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New coach Vernon has helped Mageean target big honours once again

 

By Cathal Dennehy

There is such a thing as wanting it too much, and Ciara Mageean knows how that can cause a flourishing career to falter.

For much of the past two years, ever since she soared into public consciousness with a bronze medal over 1,500m at the European Championships in Amsterdam, the Portaferry woman's career has chugged along without ever clicking into top gear.

Injuries were a factor, so too ill-health, but it's one thing to lose those private battles; it's another to fall short in front of the public's prying eyes.

The final straw was London, last year's World Championships, where she trailed home 13th in her 1,500m heat in 4:10.60, nine seconds off her best.

Mageean knew something had to change. In December, she linked up with Steve Vernon, a retired international British distance runner who was coaching a professional group of middle-distance athletes, Team New Balance Manchester.

"Ciara is a very driven athlete," said Vernon. "To be a champion you need to be a ferocious competitor."

It was no easy decision for Mageean to leave Dublin, or indeed coach Jerry Kiernan who had guided her back to that European medal after years of injury.

"Jerry has been so fantastic," said Mageean. "But it was more of a change for me personally to go and join a professional athlete set-up and it's paying dividends.

"I'm still learning and Steve is still clipping my wings a little."

Mageean moved to Manchester full-time just before Christmas and the 26-year-old has made steady progress ever since.

Vernon's ambitions are two-pronged: maintain consistency and build her aerobic engine.

This winter, Mageean slowly raised her training volume to a high of 70 miles a week, and also became more robust in the gym.

"She needed to become a lot more aerobically strong, and that's what we worked on so she can put races back-to-back and be consistent," said Vernon.

"I think if she can be consistent for 12 months, two years, she can run very, very well."

When they sat down last autumn, they thought not of 2018 but 2020, the Tokyo Olympics.

"Everything is working back from that," said Vernon. "She's a huge talent, but the big thing was for her to be consistent in training. I told her it's not going to happen overnight. Things are moving in the right direction but it's going to take time."

At the Commonwealth Games in Australia, she was strong enough to put two 4:07 races back-to-back and finish 13th in the 1,500m final.

It wasn't a vintage Championships, not by her standards, but it was better. It gave her more than three months left to prepare for the European Championships in Berlin.

And now she finds herself a little over a week away. While repeating the medal-winning feat of 2016 will be a big ask, her form has been coming to the boil. At this weekend's Irish Life Health National Championships in Santry, Mageean will be one of a few dozen Irish athletes having their final tune-up races.

She will square off with Claire Mooney in the 800m tomorrow evening and perhaps also tackle the 1,500m an hour later.

"This is what I do at every Championships: go out there, progress through the rounds and once you're in the final, it's anybody's game," she said.

As Vernon put it: "All Ciara has to do is get in that (Euro) final and be the best version of herself. If she can do that, hopefully she'll be well up there."

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