Rob Heffernan is shining on TV as his 40th birthday approach and talked to Éamonn Murphy about what he feels he can still offer Irish athletics, his growing love for coaching and the importance of the support of his wife Marian.
Heffernan’s passion for sport, and life, and his honesty, make him a dream to interview. A morning sipping coffees in Alchemy on Barrack Street flies by and it’s little wonder that last year the southsider published his book: ‘Walking Tall’. He’s walked the walk at World Championships and the Olympics and he can talk it too.
It’s fair to say the Heffernan’s is a sporting household. His wife Marian was a gifted sprinter in her own right and coached Rob to the podium, and now has her own business Marian Heffernan Sports Injuries. Rob’s daughter Meghan lives outside the city and has already shown great promise as a runner, while Cathal is a powerful presence on the field, whether that’s with St Michael’s, Blackrock or Ringmahon Rangers. Just to keep them busy, Rob and Marian’s daughters Tara and Regan are two and three.
“We won the team medals last year and I got a massive buzz. It was an incredible achievement but only if it’s built on. I know I’ve to drive this.
“You have to be honest with yourself and ask the hard questions. ‘Did I crack under pressure? Can I be more focused?’
“Darragh McElhinney (the 17-year-old runner from west Cork) is a good young fella. Really impressive. He’s respectful without trying, a fine character but a different animal when he’s on the track.
“You need reactive stuff in training, in a fun way. The smaller lads are always crafty out. I love that, they think differently to survive. If we could only get the big fellas to think like the smaller ones!
Heffernan explains one of the former Olympians he learned the most from was Erki Nool, a gold medallist from Estonia at the 2000 Olympics, have learned from the bitter experience of misfiring four years earlier and only coming sixth. Nool came in for a two-day event 10 years ago and revealed the sacrifices he made to reach the summit of sporting Everest.
“I wondered ‘was I not smart enough? Was I happy to be the gombeen?’ You have to put stuff to one side. It can be painful. If you’re completely driven nothing else can come into your head when it matters.”
“Marian went back studying after the Olympics and she never got a proper thank you or appreciation for what she did there for the Irish team and me. I appreciate her, even if I’m off to Dublin to train for ‘Dancing with the Stars’.
“I went back to Liam and it’s a huge commitment. You’re hesitant to ask because he’s a volunteer like Marian was, and it wasn’t fair on his family. I was thinking about retiring and he really helped me coming in, got the focus back, and I was able to get through it.”
No wonder then, that Heffernan isn’t slowing down.