Report by Siobhán Grant
The weather may have been a bit erratic on Sunday past at Mary Peters Track but that wasn’t reflected in the consistent high performance levels of young Fiachna McAleenan as he threw on his spikes and took to the track and field for the NI & Ulster Combined Event Championships U13 Pentathlon.
Newcastle AC have invested heavily in track and field this year through expanding and refreshing their equipment and also in capacity building of their coaches through various training programmes and certified qualifications.
There has definitely been a revival of the desire to swap out the cross country spikes and to embrace new challenges in jumping and throwing at track and field events and even in their rawest form there is natural flare for many of the events.
The Under 13 and Under 11 categories have steadily grown in numbers through various competitions and the presence of the yellow and red vests is certainly making itself a staple at all events.
As confidence grows within these young athletes and they continue to upskill on various new events, this paves the way for challenges which may have once seemed completely unattainable. One such event was hosted this week in South Belfast as athletes from all over the country and beyond, travelled to the home of NI Athletics to take part in the NI & Ulster Combined Events Championships.
Off the back of a strong performance at the last Lagan Valley Fab 5 meet, Fiachna McAleenan knew he had the potential to perform well in the U13 boys, Pentathlon.
This consisted of the High Jump, 75m Hurdles, Long Jump, Shot Putt and finishing with the 800m.
It was a tall ask of the young athletes in 1 day, some of whom had travelled from Meath and Galway to take part. It was going to be not only a physically demanding day but also mentally challenging to turn out a high performance event after event.
Fiachna was up for the challenge and as the High Jump got underway, his nerves settled as he soared effortlessly over the bar in the early stages of the competition. It wasn’t long before Fiachna had out jumped the other male competitors and pushed on to clear 1.47m in a competition against himself before his landing rattled the bar just a slight bit too much and he topped out at 1.5m to win that event.
There wasn’t much time to recover as only 15 minutes later he was due trackside for the 75m hurdles. Taking an early lead and using the streamlined agility he has gained from years of hurling and football, he cruised over hurdles and over the finish line in 13.97 with second place nearly 2 seconds behind.
A long break for lunch proved to impact on all the athletes. Changeable weather was incoming and between showers, stretching of the legs and casual laps of the track were completed. During these laps there were plenty of laughs to keep the mood calm but also some invaluable words of encouragement and redirection of focus from Coach Siobhan Grant as she continues to encourage and help grow this track and field squad from the grassroots.
It must be said that Fiachnas ability to draw a line after every event and not dwell on what he could have done or even should have done has proven to be invaluable especially as he moved onto his favourite event, the long jump. Now becoming somewhat of an expert as he paces out his approach, he approached his marker for his first jump and hit the board spot on to float through the air. After 3 jumps he matched his Long Jump PB of 4.20m and yet again by over 40cm, to win his 3rd event of the day.
By now the phone was beeping with messages inbound from Bulgaria as the McVeigh Clan had been keeping up to date with the day’s events and were offering support and encouragement along with vital stats and performance breakdowns. However chief supporter, young brother Rossa was doing a sterling job of saying all the right things, being there to look up at his big brother and share his admiration for his abilities alongside managing to be in several places at once to ensure there was a body everywhere Fiachna looked.
The Shot Putt was started as the rains poured but huddled together the U13 athletes had become a support network of their own to each other and under the trees overlooking them was the parents and coaches, also huddled together as they cheered on everyone. Fiachnas first throw was solid enough to take the win with a distance of 7.11m as he struggled to beat that distance again in the weather and change in grip on the implement.
With 4 event wins under his belt Fiachna was uncatchable at this stage and entering into the final event of the 800m, he knew himself that although this wasn’t his favourite event, it was definitely his strongest event. It would take a lot to match his endurance and flawless pacing to beat him.
When asked in his warm up, what his race strategy was, his reply of ‘run’ couldn’t be argued with and he did exactly that. Matched for the first 300m by a young lady from Carrick Aces AC, Fiachna made his move coming into the straight and the field failed to follow at that blistering pace. As he stretched out in the final 400m, you knew he wasn’t going to let up and just take the win, he was out to claim that personal best and as he mustered every last ounce of energy he had left after a long day, he crossed the line in 2.25 to claim the race victory, the event win with a score of 1722 and that illusive 800m PB.
From humble beginnings within Athletics as he toed the line in Rostrevor as a P4 for school cross country to 4 years later being the Ni & Ulster Combined Events Champion, shows that anything is possible.
Like many athletes he has fallen in and out of love with the sport however he has continued to be fully dedicated to his Hurling and Football at Liatroim Fontenoys and this alongside parkruns, Cross Country and track and field has allowed him to develop his agility, balance and coordination through all 3 fundamental disciplines of running, jumping and throwing to be a provincial champion of a Pentathlon. A phenomenal achievement and a bright and promising future lies ahead within whatever event he takes on next.