In her respective capacities as Development and under-23 national team manager for Irish athletics, as deputy senior team manager, and National Endurance Coaching Coordinator, Teresa McDaid has travelled the globe. Japan, China, the United States, Africa and every corner of Europe have seen her oversee some of the most impressive performances on the track by athletes from this country and, specifically, from her own native Donegal.
Just recently she made the shorter journey to Dublin to pick up her award as Athletics Ireland Coach of the Year for 2011 but such tributes she prefers to gloss over from a personal perspective with the speed of a middle distance runner coming in sight of the finishing line and a potential medal.
“I would see it rather as an achievement for the club that has supported me as a coach and allowed me to develop as a coach,” she declares.
But while she may be reluctant to dwell on it, there’s no doubt that the former Health Service Executive employee - she took voluntary redundancy from the organisation back in December after 29 years in the role mainly working in Letterkenny General Hospital - has helped in short sprint to propel Irish athletics into a thrilling new era.
Growing up in the Glencar area of the town, she remembers the influence and enthusiasm for the sport generated by the likes of Sue McCormack and the late Eddie Gibson, the latter a founder member of Letterkenny A.C.
In its infant years, the club was - still is, Teresa insists - a family oriented organisation. “I’ve some fantastic memories of going to races and athletic events all over Ireland.” Travelling with her father, Leo Cullen, who had strong associations with the development of the track at the Community Centre - her mother Celine sadly passed away 29 years ago at the age of sixty-six - and their friends, the McGinleys, and others to the far reaches, all in the name of sport. And fun. “Yeah, there was a real fun element. We had the greatest of craic.” Her own discipline was as a sprinter but a knee injury at the age of fourteen put paid to any hopes of advancing further in this respect. “It was probably a cartilage but in those days there were no physios and whatever and no real awareness of such injuries.”
It didn’t dampen her own enthusiasm for the sport - it could indeed be said that she took it in her stride. “I’ve no real recollection of being overly disappointed and I had other interests at the time to keep me occupied.”
Her association with Letterkenny Athletic Club continued, however, and she has fond memories of travelling to the first ever Dublin marathon in 1980, as part of a local contingent. “I was just pleased to be involved.”
Undertaking a coaching course in the mid to late eighties saw her take her first steps into the positions she now occupies. During the nineties, she brought her passion to the post of Secretary with the club and other roles, earning her the title Club Person of the Year on several occasions.
Then towards the end of 1996 and the beginning of the following year, middle distance runner, Gary Crossan approached Teresa with a view to her getting involved in coaching him. “He wanted to do better and wanted a bit of direction.” The move helped create something of a national profile for both athlete and his mentor.
Pretty soon, Teresa had initiated a programme that was being implemented by other coaches at local level including those with young potentials under their wings such as Mark English, Darren McBrearty and Ruairi Finnegan.
The profile continued to heighten at national level and in 1998, she travelled as part of the Irish coaching team to Tokyo.
Her first European cross-country championships brought her to Slovenia a year later. In two weeks time, she’ll head off again to the country that won independence from Yugoslavia, as team coach. Since her debut in that particular tournament, Teresa has only missed one European Championship - and while reluctant to say so herself, it’s surely a testimony to the status she holds nationally.
And, if the progress of the promising selection of quality athletes such as English, McBrearty and Finnegan (Teresa is quick to include names like Michelle English, Dan King and Danny Mooney into that mix) is anything to go by, also internationally.
For while these local sportsmen and women are blazing tracks and trails across the country and beyond, the coach is - perhaps not so quietly! - advising and cajoling and bringing her expertise to bear in helping to enhance their sporting profiles.
And while her own national stature has significantly grown, Teresa still holds the brightest of torches for her home club. Consequently early in 2009 she was part of a Letterkenny A.C. committee that called a meeting of juvenile athletes and their parents - others involved included her husband Herbie, Terry Boyle, Sean McBrearty and Anthony Ward - to determine what they were, and could be, offering those young performers.
The parents and the club bought into the plans formulated and the athletes themselves rose to the challenge.
“One of the most significant days for me came in the indoor season in 2010. We had three finalists in the 800 metres which would have been a great feat for any club.” Mark English finished third, Darren McBroarty 4th and Danny Mooney 7th. “It’ll always be high up there when it comes to achievements. To see three of them on the starting line wearing the club singlet was something special,” Teresa recalls.
English, McBrearty and Ruairi Finnegan - all three of them the subject of much tribute from such luminaries as Eamon Coghlan and Jerry Kiernan - made it into major championships this year, another indication of the progress enjoyed by local athletes.
Is the London Olympics too soon for them? There could be a ‘B standard’ qualification for Mark and Darren, believes Teresa, but realistically they’ll be looking ahead to the Games in Rio in 2016 though London would, she says, represent a “fantastic opportunity” for any young aspiring athlete.
Married to Herbie for closing in on thirty years, they have known each other since childhood and with his involvement in athletics both then and now, it might be truly said that they ran into one another’s arms.
As chairman of the Competitions Committee nationally - “I only think I have a stressful job!” - Herbie also travels the length and breadth of the country while also filling the role of Treasurer in Ulster and Competitions Secretary in Donegal.
Teresa herself will pack the bags again in a fortnight for the European Championships in Slovenia. “I remember Gary Murray was on the junior team that came home with bronze medals when I first went there for the competition in 1998. It’ll be interesting to see how it as a country has changed in that time.”
One thing’s for sure, her own passion and enthusiasm for the sport has never altered over the years and athletics in general and our young athletes have had, and will continue to have, cause to celebrate that dedication and zeal.
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