Ciara Mageean disappointment sums up Ireland's Belgrade challenge
WHAT a disappointing European Indoor Championships from an Irish point of view. Not one of the 10-strong team even managed a top eight finish – the first time that has happened since Stockholm in 1996.
It was only the second championships out of the last nine in which an Irish athlete has not won a medal and even Albania and Iceland made it on to the podium.
Much was expected of Portaferry woman Ciara Mageean, but she failed to finish the 1500m final, in which Scotland's Laura Muir won a sensational victory in a new championship best and British record.
It would be unfair to blame Mageean who pulled out of the race with less than two laps to go due to either a sore achilles tendon or a cold, depending on whether you listen to her or her coach Jerry Kiernan.
A medal for the Portaferry woman would merely have covered over some very serious cracks in the coaching structure.
Currently, Athletics Ireland finds itself without a high performance manager, or any of the discipline-specific coaches for so long promised. That is where the fault lies.
A lack of facilities has long been the excuse but with the AIT Arena in Athlone and the new indoor centre at Abbotstown, we have two state-of-the-art training facilities that can compare with the best in Europe.
On top of that, our better athletes receive not only financial backing, but also enjoy the benefit of a raft of back-up provisions such as physiological testing and physiotherapy.
Another real problem is that our athletes rarely give of their best when they get to important championships.
You would expect personal bests galore when thrust into the red hot cauldron of international competition.
Instead they generally seem to melt in the heat and are unable to match performances produced in domestic competition.
It is increasingly common in recent years to see Irish athletes finish last, even in first round heats, without anyone ever questioning why they are there.
Athletes should not be sent to an international competition in March on the basis of a performance last summer. That is patently obvious yet continues to happen.
Irish athletes will not have to wait long to atone with the World Championships in London this August.
Let us hope that we will see a better all round performance, if not a medal of some hue.