It is more than well known that Gaelic sports are at the core of Irish culture and identity. They have enriched the lives of families and their counties for generations.
We will always be in awe of the quality that the GAA produces but the new generation of Irish runners must not go unnoticed.
Louis O’Loughlin, a 20-year-old runner from Dublin, has spent his youthful years with his spikes on the tracks, competing at county and national level and representing his country at international level.
Athletics over GAA
Louis began his journey with athletics at the youthful age of 7, running for his local village in Dublin.
By the age of 15, O’Loughlin was scouted after impressing coaches at the West Leinster Cross Country Championship.
This brought him to his current club, Donore Harriers AC, located on the scenic banks of the River Liffey, in the bucolic village of Chapelizod, Dublin.
Louis now competes in 800m, 1500m and cross country, specialising in distance running, having represented his country at the European Youth Olympics and European Youth Championships.
But like any young track athlete it takes time to identify which area of athletics is your strongest:
“I went from a sprinter to a distance runner, it was crazy really because I was doing sixty-metre hurdles at the beginning and then I stepped up to two-hundred, and then I stepped up to six-hundred and then to eight-hundred metres and then I stayed with eight-hundred really”.
Much like Kiwis with the All Blacks, Brazilians with their Ginga style of Football or India with their passion for cricket, Ireland will always have GAA sports at the heart of their identity.
But how does a young lad from Dublin find himself in a non-Gaelic sport?
“I was playing Gaelic football from the age of eleven until about sixteen or seventeen, but I preferred the Hurling to be honest, because I wasn’t very good at Gaelic football, even though I’m from Dublin.
“I loved running. The reason why I loved running so much was because I was never good at sports as a kid, when I was younger, I wasn’t very good at winning, but I started winning races and then everyone just knew me as the guy that does running and so, I wanted to keep my name and start progressing and use my talent.”
CURRENT STATE OF IRISH ATHLETICS
The development of sport is key to the ethos of Athletics Ireland (the country’s National Governing Body for Athletics) and with an elected board of volunteers, they aim to support and promote every level from recreational running and school competitions all the way up to Ireland’s elite international athletes.
O’Loughlin shared great optimism for the future of Irish athletics, having seen its progress during his thirteen-year journey with the sport:
“I think we are following in the footsteps of the likes of Great Britain and America.
“Back then, Ireland weren’t as good, even though we had the likes of Ronnie Delany, Sonia O’Sullivan and Marcus O’Sullivan. We had loads of great athletes that made the Olympics, but I don’t think there was enough support put in place back then.”
But with Athletics Ireland’s ‘Strategic Plan’ for 2028 completion, the governing body are ensuring their commitment to the continued improvement of support, coaching, facilities and the increase of participation, clubs and self-generated funding; from 49% in 2021 to 60% by 2028.
“I’m only realising now that the kids my age and the really younger up and coming ones, they will have so much support put in place for them. They’ll have state of the art facilities and funding from Athletics Ireland, physiotherapy and support to supplement your training.
“I’m finding that the younger athletes have so much more talent now than ever really, the times are getting faster, so I do think we are going in the right direction.”
BEING AN ATHLETE IN A PANDEMIC
During the pandemic it became a trend to partake in daily exercise to break up the days or another chance to get outside for some time.
The challenge for the elite athletes was finding ways to maintain optimal fitness during the peak of covid restrictions:
“I was kind of forced to break some restrictions anyway, because with two-kilometres, there’s no way you can train with just two kilometres.
“My runs have to be around thirteen, fourteen kilometres, so I’d have to run a two-kilometre loop seven times, but I just wasn’t doing that, but I stayed fit, I had ways of staying fit.”
Being away from the tracks and the gym, other avenues for exercise were necessary to explore:
“I think most athletes started doing yoga and loads of home-based exercise, so it did benefit athletes in that sense as their mobility and flexibility were increasing but then in terms of getting out and putting the work and mileage in it was hard for athletes.”
Louis is showing great optimism for an exciting summer for national athletics, and much like his peers, all athletes will just be grateful for a sense of competitive normality.
“Summer is going to be absolutely packed, I think every weekend nearly, there will be a race available. The races are back to normal, there’s spectators in the stadiums, so I think that it’s only going to get better from here.”
Having regained his competitive edge, O’Loughlin’s ambitions are continuing to grow. Louis would like to take his running to the states to further develop his ability and the eventual end goal of being an Olympic athlete.