Talented Darragh McElhinney ready to cover the distance despite setback

Glengarriff native missed out on European Indoor meet but continues to make strides at elite level
Talented Darragh McElhinney ready to cover the distance despite setback

Darragh McElhinney, Coláiste Pobail Bheanntrí, on his way to winning the Junior Boy's race at the GloHealth All-Ireland Schools Cross Country Championships. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

DARRAGH McElhinney has been a rising star of Cork athletics for quite some time.

His signature performance to date was in 2019 when he became the first Irish athlete in 28 years to capture a long-distance medal at the U20 European Championships in Sweden. What stood out after was the then 18-year-old's frustration that he finished third in the 5000m when he was in the mix to win it.

"Initially, I was disappointed because I did come here looking for gold, I'm not going to act like I wasn't. It is a bit of an anti-climax," he told Athletics Ireland.

There was a touch of the Roy Keane about his attitude, though he added: "At the start of the year, I wrote down my goals and I wanted to get a European medal. I'm happy to at least have got a bronze and bring something home for Ireland."

Darragh McElhinney competing in the U20 Men's event during the European Cross Country Championships. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Darragh McElhinney competing in the U20 Men's event during the European Cross Country Championships. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

In retrospect, you'd imagine he fully appreciates his achievement and the warm welcome he received at his homecoming in Glengarriff, but there's nothing wrong with setting your sights high. 

That type of drive, along with his unquestionable ability, is why it was such a shame he was ruled out of the European Indoor Athletics Championships due to a 'weak positive' Covid test. With most sport on hold due to the pandemic, we're currently savouring every bit of action we get involving Rebel county natives.

Only last month he ran 7.50.80 in the 3,000m, an Irish U23 record, at the elite micro-meet in Abbotstown where Cork's Phil Healy and Louise Shanahan also impressed.

The 20-year-old tweeted: “Unfortunately I’ve had to withdraw from the European Championships after getting a ‘weak positive’ Covid test. Despite several negative tests either side of this one, protocol is protocol so I will have to sit this one out.” 

McElhinney was been making major strides since his early teens, crossing the line with aplomb time and again for Bantry AC and Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí. 

At 16, he broke John Treacy’s long-standing Irish outdoor youth 3000m record set in 1974.

Darragh McElhinney checks on Jacques Maurice on his way to winning the Boys 1500m event in Santry. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Darragh McElhinney checks on Jacques Maurice on his way to winning the Boys 1500m event in Santry. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

He clocked under 14 minutes for the 5000, the first Irish teen to do so, in his Leaving Cert year.

He managed a clean sweep in Irish schools competition at 1500m, at junior, U16, intermediate and senior.

Despite his obvious calibre and apparent confidence, McElhinney told The Southern Star earlier this year that coping with nerves on race days is an ongoing battle.

"A lot of it, you do have to work on. I’m sure it comes naturally for some people, but I think you have to be proactive. It’s not good enough to accept 'I’m a nervous person' or I don’t react well to things during a race', because if that is your attitude you’re never going to perform to your capability.

"It’s about being proactive, ironing out those flaws, mentally and physically, that you have."

No doubt being raised in a busy house of four boys has stood to McElhinney as he copes with the expectation underage promise generates. He comes across as a highly-motivated but humble athlete. All his family was in Sweden to cheer him on to his U20 European Championship medal in 2019.

 Darragh McElhinney celebrates with his mother Breda after winning the Boys 1500m at Morton Stadium. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Darragh McElhinney celebrates with his mother Breda after winning the Boys 1500m at Morton Stadium. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Like many talented youngsters, he was a multi-sport teen. A fine footballer with Glengarriff and Beara, he flirted with Cork development squads. He was a classy operator in soccer too, with Bantry Bay Rovers, and also the West Cork representative squad at the Kennedy Cup in 2014.

As he explained to SportsJoe.ie, he eventually had no choice but to narrow his scope after an U16 county title with the division.

"When I was in second and third year, I was trying to juggle a lot. I was on development squads for football and soccer, and Cork city is an hour and a half away from my house. I gave up the soccer and then just played football for the club, didn't train, just played games. That was a great way to bow out, winning that championship, and the running took over then..."

McElhinney is trying to follow in the footsteps of Cork running greats like Sonia O'Sullivan, Mark Carroll and Marcus O'Sullivan. 

He's capable of covering that distance. 

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