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Frank on Friday: Relay teams – Inspiration for the nation

Frank on Friday

The Irish relay teams that competed at the World Athletics Relays in the Bahamas last weekend delivered a series of wonderful uplifting performances that were a joy to witness and an inspiration for the nation!

All team members showed excellent examples of confidence, purpose and execution for the thousands of young athletes and coaches in clubs all over the country – as well as for the general public, too.

For the teams to qualify for the Paris Olympics was a massive achievement for Irish sprinting and the icing on the cake came when the Mixed Relay 400m team of Cillin Green, Rhasidat Adeleke, Thomas Barr, and Sharlene Mawdsley brilliantly combined to bring home the bronze medal on the final day of this exciting promotion.

Thomas Barr helps Irish team qualify for the Olympics

Watching the Irish teams compete in the Bahamas conjured memories for me going back eight years, when Thomas Barr graced the cover of the Irish Runner Yearbook.

Cathal Dennehy’s six-page feature in that yearbook was a wonderful example of top-drawer sports writing.

In that feature we learned that Thomas Barr was small for his age when he joined Ferrybank Athletic Club in Waterford and that he was outperformed by his peers in about every event he tried in the years that followed; from cross-country to sprints, hurdles to high jump. “He was decent, but not outstanding,” Brid Golden, who coached Barr up to age 18, said.

“In later years he started developing and having a little success, but he had quite a balanced lifestyle and didn’t pursue athletics to the detriment of other sports. He wasn’t too serious too young, which is good practice.”

Barr balanced athletics with rugby as a teenager, but when competing at Munster Championships, he would often be demoted to the ‘C’ or ‘D’ relay squads.

“He was OK, but nothing spectacular,” said his mother Martina. ” I didn’t see anything standing out until he was in about sixth year.”

One day after starting college, Barr told his parents that he’s had enough of athletics, but his father, Tommy, urged him to stick with it, seeing an ability the youngster couldn’t see in himself.

It was at a meet in Cork that Tommy met with Drew Harrison, who together with wife Hayley, would soon take over Barr’s coaching duties at the University Of Limerick.

“I told Drew Harrison that Thomas was one to watch,” Tommy Barr told Cathal Dennehy. “He had all the speed but his technique was like he was running through sand and I said once he develops he’s going to fly. He had that X Factor, even though he didn’t show it.”

In that same Irish Runner Yearbook feature, Drew Harrison shared a few interesting observations about his protegée.

“Most athletes carry a psychological burden, but Thomas Barr doesn’t carry baggage,” Drew said. “He lets it wash over him. It takes an exceptional psychology in an individual to do that.”

Barr’s fourth placing in the 400m hurdles final at the Rio Olympics saw him miss out on a medal by the agonising five hundredths of a second separating third and fourth positions. His time of 47.97 seconds was a whopping national record and one of the greatest performances in Irish athletics history.

It had been 84 years since an Irish sprinter had made an Olympic final; coincidentally a male 400m hurdler, Bob Tisdall, who won gold at the Los Angeles Games in 1932.

After those Rio Olympic Games, Thomas Barr had some nuggets of advice to share with young athletes. He said:

“The biggest thing is to enjoy it. At the end of the day it’s sport, and sport isn’t meant to be taken seriously; it’s meant to be about fun, enjoyment.

“There is a competitive side to it , but if the enjoyment isn’t there why bother doing it?

“I’ve enjoyed getting back in training in recent weeks because I felt hyper-energetic and that’s the way it should be. You should feel energised and have a bit of craic, and if it’s not that way you should be looking for another sport, something you do enjoy.”

And Barr was forthcoming too about his daily nutrition. “I’ve always had a fairly healthy diet, but I learned a huge amount from the Master’s degree I did in sports performance at UL,” he said. “I don’t eat takeaways. I avoid fizzy drinks as much as possible and have a treat now and then.

“I was eating way too much before; big portions three times a day – but now it’s more spread-out, trying to get the right amount of protein; six hits spread across the day.

And it’s not all about athletics for Thomas Barr, as in what spare time he can manage, he likes to go on snowboarding trips to the Alps or drifting – another of his passions.

I believe that Thomas Barr has many important motivational and common sense messages that can further inspire many of our young Irish athletes. It would be lovely to see himself and the other members of the successful Irish relay team host a big motivational forum for school children in the off-season that could be streamed into every Primary and Secondary school in the country.

I’ll sign off this week’s Frank On Friday column with one more quote from Thomas Barr from that Irish Runner Yearbook of eight years ago: Thomas said:

“I was born and raised in Dunmore East, grew up there and went to college in Limerick. I’m Irish born and bred and I’m not this elite personality. I’m just a normal person, and if I can do it anybody can – if they stick with it and have a good mentality.

“It’s important not to get sucked into and overwhelmed by the sport. I’ve lived a normal life and studied while training, but I still managed to get to the level I’ve got to. No matter what happens on the track, for me the sun is always going to rise the next day and I’ll be on to new horizons.”

I cannot think of a better role model for young children. Thomas Barr – long may you continue to run, race And inspire.

Keep in touch with me Frank Greally at frankgreally@gmail.com if you enjoy this Frank on Friday column and please like and share.

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