Eanna Madden is presented with the Leitrim Sports Person of the Year 2017 Award, sponsored by Leitrim County Council, by Cathaoirleach Cllr Finola Armstrong-McGuire. Photo by James Molloy
Another year of sporting excellence was celebrated last Friday night in Lough Rynn Castle with a stunned Eanna Madden securing the overall prize of the Leitrim's Sports Person of the Year.
No stranger to receiving prizes at the awards night, Eanna confided he felt he would be going home empty handed having missed out on the Senior Sports Star Award but was visibly overjoyed to claim the night's top prize.
It was a fitting way for the Mohill man to complete a year to remember. Having missed out on the World University Games, Eanna showed the mental toughness that is essential to operate at the top level in what is often a very solitary environment as he retained his Irish 200m title and finished second in the 100m final.
When his name was read out, a warm round of applause rang out but Eanna admitted he was somewhat overwhelmed - “I was completely blown away. I was kind of in shock walking up. I wasn’t expecting it at all.
“Having been joint winner last year with John Mulligan and with Gerard O’Donnell in 2014 I was just happy to be there and enjoying all the sports people around me. That’s a great motivational factor but I didn’t think I was in the running with all the great achievements of everyone else around me.
“I was in shock and awe and I’m delighted. It’s a great honour. I was just in awe of everyone and the talent and depth of sport and how well everyone had done. I had a good year and this is unreal motivation for next year.”
Eanna's focus now turns towards 2018 which, all going according to plan, will see him represent Ireland in Berlin at the European Championships.
“I am currently in 11 weeks of training. I have another couple of hard weeks in December and then warm weather training in Tenerife. Then there are a couple of indoor races then a block of hard training and prepping for outdoors.
“It’s about nine months of training at a high level and two months of competing at the end of May, June, July. We have August off and then back into it. It’s monotonous enough, there are a lot of sessions but it is enjoyable. I am a very competitive person and I like the thrill of it.”
There have been some bumps along the road in 2017. None more so than twice coming within 0.2 of a second of the qualification standard for the World University Games in Taiwan. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Eanna is eager to learn as much from his setbacks as from his successes.
“Yeah I was so close. It is psychological as well. You have to go out with the attitude that you are the best out there and no one is going to beat you. If you go out with that mentality, hopefully it will transpire. You might not be the best but if you think you are the best it is going to transfer onto the track.
“On paper you might not have as fast a pb but if on the day you think you are going to beat that person, it’s in your mindset and anything is achievable. It’s a tough sport and builds a strong mental capacity.”
The mental toughness essential to operate at Eanna's level becomes apparent very quickly as he continues the gruelling work it will take to keep shaving the milliseconds from his times.
“Every motivational factor comes into play and that is why these nights are so great and a big thank you to Leitrim Sports Partnership for putting on such a great night. Every year is getting better and better, everyone is pushing and getting better.”
Similar to an inter-county footballer who refers to the special feeling of representing his club, Eanna has retained a very strong bond with Carrick-on-Shannon AC and he was quick to pay tribute to all at the club, in particular John Connolly.
“I’d like to thank Carrick-on-Shannon AC and John Connolly, he has supported me so much through the years and I am so honoured to wear the Carrick vest every time I am competing.
“I’m also hugely grateful to my other sponsors, Pat the Baker, The Landmark Hotel, Lough Rynn Castle for their support through the years for getting me to races throughout Europe.
“It’s small things like that, that go unnoticed but it makes a big difference to me to race in a good environments, train in good environments, compete in good races and get those qualifying times for the major championships that I am trying to reach.”
The pain of missing out on the World University Games, having come so close twice, could have derailed Eanna's season but he bounced back in style to retain his Irish 200 metre title.
“Every race I was getting faster and faster. I was coming back from such a chronic injury all year. I was finally finding form, finally feeling myself, finally racing.
“It was just that deadline, it was on that day and I was feeling great thinking ‘I’m going to do it’. I won the first race, I came across the line and it was 0.2 of a second short and I was like ‘no’. I went back, reassessed the situation, one more shot, into the A Final and I gave it my all but I was in an outside lane.
“I finished fourth, with my hands on my knees, looking at the times coming down, down, down. Fourth place was 21.2, it was soul destroying. I only needed 21.0.”
The pain of that defeat was quickly put to bed as attention turned towards the Athletics Ireland Senior 200m Final - “I thought I need to defend my national title this year, that was the aim so I picked myself back up.
“I had stiff competition from the American guy Jeremy Phillips that came over and he had actually a faster pb than me but on the line I was just thinking I need to do this for the Irish. I can’t have someone else coming into our territory winning a national title, an American.
“I beat him on the line, ran the standard, obviously two weeks late. It was a bit bittersweet to run my second fastest time ever and defend my national title from an athlete from outside Ireland. I was second in the 100m. I was fifth in the last 10 metres, fourth in the last five and then dipped on the line to get second, a pb 10.62 so it was like the icing on the cake.”
Looking ahead to 2018 Eanna said “The overall goal every year is just to represent Ireland and get to the major championships. I had the success of national titles and that is a fantastic achievement but that is the mentality you need to bring in this sport. It’s always more, it is never enough.
“2018 is the European Seniors in Berlin, I was there in 2016 in Amsterdam, the aim is to get there and make the European semi-final in the 200m. That is the top, top goal and I will be building every day for that. You have to aim high. If your dreams don’t scare you then who else is going to dream for you.”
The demands associated with trying to compete at the top level are obvious but Eanna believes the hard work will prove beneficial - “You have to really push each day and find some motivation that will bring you through those tough days. I had a tough week this week with training and you have to listen to your body.
“You are breaking down your body, you are pushing it beyond boundaries that it has ever been, that is the whole purpose of it, to get better but you obviously need that recovery element.
“It’s all or nothing, it’s milliseconds, it’s inches, it’s everything whereas you could score a last minute goal or kick a late point or get the hop of the ball whereas this is just performance“.