races and we often went on our cool down jogs together.

The first big race I ran was a Connaught Cross Country race in Daingan in Galway. I was in third class and it was a race for third and fourth class so I was not expecting too much. There was a huge crowd on the start line, well over 120 athletes from national schools all over Connaught. I was running as an individual, so I was stuck right out on the outside. My dad told me to get off fast as the track narrowed very quickly and I could get stuck in the crowd. I did that and I was still in the lead with about ten meters to go when this guy just got past me before the finish line. I was absolutely wrecked, gasping for air and hardly able to stand up. My knees were bending, my head was banging and my lungs were on fire but I was handed a silver medal and that made it all worthwhile. I was so proud bringing the medal into school on the Monday morning because I was running for the school and it was the first time that anyone from the school had won a Connaught medal for cross country.

From there it has just got better and better. I had joined the athletic club in Longford when I was in first class. I started in little athletics but then they moved me outside to join the older athletes and that was much more fun. A year or two later, Longford Athletic Club started to get very good and we had lots of athletes and relay teams. I was also taking part in Community Games and I was on the first team from Longford to win a gold medal in the Mixed Distance Relay event for under twelves. The next year I won individual gold in the cross country and the following year, I was on the team that won gold in the under fourteen Mixed Distance Relay. These were great experiences and I loved every minute of it. When I was eleven, I had an amazing year. I was running in the under 12 age group for athletes born in 2002. I won the All Ireland gold in the Indoor U 12 600m, then I did the same in the outdoor 600m in Tullamore and then I won the gold in the All Ireland Cross Country in Dublin. Three All Ireland golds in one year was hard to believe but I was really loving it. The following year was almost as good but it was getting very hard to keep all the team sports and the athletics going, so I decided to focus on athletics only.

My Dad was coaching me but I think he was getting worried that he was not experienced enough and the following year when I was competing in under 14 events, I had a new coach. His name was Joe Ryan and he is still my coach. Joe is a teacher and a part time coach but he has a super reputation and there are lots of other athletes just like me who want him to coach them. This means that he has a top class training group with European medal winners and Irish internationals in it. I am the youngest member of the group but it has a real feel of a team to it. We push each other but we also support each other and encourage each other. Training sessions are very organised and everything is done using a stop watch. Joe wants us to do each rep in a specific time and then rest for an exact time before the next rep. Some of the lads are brilliant at pacing whether it’s a 1K rep or a 200m one.

Training sessions are usually held in Mullingar Harriers club on Tuesday nights because that is where Joe is the coach and then the Saturday sessions could be on the canal in Mullingar or on the track in Athlone or Leixlip or Tullamore. The sessions last about an hour but I have about 30 minutes warm up before the session and 15 minutes cool down after the session, so it usually takes about 2 hours from start to finish. We all want to follow the session exactly but the great thing is that if any of us is tired or not feeling the best, we can sit out a rep or just do an easy run while the others are training. Joe is a great coach because he is constantly talking to us and getting feedback from us on how we are feeling. He never raises his voice at training but I can always hear him during races, so I know he can shout.

Cian winning the Schools International 1500m final
Cian winning the Schools International 1500m final

In the last year and a half, I am in the Athletics Ireland High Performance Programme which means that I get lots of talks on nutrition, hydration, injury prevention, managing stress and even how to maximise sleep to get the maximum performance. I picked up an injury last summer which meant that I had to miss the European Youth Olympics. This was a set back and a bit of a disappointment especially as I think I was ranked number one going into the event. That is the thing with sport, probably any sport, that there is a great buzz when you win but for every up there is also a challenge or a disappointment and learning to deal with disappointment is a big part of the development of an athlete. Like everyone else, I have had my quota of setbacks: getting stood on and losing my spike in the European U18 1500m or tripping when going into the lead in the All Ireland final but I have also had great days and great experiences.

A few weeks ago I got an invite to race in the world famous Millrose Games in New York. This was a dream I have had for a good while and I could not believe it when the email arrived from Ray Flynn inviting me to run in the High School Mile against the best high school milers in America. I got the invite almost a full year ahead of the event and Joe organised my training to have me piquing at just the right time. The long flight to NY would pose a problem but everything including hydration, nutrition, rest and exercise was planned in advance to give me the best chance to do well. I ended up taking a subway from Central park up to the arena the day before the race to get a look at it and see how everything was laid out. There was a group of us and we got lost and I ended up in a taxi with Mark English who was competing in the 800m and Andrew Coscoran who was competing in the world famous Wannamaker Mile.

The night before the race I also met Eamon Coughlan and his chat gave me real confidence going into the race. ‘Make one move and make it count’ was his advice and it was the way he won 7 Wannamaker Mile titles. I decided that it was the advice I would try to use during the race and it went exactly as I had hoped. Coming up to the bell at the start of the last lap, I made my move and kicked for home. It caught the rest of the field by surprise and I was away. Coming up to the finish line in front of 5,500 cheering spectators and knowing that I was going to win was amazing. It made all the long lonely runs on the canal in Ballymahon and the early starts every Saturday seem worthwhile. Better still was having Eamon Coughlan and Ray Flynn standing just beside the finish line to say ‘well done’. Dream, Prepare, Achieve is a motto we have at home, and this one race brought that motto to life in the most amazing way.

At that moment, I was so happy for my Mam, Dad and sister who were all there in the arena, for my coach who put so much time into me, for everyone in Longford and especially Longford Athletic Club, for my friends and the lads in the training group and for the Irish supporters in the arena who didn’t know me but were right behind me. Dreams do come true but hard work makes them more likely to happen.

About the Athlete : Cian McPhillips

Cian McPhillips is a 17 year old middle distance runner from Longford. Cian missed out on competing in last summer's European Youth Olympics where he was the no.1 ranked runner in his category. Cian is part of Team Ireland and recently won the prestigious American High School Mile in the Millrose Games in New York beating the best athletes the US had to offer.


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