WE need to talk about Phil Healy.
You may have heard the name briefly in the last few weeks but a story is beginning to develop here and it’s a name you’re going to start hearing a lot more of it seems.
You know the details? 23-years old, student, from Ballineen, fastest woman in Ireland?
Yeah you read that last bit right, cos Phil Healy only went and shattered Ailis McSweeney’s 100m record time in the last couple of weeks up in Santry.
A record by the way that’s changed hands, or feet I suppose, only twice since 1978 and Healy blew it away with minimum fuss almost as a sort of sideline.
Seriously, she spoke afterwards with obvious delight but a clear focus as well on why 400m was her main run and this was really run as a kind of speed workout rather than any clear targeting of the distance for record-breaking runs.
Imagine, she’s ran the 100m record faster than anyone female runner in Ireland almost as an afterthought, which says something about the zone Phil Healy is in right now.
Even those who follow Irish athletics casually (you know, checking in properly for major championships and just vaguely noting performances otherwise, like the vast majority of Irish sportsfans really) will have heard Healy’s name cropping up regularly this last few years.
An award here and there, a personal best or placing at some event every now and then.
A couple of years back she became Youtube famous in the way that tends to happen on a video that went viral of an incredible catchup last leg run of a 400m relay with UCC, where Healy ran down a massive gap and took it on the line to general astonishment, honestly the sort of finish where even as you're watching you can't quite believe it's about to happen (again, Healy had been only asked to even run the race about twenty minutes beforehand as a filler position).
The run wasn’t particular technically remarkable or in an incredibly accomplished field but it showed something of the guts and mentality and the ability to produce moments of brilliance that has to be part of becoming an elite athlete in any sport.
This 2018 leap to world-class level might appear to be sudden but really the explosion has been coming for a while.
Ailis McSweeney herself mentioned recently she didn’t see her 100m record lasting the summer pretty much because of Healy’s buiding form.
Healy started the year with a European best time at 400m and it’s been PB after PB after positive experience since then.
She followed up the 100m record with her 400m PB on the same night, then two more PBs in Geneva at 200m and 400m the following week.
Watch the video of the 100m record run and for the first five seconds or so you’re trying to figure out which is Healy and where this speed is going to come from and then just after halfway there’s this whir of arms and legs on the outside lane closest the camera and there’s Healy just hitting top speed, like she’s running a completely different race to the rest of the competitors, basically running like she’s never going to run again.
There’s something in way she’s got to this point too that’s seemed like both the most natural thing in the world and as a result of total ambition and hard work at the same time.
Healy came to athletics mostly through her older sister (also a serious athlete herself) and says herself she wasn’t immediately an obvious standout but there was drive and a love for running and clearly something in the family that created a group sort of culture of becoming as good as they could possibly be.
I remember seeing interviews with Healy from way back and it was fairly obvious she had something a bit more than normal about her, where she was more inclined to go into technical detail about her running and training or how she didn’t yet have the staying power for the 200m at one stage than offer any of the clichéd answers you might expect.
She’s improved year on year with progressions through times and distances (her favourite run has changed from the 100m to the 200m/400m over the years), won national titles and competed internationally now with the top names in the world and not entirely looked out of place.
When there were issues and calls to be made, she moved her course and moved herself to Waterford where she had full daily access to her coach Shane McCormack nearby.
A coach by the way who’s been telling everyone who’ll listen that something special was coming.
RTÉ’s Greg Allen, who has seen a few athletes over the years, described her 400m run early this year as a senior world class performance.
Healy has already ran on Olympic qualifying time and as always, the most exciting thing is that there’s a feeling we’re only starting here, that we’re not anywhere near the limit of times and potential.
Phil Healy keeps on producing these races and times that are impossible to ignore.
We will be talking about her for some time to come.