By Joshua Freeman
Two Irish athletes who faced career threatening challenges are bouncing back and looking stronger than ever.
On Sunday night Glasgow became part of Irish athletic history when both Mark English and Ciara Mageean picked up bronze medals in the men’s 800 metres and women’s 1500m respectively at the European Indoor Championships.
It spared Ireland another poor showing at the event and gave both their careers a timely boost in the right direction.
It could have been a very different story had they not battled back to their best after being plagued with misfortune over the last number of years.
It was only three years ago that Letterkenny native, English suffered a serious freak injury during a run with UCD. He ran over a pothole and damaged his foot.
It was an injury that meant missing that year’s World Indoor Championships and shattering his hopes of a good finish in the Rio Olympics, where he bowed out in the semi-finals after a lack of preparation.
It was a bitter pill to swallow following his bronze medal at the 2014 European Championships and a silver in the European Indoors of 2015.
Mageean’s story followed a similar pattern. Formidable at youth level, breaking Sonia O’Sullivan’s underage records before having three years filled of medals on the national and international stage between 2009 and 2012.
Similarly, to English, injury took its toll as she was diagnosed with a Calcaneal Spur on her left ankle; an injury which left her out of action for over two years through surgery and rehabilitation.
Her journey took a different twist to Mark English as she came back stronger breaking the 1500m Irish record with a run of 4:08.66-minutes upon her return along with a bronze at the European Athletics Championships.
The 2016 Rio Olympics is where their two stories intertwined once more, when the Portaferry native earned an Olympic semi-final berth only to see her form drop drastically after.
While English fought injury curses, Mageean fought form issues eventually breaking down after a series of poor performances.
That was the final straw for a determined Mageean who joined coach Steve Vernon in Manchester at Team New Balance in order to reignite her stuttering career.
At national level both athletes began shining again with Mageean becoming the first woman to claim the 800m and 1500m double since O’Sullivan in August 2018. With English claiming the 800m title in the men’s in both 2018 and 2019.
On Sunday, their hard work was rewarded with their respective medals, which also saw English become only the second Irishman to hold more than one medal at the championships. The other being David Gillick.
Even after Mageean’s race there was hunger that was lacking before as she said “I am very disappointed I don’t have a silver right now,” as she was pipped to second by Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui.
The pair have almost parallel patterns and with English only being 25 and Mageean 26, it appears as though the best is yet to come for these Irish warriors.
The pair claimed Ireland’s 19th and 20th medals at the championships since its inception, a tally which would seem certain to increase if their current form continues. For now, we not only have to be happy for the weekend but be thankful that we will hopefully get to see more proud Irish days on the track.