Ballineen athlete setting a strong pace

Posted on: 15th May, 2017

Category: Sport & Fitness

Contributor: John Bohane

Ballineen native Phil Healy has enjoyed a strong start to the 2017 athletics season. The West Cork athlete reached the semi-finals of the European Athletics Indoor Championships, which were held in Belgrade in March. The Bandon AC member finished sixth in her 60m semi-final heat following a time of 7.40. The pacey heroine, who demonstrated her versatility by also participating in the 400m race at the European Championships, is determined to build on the experience she gained in Belgrade as she looks forward to another successful year ahead on the athletic front. Phil who is generally regarded as one of the brightest prospects currently plying their trade on the Irish athletic circuit revealed to John Bohane her hopes and dreams for the future.

Phil, age just 22, appears to have the athletic world at her fingertips. The West Cork sportstar is in her final year studying in UCC, where she is completing a Postgraduate in Applied Computer Technology. Phil admits she found it tough this year combining both her sporting and academic goals. “It is tough but it keeps me disciplined. However, this year in particular, I found it tough with the increased workload. I had a lot of late nights in college and had so much work to do on weekends, but it kept me organised, busy, and I worked my training sessions around it, so hopefully everything will work out well.”

Phil was delighted with her recent exploits at the European Athletic Indoor Championships. She was part of a very young Ireland squad who competed very well in Belgrade thus suggesting a very bright future lies in store for Irish athletics. Phil is taking a lot of encouragement from her displays at the championships. “It was a great experience to take part in such a big event. The standard in particular was very strong. You were competing against World, Olympic, European finalists and medalists. That is the reason why we do it, so we can test ourselves against the very best. You have to forget about all that however and just think they are just as normal as we are and are no different. Yes 95 per cent of them are all full-time athletes and have nothing else to juggle in their lives but we are all human. We go out there and give it our best. Competing against the best is why we train so hard and it is what pushes us during the course of each training session. You can’t put them on a pedestal going into the race, as you are already defeated if that’s the case.”

Phil competed in two different events over a very short period during the European Championships. She failed to reach the semi-final stages of her first event, the 400m race, while she came sixth in her semi-final race in the 60m race. In the immediate aftermath of the championships, Phil was initially disappointed with her results but following closer examination of her performances, she can draw upon a lot of positives from her performances. “Initially I was upset over the 400m race, but there was nothing I could do to prevent that. Initially the favourite was disqualified in my race, but later reinstated and later became the European champion. If I let that overcome me, I wouldn’t have been in a good place lining out for the 60m race the following day. I left the track after the Championships knowing I gave it my all, so I just have to use that experience and confidence boost of making two events, which ensured I was the only Irish athlete to do so. I can reflect on how great the indoor season was and use that for the coming weeks of training, knowing all the pain is worth it, ahead of the outdoor season. There were positives to take from Belgrade such as running .08 off my PB in the 60m, which was very good. I ultimately came home as a European semi-finalist. I made the 400m event, after just a few short months of training for that discipline, which was a great achievement.”

Phil, who was always a very sporty individual, joined Bandon AC at the age of 11. She was inspired to take up the sport following the progress of her older sister Joan who upon joining Bandon AC quickly developed a love for the sport. Phil is delighted she followed in her sister’s footsteps. “I took up athletics initially around the age of 11, following my sister, as she had been advised to join the athletic club. I went at the start with the aim of keeping her company and there was a spin into training with our mother so I thought I might as well join in instead of staying at home. At the same time I still continued to play GAA with St Oliver Plunkett’s, camogie with Enniskeane, before later moving to Keelnameela ladies when I was too old to play with the lads. I didn’t fully focus on athletics until I was 16.”

The pacey Ballineen sports enthusiast readily admits it took her a while before she fully embraced the idea of pursuing athletics on a yearly basis, as she elaborates. “There were definitely parts of the sport I hated and that was cross-country, as it meant running on wet and mucky fields which was tough. I was young however and overall I enjoyed the whole thing. A great feature of taking up athletics was making new friends, as none of the people I trained with were in the same primary school as me. At the age of 16, I decided to fully focus on the athletics as I was achieving success in athletics. I won the All-Ireland and made the Irish team the following year which meant I had to give up all the other sporting codes I played.”

Phil’s dedication has paid off. She has enjoyed a lot of success since she decided to pursue her love of athletics on a full-time basis. Despite the abundance of medals and fame she has achieved in the intervening years, she has one treasured memory she still recalls with great fondness. “My standout memory has to be coming fourth at the European Junior Championships. It was my first proper Irish international. The previous two international selections I had only made as another athlete had dropped out. So this one I felt I really deserved my selection as I made the standards and qualified numerous times for the championships. I went in with no expectations at all. I ended up winning my heat in a new PB. The whole environment was new to me. Most of the athletes with me had been to European Championships previously. It was a great experience. Coming home from the European Junior Championships was also the first time that I believed I had the talent to make it to the next level and compete with the top athletes.”

Phil is a still a proud member of Bandon AC, for whom she is greatly indebted to for their great coaching and encouragement since she joined their athletic club. Phil recently represented UCC in the college Intervarsities. She recently qualified for the World Student Games, which will be held in Taiwan in August. Phil was delighted with her success at the Intervarsities. “I finished first in the 400m, with my quickest season opener to date. At the indoor version I won the 200m, securing qualification for the World Student Games in August. I also broke the Irish University record, which was a great achievement. We only have two college competitions per year, one indoor and one outdoor.”

Phil currently competes in a series of races at different disciplines. She competes in the 60m, 200m and 400m. Competing in so many disciplines adds to the challenge facing the determined West Cork star who is happy with her race selections. “I always drifted towards 60m and the 100m. I knew however I needed to increase the distances, as I’m not a pure 100m sprinter. There is a lot more to gain in 200m and 400m distances. However 400m is a long game. It takes years of building the training required to specialise at 400m. For all events you need the speed base, so taking that into the 400m is a massive advantage. It’s all about building that lactic tolerance then.”

Phil trains on average six days a week under the careful tutelage of her trainer Shane McCormack. This intense and gruelling routine involves a mixture of circuit training, long track sessions, regular track runs and gym sessions. All the sessions are specifically designed to enhance her speed, strength and boost her dynamic athletic performances. Phil who has represented Ireland with great distinction loves wearing the green Irish singlet as she revealed. “It is always a great honour to represent Ireland in competitive action. It is always super to put on the green. There are so many athletes working hard to make championships, so to end up qualifying and being selected for the major championships is the reason we train so hard, in order to be selected.”

Phil’s athletics exploits on both the European and international stage have been recognised and admired by her strong support base throughout West Cork. It is especially strong in her native Ballineen. Phil is thrilled to represent her family and local community with great pride and distinction on the international athletic arenas. “I have always received very strong support throughout my career which means so much to me. I get great support from my family and local community. I have built up a great following, which is great. A lot of people track my results, enjoy following my progress and watching the competitions I am involved in. It’s great to see sport in West Cork at such a high level across so many disciplines. There is serious depth in such a small area. My friends are great, as they understand the level I need to be at. I don’t go out much and they don’t complain when I can’t. They only support everything I do which is great. I live with four girls in college and none of them do any sports, which is a blessing in a way. It allows me to switch off when I need to and not be surrounded by sport 24/7.”

Phil is a very ambitious and determined individual. She is very focused and has very specific goals she aims to vigorously pursue in both the short-term and long-term as she outlined. “My short-term goals are to do well in the World University Championships this summer and lowering more personal bests. My long term goal is to participate in the 2020 Olympic Games, which will be held in Tokyo.”

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