Earlier this month a young Donegal athlete took on all of Britain and swept before him to capture a British Universities and Colleges’ U-17 championship in Sheffield.
That youngster was Finn Valley athlete, Aaron McGlynn, from the townland of Cloncleigh in Cloghan, in the Gaeltacht Lár and the event was at 800 metres.
The Transition Year student at Chú Uladh in Ballinamore, who turned 16 last Saturday (February 20th), won the 800m final in Sheffield in a time of 1.56.06 to see off the cream of emerging young English, Scottish and Welsh talent.
He had over a second and a half to spare over second placed Lloyd Davies, who clocked a time of 1.57.62, and close on three seconds over Jake Young, who registered a time of 1.58.82 for the distance.
His Sheffield time was close on two seconds slower that the 1.54.13 he ran seven days earlier at the GloHealth Indoor Games in Belfast.
Nevertheless the young Cloghan man has made a terrific start to 2016 as he chases down qualification for this Summer’s European Youth Championship in Tibilisi, Georgia. The 800 metre qualifying time for the Europeans is 1.53.50.
Aaron is an all round sportsman and is a talented Gaelic Footballer and soccer player and has represented Donegal at Interleague schoolboy soccer and also has been selected on Donegal GAA underage development squads.
He is a national champion at all age levels as he has come up through the years. And that is why his latest success has come as no great surprise to keen observers of Donegal athletics. Already comparisons are being made with his fellow county man, European silver medallist Mark English.
One man who has followed Aaron’s career with interest since he joined Finn Valley Athletic Club as a skinny nine-year-old is Irish Athletics manager and Finn Valley coach, Patsy McGonagle.
“He is the standout 16-year-old athlete in Ireland and is the best 16-year-old at 800 metres in the British Isles following his success in Sheffield earlier this month,” said McGonagle.
“He competed at last Summer’s Youth Olympics and reached the final of the 800m which was a great achievement at his first big international event and he finished the final in seventh place.
“He is a very talented athlete and seems to be coping well with athletics at the higher level which is a great trait in a young athlete.
“He is also receiving great support from his family which is important because being an athlete at the level at which he is at can be a lonely place.
“As to how far he can go and what he can achieve in his career, who knows, but all one can say is that he is big for his age.
“He is fast and is certainly the best young athlete to emerge in the county since Mark English, which I suppose best sums him up and gives you an idea of how good he really is.”
There are also observers of the underage athletic scene in Donegal in the last few years that would even suggest that he is ahead of where Mark English was when he was 16.
Aaron also plays Gaelic football for Glenfin and is currently on the books of Keadue Rovers having previously played for Dungloe Town for a number of years. He also played U-15 soccer for Finn Harps.
But he is getting to the stage in his sporting career where he is going to have to make the big decision about his future. If he wants to fulfil his true potential as an athlete he is going to have to concentrate on athletics.
“I think he is coming around to realising that now,” said his father, Shaun, who along with his wife, Karen, has nurtured the sporting interest in the family, which also includes brother, Aodhfinn, and sister Aisling.
“Aaron loves all sports and is very good soccer player and Gaelic footballer and he really enjoys playing soccer and Gaelic and had been playing both before he took up athletics.”
His move to take up athletics was more by accident than by design and came about after competing for Commeen NS in a Cumann Na mBunscol competition among small national schools in the county.
“We always knew he was middling fast but when he came back from the Cumann Na mBunscol competition with a handful of medals after winning the high jump, the long jump, javelin and the race, I decided to bring him up to the Finn Valley.
“I remember meeting Patsy McGonagle and Patsy asking me what age he was. He was nine at the time and telling us about a cross-country race that was coming up down in Lough Key Forest Park in Roscommon.
“That race was his first race. It was the day after his 10th birthday and it was a Juvenile B championship race and he finished 14th.
“He would have finished further up the field only for he thought it was a much longer race than 800 metres. He had been doing much longer runs under his trainer, Peadar McGranaghan, and he only realised it was only 800m when he came around the last corner and saw the finish line.
“When he saw the finish line he sprinted to the line and made it up through the field to 14th.”
However, national success was around the corner and a few months later he won the first of his championships in Tullamore when he won the U-11 National cross- country championship.
He has since won national titles at U-12, U-13, U-14, U-15 and U-16, all under coach Peadar McGranaghan.
“Peadar has been very good to Aaron and he has learned a lot from Peadar over the last six years or so and much of his success is down to Peadar and all the other coaches who have helped him out and advised him from time to time,” said his father Shaun.
Aaron, while still a Finn Valley athlete, now has a new coach, Mark Kirk, former Northern Ireland Commonwealth athlete in Belfast. Mark, who was Northern Ireland’s top athlete in the 1980s, during the Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram era, is now recognised as one of the leading coaches in Ireland and the UK.
He is a member of the Lagan Valley Athletic Club in Belfast, based at the Mary Peters Track on the Upper Malone Road in Belfast.
Since last September Aaron has made the round trip of in the region of 200 miles once a week on a Saturday to Belfast for specialist coaching from Kirk.
His father, Shaun, expects that is going to increase to twice a week in the near future in a bid to take his career to a new level.
Aaron’s first objective now is to shave .63 of a second off his PB team to reach the European Youth Championships 800 metre qualifying time of 1.53.50.
And after that, who knows, but for now the world would seem to be his oyster and the sky would seem to be his limit.
Aaron competed in his first National Indoor 800 seniors championship at the weekend in Athlone and showed his promise by reaching the final, finishing fifth behind his Donegal compatriot, Mark English.
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