For Irvinestown man Conal Mahon playing the long game has paid dividends.
The Irish triple jump champion is the recipient of the Fermanagh Herald’s Sports Personality Award for June, but as he freely admits, success did not come overnight.
“I was a late bloomer [in athletics]. Everyone starts off wanting to be Usain Bolt, but if you are not going to be competitive in sprint events the long jump or triple jump would be your next port of call,” he explained.
“But you can only start the triple jump at a certain age because of the coordination involved in it. So, you do the long jump first and move on to learn the technique for the long jump as you get older.”
The 28-year-old’s love for the sport began at St Michael’s in Enniskillen. The school is renowned for its prowess in Gaelic football, however, it was the individuality of athletics that attracted Mahon most.
“In a team sport someone else can make a mistake and you lose. In athletics, if you succeed or fail it is totally down to you,” he explained.
“Athletics is a very measurable sport. Sometimes in a team sport, it’s hard to know if you are improving because there are so many different factors. In athletics, you can tell where it has gone wrong or where you need to improve.
“The first time I did athletics was at St Michael’s [in Enniskillen] in Francie Shaw’s PE class. I’ve only had two coaches in my life – Francie and my current coach David Doherty of Tir Chonaill AC [in Donegal Town]. I’ve been very lucky. It gave me a very stable environment to work in. They understand you a lot better than you understand them.
“George Beacom at the Bawnacre Centre was always very supportive as well. Even when I wasn’t winning national titles he was very encouraging, which means a lot.”
It’s been Mahon’s most successful season. In June, he won the outdoors provincial title at the Ulster and Northern Ireland Senior Championships at the Mary Peters Track in Belfast. This was followed up by retaining his National Senior Championships title at the Morton Stadium, Santry, where he recorded a personal best of 14.67m on his way to victory.
“The triple is a very rhythmic type of sport, you are not going to make a massive jump out of nowhere. Usually, you build up a run of form over time, build up your confidence, and then put in a big jump,” he explained. “When you are making steady progress throughout the year it definitely helps with motivation.”
Mahon has a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Energy and Green Technology from UCD. In his job as an energy policy analyst in Dublin, he reviews the likes of EU directives and documents to see what impact they will have on Ireland. It’s this kind of analytical approach that he uses in his triple jumping too.
“I quite enjoy reviewing my training videos. In triple jumping and athletics in general, you are always looking to get better. You are constantly reviewing your training and nutrition. I was always good at doing that. It’s the only way you can improve,” he said.
Last Sunday, Mahon led a strong and youthful Tir Chonaill outfit to claim the Division One title at the AAI League Final in Tullamore and promotion to the Premier League in 2023.
“That’s the icing on the cake. We haven’t had a men’s team in the top division since the ’80s, so it makes it very special. Getting promotion will keep the younger members of the club motivated,” he said.
Mahon feels he’s at his peak, but when his talents start to wane he still sees himself involved in the sport.
“There’s only so much longer I’ll go on at it,” he said.
“Coaching is something I’d love to get into. It’s a lot easier to describe the technique in the triple jump when you have done it yourself down to the smallest detail.”
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