Matthew Callinan-Keenan is on a journey in athletics.
A journey which could soon see him go to where few Irish athletes in his chosen event of Pole Vault have gone before, breaking the magical five metre mark.
The 22-year-old from Carlow currently has a PB of 4.80m set in January 2022 but believes he is capable of going to new heights.
“Five metres is always something that looms over you, it’s definitely something that would be great to achieve,” he tells Irish Runner.
“Obviously in Ireland you could turn up to ten competitions and they could all be rainy and windy so it’s hard to know if I can do it this summer but I feel like I can definitely put myself in a position where I’m capable of doing that this year.”
Only five Irish athletes have ever cleared five metres or more in the event and having only taken up the sport eight years ago it would be a significant achievement.
But how did Callinan-Keenan get into the Pole Vault, an event which is incredibly technically challenging and would seem outside the realms of possibility to most.
“It was a strange one,” he admits.
“Most people are doing athletics and then they see the Pole Vault and think they’ll give it a go.
“My mother and my sister actually went to the European Youth Olympics to support a friend (Siobhra O’Flaherty) in the 3000m, and they saw a few pole vaulters and thought that’d be something I’d like to do.”
The rest as they say is history.
Callinan-Keenan spent hours training in St. Laurence O’Toole AC where they were lucky enough to have their own Pole Vault mat, before winning his first national senior title at the age of just 17 in 2018.
He has been studying Data Science in DCU for the last four years and will complete his degree in just a couple of months’ time and has been working under Lusk AC’s Seamus Flynn since moving to Dublin.
Matthew Callinan-Keenan outlines typical training week
A typical training week sees him try and delicately fit the three main components of Pole Vault together as he aims for success.
“There’s an expression that pole vaulters are just sprinters with poles.
“A lot of it is sprinting and then the rest of it is gymnastics work and just your normal S&C work on top of that then.
“We’ve got two sessions of S&C that would be geared towards sprinting, one gymnastics session that would be about two hours and then we’d have two or three Pole Vault sessions,” he continues.
“All the great pole vaulters are good gymnasts as well for the most part.
“Pole Vaulting is all about creating as much energy as you can, storing it in a pole and using it as efficiently as you can to turn that into potential energy to get you as high off the ground as possible.”
Callinan-Keenan also has big ambitions for the future but reveals he doesn’t like chasing numbers.
“I don’t like to set goals like “I want to jump x height” but I feel like if I can just keep progressing in my athleticism and technique, I don’t really know what the limitations are to be honest,” he says.
“Obviously, I’d love to represent Ireland at senior level, that’s always the goal.”
It is noticeable when you tune into the likes of the Diamond League the bond between the athletes competing in the Pole Vault and Callinan-Keenan says it is no different in Ireland.
“Pole vaulting in Ireland is such a tight knit group of people, it’s a really good community.
“When you try and jump over a bar that’s 16 feet in the air, it’s hard to do. You just gain a respect for the people around you and you kind of get a camaraderie that you wouldn’t see in other events,” he explains.
“Your kind of caught between being great friends with them and then also knowing that’s the guy that wants to take the medal away from me.
“It’s always a weird one but it’s great.”
This weekend as he bids to retain his national title, Callinan-Keenan will compete against his friends once again at the 123.ie National Senior Indoor Championships, an opportunity which he is relishing.
“I definitely expect a tough competition, but it would be great to win it again this weekend.
“It’s always great to be with the guys that you know and to come out on top.
“You kind of don’t realise it until you’ve done it but it’s always special.
“This is always one that’s special to win.”
Matthew Callinan-Keenan of St Laurence O’Toole AC, Carlow was speaking at the media day in advance of this weekend’s 123.ie National Senior Indoor Championships which take place at the Sport Ireland National Indoor Arena in Dublin on February the 18th and 19th 2023.