Stephen Delaney, a native of Sutton, Co Dublin, is Triathlon Ireland’s new Performance Director.
He is a former international cyclist and winner of Rás Tailteann, and has worked full-time with Triathlon Ireland for the last five years, most recently as National Development Coach.
Triathlon, by its nature, is a multi-disciplinary sport that needs extremely versatile and dedicated athletes. Does that make it more challenging to recruit and retain talent?
Triathlon is not unique in this regard. All elite sport is hard. There are challenges in staying healthy and injury-free while building the capacity to train in the volumes required over years of work. That takes a certain dedication and long-term commitment.
Triathlon is a sport to which people often transition later in life or from other disciplines. How do you successfully recruit teenage athletes and what is your junior development pathway?
We recruit through our competitions, recommendations from coaches in other sports and parents/teachers, as well as Talent ID events. We have an Emerging Talent programme, national development squads and we also have a development officer in each province. In 2017, we started our ‘Tri-Hero’ programme, going directly into schools to coach students and teachers. Developing hubs at Third Level is also a priority and we now have coached groups in the University of Limerick and DCU.
How will your previous job benefit your new role?
I know many of our current athletes quite well and have a good understanding of their potential and character and it helps that I have worked at all levels of coaching – from junior development to elites. There are also challenges as the role does require some change in the relationships and the move to a more administrative position.
Since Rio Ireland’s two Olympic triathletes – Aileen Reid and Bryan Keane – have retired. Who, at present, looks likeliest to next take up the baton at that level? Russell White from Banbridge. His performances and consistency this year showed he is moving to a new level, particularly finishing 15th in the World Series Grand Final, which is essentially our sport’s single day World Championships.
Any other notable international successes in 2017?
Ben Shaw, who is based in Australia, had wins in Asian Continental Cup races. Mayo’s Con Doherty also medalled at a European Continental event and was 12th in a World Cup event. Ulster’s James Edgar (19) was 7th – just nine seconds off a medal – in one of the top European Junior races. We have not been successful in transitioning female athletes from junior to elite senior yet which is a concern, but are confident we are working with athletes who can make the step up.
Can Ireland’s HP athletes get adequate competition here or do they have to travel a lot?
The Irish Super series is our top ‘draft legal’ competition and includes five races each year but there just isn’t the depth of field here at this time so our athletes have to travel, especially as world ranking and Olympic qualifying are based on points gained on the international circuit. Senior elites tend to train with elite groups abroad where they can access competitive training environments and travel jointly on the race circuit. Russell is training with Origin Performance, a US-based group. We sometimes can collaborate with other NGBs abroad and have had junior groups training in Belgium.
What’s big on the competition calendar for Ireland’s top triathletes in 2018?
The 2020 Olympic qualifying period opens in May 2018 so the World Cups and World Triathlon Series (WTS) races will be targets along with the European Games (Glasgow, August). Other major events in 2018 are Youth Olympic Qualifier (Banyoles, July), the European Championships (Estonia, July), World University Championships (Sweden, September) and the World Series Final in Gold Coast, Australia, which, in April, also hosts the first big event of the season; the Commonwealth Games.