DANIELLA Jansen should be on the countdown for a trip to Kenya in July.
By Chris McNulty in Stranorlar. Pictures by Stephen McCarthy (Sportsfile)
The young Finn Valley AC star was set to compete for Ireland in the 4x400m relay at the World Under-20 Athletics Championships.
Picture: Daniella Jansen of Finn Valley Athletic Club is watched by coach Dermot McGranaghan during a training session at the Finn Valley Centre as athletics resumes. Picture by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Those Championships, due to be held in late July at the Nyayo Sports Complex in Nairobi were a casualty of Covid-19. Postponed, though, as opposed to cancelled offers hope for Jansen, who will still be eligible at this grade next year.
After 10 weeks away, Jansen was in the first group back on the blue tartan track at Finn Valley this morning.
A group of four, including Jansen, Abbie McGranaghan, Riona Dohetry and Joseph Gillespie were put through their paces at a distance by Finn Valley coach Dermot McGranaghan.
Under phase one of the easing of Ireland’s lockdown, athletics clubs were today permitted to return to outdoor activity in small groups, while maintaining social distancing.
“I’ve missed been on the track,” Jansen tells Donegal Daily/Donegal Sport Hub.
“I’ve been dying to get back on it.
“I like training with other people. It can get boring training on your own. It’s great to have other people to keep you motivated.”
Earlier this year, Jansen lowered her indoor 400m PB to 57.91 seconds at the National Indoor Championships having brought her outdoor PB to 56.90 seconds in August.
Since lockdown, Jansen has been on the roads around her Killygordon home, but she’s craved a return to the Millbrae.
The St Columba’s College leaving certificate student says: “It’s good to be back. It felt a bit weird coming back onto the track, but it’s great.”
McGranaghan has been keeping in touch with athletes and other coaches via Zoom over the last two-and-a-bit months.
“We were worried that we’d lose some athletes if we didn’t get back quickly,” he says.
“It’s been a long time since mid-March. It’s so important to get them active, even in the small groups. It’s important for them to get into the environment of running on the track again.
“You learn to adapt and you engage with new programmes and new ideas, but it can be tough going to get athletes to buy into training from a distance.”
His daughter Abbie is in the first group back.
Also a talented Gaelic footballer, who was a member of Liam Skelly’s Donegal Under-14 squad last year, Abbie was delighted to get back to work.
“It’s a nice feeling to get back on the track,” she says.
“I missed it. You don’t realise how much you miss it ’til you have to do without it.
“It’s a great place to come for a session again. Running on the roads just isn’t the same as here. Hopefully I can get a good cross-country season later in the year now.”
Riona Doherty has yearned to get back over the hurdles again.
A former Irish dancing champion, who has shown real track and field promise, was buzzing as she came off the track.
“I was so excited to get a feel of running on the track again,” she says. “I loved the session.
“I haven’t been here in two months now. I’ve been training out the back of the house. It’s a confined space and I’ve missed the open space here to run. It’s been lonely without the girls. It has been annoying not to be able to see them.”
Doherty’s year had begun brightly with a series of medals at the Ulster Championships only for Covid-19 to pull the plug on her next assignment of a bid for an Irish title.
“I was so excited to get back in here again,” she says.
Jumper and hurdler Joseph Gillespie has had to improvise since the gates were shut in March.
“It was hard being away and it’s god to get back in training,” he says.
“I had a couple of hurdles at home and could do a bit of work in the garden, but you can’t really practise. And the same with the jumps.
“I had drills to help, but it was strange. It was good to work on the fitness at home over the last few weeks, but it’s not the same.”
An Irish triple jump champion last year, Gillespie was smiling as he left for home again.
He says: “It’s great to get back on the track again. It went better than I thought for the first session back in two months.”
McGranaghan is hopeful of some competition at regional level in August for his athletes.
He says: “Credit to Athletics Ireland, they put together three documents – one for clubs, one for athletes and one for coaches – and they have left no grey areas. All the guidelines are there for everyone to follow.”
Watching down from a balcony that overlooks the track, former Irish Athletics Team Manager Patsy McGonagle was happy to see a resumption of activities.
“The guidelines are there and it’s important that we get back into a rhythm again,” he says.
“We have different groups coming in at staggered times and it’a great to see a want from the coaches and the athletes to come in again.
“Hopefully as the weeks go on, we will see the restrictions easing a little more and we are all hoping to see competitive events again soon.”
The sentiment is echoed by McGranaghan as he shrills the whistle to put the youngsters through their paces: “It’s important that we have a focus and a light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s important to get the likes of Daniella refocussed now. She has taken some very big steps. She was in her Leaving Cert year, but she maintained her training and pushed out a PB earlier in the year. She’ll be eligible for this team next year and we’d hope she’ll be one of the lead athletes on that squad.”
Sophie O’Sullivan, the daughter of Irish icon Sonia, is among the others in that 4x400m team.
Jansen herself cuts a bright figure as she cools down.
She says: “I brought my time in every competition I’ve been doing. I had to do that to get noticed. I’m hoping they’ll get another date because I’ve been training hard.”
As one group departs, another – this one under Shauna Carlin’s direction – enters.
Among the new number is Arlene Crossan, whose target remains centred on the 2021 European Under-23 Championships in Bergen, Norway.
“Competition wasn’t a big deal for me this year,” Crossan says.
“Anything in 2020 was just to gauge how my training was going. It was all gearing towards 2021. I’ve been doing a lot of running sessions around home, but it’s been two months since I’ve been on a track – I can’t wait for this.”
And off she went around the bend.
As if she’d never been away.