Cork sprinter Phil Healy was best of the small five-athlete Irish contingent at the World Indoor Championships, reaching the semi-finals of the 400m in her first season running the quarter mile.
Ciara Mageean, Amy Foster, teenage sprinter Ciara Neville and hurdler Ben Reynolds are currently out battling for Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games where Mageean already showed a promising return to form in the 1500m final with the 800m still to come.
She was fifth at the bell and finished 13th in 4:07.41, her fastest ever in a major championship.
Foster set a new Irish senior 60m record of 7.27 seconds at the National Indoor Championships but the undoubted star of the 2018 athletics season so far has been Dublin schoolgirl Sarah Healy.
Sarah smashed the Irish Indoor Youth and Junior (U20) records at 1500m and 3000m, the latter just days after her 17th birthday, to underline the talent the Blackrock teenager showed when winning European Youth Olympics 1500m gold last summer.
Another to watch is javelin thrower Stephen Rice (22). His 68.31m won a bronze medal at the European Winter Throwing Cup, added 3 metres to his PB and moved him to seventh on the Irish all-time list.
Gymnast Rhys McClenaghan (18), a recipient of the IOC / OCI Olympic Solidarity Scholarship this year, underlined his talent with his sensational gold medal for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games.
In only his second year as a senior, the 18-year-old from Newtownards pulled off a virtually perfect routine in the Pommel final. The fact that he hit the same score (15.100) as Britain’s reigning Olympic pommel champion Max Whitlock and beat him with a superior ‘execution score’ demonstrates the quality of his performance.
Coached by Luke Carson at Rathgael GC in Bangor, McClenaghan previously won a European Junior medal and come 4th in the World Cup in March but this is a huge breakthrough and he also has serious ambitions in the ‘all-round’ category after making that final also in the Gold Coast.
Irish cycling had a big team at the World Track Championships in the Netherlands where ninth place finishes for Madison pairs of Lydia Boylan and Lydia Gurley and Felix English and Mark Downey were the best results.
The women’s pair fought to the end despite suffering losing a clip and a puncture. English and Downey may have finished three places lower than last year but with the Madison becoming an Olympic discipline, it is an event that’s becoming extremely competitive and the pace of the men’s 200-lap race was 2km per hour faster than in 2017. Downey was also just outside a top 10 (11th) in the men’s Points race and the Ulster rider, who signed for Team Wiggins last Winter, finishing third in the Volta ao Alentejo this season and is one to watch at upcoming Commonwealth Games (April 4-15, Gold Coast, Australia).
Records tumbled at the Irish Open Swimming Championships in early April. Rio Olympian Shane Ryan, best known for his backstroke, set a new Irish senior 100m freestyle of record of 48:68, the first time 49 seconds was ever broken in an Irish pool.
Longford’s Darragh Greene caused big ripples by winning the 50m/100m/200m breaststroke treble. That included an Irish senior record of 1:00.21 in the 100m and his winning time of 2:10.53 was just four tenths of a second off Andrew Bree’s 10-year-old Irish 200m record.
Dubliner Brendan Hyland set two new senior records, knocking over half a second off his 200m butterfly mark and 24 hours later, lowering his 100m record by a whopping .74 of a second.
Ireland’s Women’s 50m Freestyle record was broken twice in one day on opposite sides of the world! Danielle Hill did it first, swimming 25.56 in the Commonwealth final and, eight hours later, Mona McSharry lowered it to 25:54 at the Open.
It is a busy year for Irish swimming with European Juniors in Helsinki in July, European seniors in Glasgow in August and World Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires next October.
Ireland’s Olympic diving finalist Oliver Dingley has also made a promising start to 2018, winning gold and silver at the British Championships where his 3m Irish record of 447pts also qualified him for the FINA World Cup in China in June.
Judoka Ben Fletcher, a former World junior bronze medallist who declared for Ireland last winter, also got his season off to a great start. First, he won the Tunis Grand Prix and then he was runner-up to Georgia’s world number one Varlam Liparteliani in the -100 category at the IJF Grand Slam in Dusseldorf. This was a first ever IJF Grand Slam medal for an Irish judoka and it upped Fletcher’s
world ranking to 10th ahead of the European Championships in Israel in late April.
Some of Ireland’s world-class male rowers opened 2018 with an extended training camp in New Zealand where they not only got in some great training but quality competition. World lightweight sculls champion Paul O’Donovan won bronze in the open weight single sculls in the New Zealand Championships against some of the top heavyweights in the world.
The ‘Skibbereen Four’ – himself, brother Gary and fellow World lightweight champions Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll (who have now moved up to compete in heavyweight fulltime) – also took bronze in the Premier Four in New Zealand.
Paul O’Donovan also finished fifth in the Open Sculls final at the Sydney International in March where himself and Gary were also fifth in the Open Double Sculls Final, just under three seconds off a medal.
Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll came even closer to a medal in Sydney where they teamed up with Australian internationals Ben Coombs and Tim Masters and finished fourth in the Open Four, just 15 hundredths of a second off bronze.
Louth boxer Amy Broadhurst scored a breakthrough gold medal when she became the first Irish female to win a European U22 title.
The 21-year-old Dealgan BC southpaw bridged a six-year gap since Jason Quigley won Ireland’s only previous gold at this level which augurs well for her future.
Roscommon middleweight Aoife O’Rourke also brought home silver from the same tournament and was unlucky not to bring gold as illness forced her to withdraw from the final. Eight more athletes also returned from the Gold Coast laden down with medals after a brilliant Commonwealth Games for Northern Ireland’s team of 12 boxers and those medallists included brother and sister Aidan and
At the time of issuing this newsletter, the semi-finals and finals were still to come but, by then, Ulster boxers had already secured a minimum of one silver (Kristina O’Hara 48kg) and seven bronzes from Carly McNaul (51kg), Brendan Irvine (52kg), Kurt Walker (56kg), Michaela Walsh (57kg), James McGivern (60kg), Aidan Walsh (69kg) and Stephen Donnelly (75kg) and had high expectations of those improving further.
After finishing fifth in the -58kg division at the WTE Club Championships in Turkey, Jack Woolley (19) took a silver medal at the prestigious Turkish Open in Istanbul. The Tallaght star met Moldova’s former European champion Stepan Dimitrov in the final which was shown live on Turkish TV. He led 4-1 after the first round and 8-5 after the second but it finished 10-10 in regulation time and the Moldovan only won with a ‘golden point’ score in added time.
David Phelan, fresh from his mock Junior Cert, also impressed in the -55kg category at the Turkish Open, finishing fifth from a field of 55 entries in his debut at international junior level.
With Junior World Championships, a Youth Olympic qualifier in April and Senior Europeans in May on top of the World Cup series, 2018 will be a very busy one for Irish taekwondo.
None of Ireland’s ice-sport specialists succeeded in making it to PyeongChang but have still made great progress this Winter.
In January Dubliner Conor Stakelum, who is based in Dundee, became the first male skater to represent Ireland at the European Figure Skating Championships where he finished 36th.
Ryan McAnuff (23) finished 35th overall at the World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Montreal in March and his younger brother Sean (20) finished 28th in his debut at the European Short Track equivalent where his Top 30 finish also secured two men’s spots for Ireland at next year’s event in the Netherlands.
Ulster figure skater Sam McAllister, from Ballymoney also became the Irish skater since Viv Parnell-Murphy to compete in the ISU World Junior Championships where he finished 44th.