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'The accent is usually the big thing. There will always be people who have something to say about it'

Irish Olympic hopeful Clare Cryan talks to The42 about identity, athlete burnout and diving’s growth in Ireland.

CLARE CRYAN HAS always been proud of her Irish roots.

The green shoots stem from her father’s side of the family tree.

Having a grandfather from Roscommon and a grandmother of Sligo extraction, the Sheffield native never forgets the link to her heritage.

“I’ve always had that connection,” she tells The42. “The accent is usually the big thing. When you tell people you dive they never really ask where or for who – they just assume.

It’s not uncomfortable, that’s probably the wrong word. But sometimes I wonder will people take it the wrong way. I don’t know. I’m proud of it.

“There will always be people who have something to say about it. But the majority of people here are very supportive about it.”

Clare Cryan Ireland's Olympic diving hopeful, Clare Cryan. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The 25-year-old made a more permanent move to these shores in 2017 and, since her arrival, has focused on becoming one of Ireland’s leading Olympic hopefuls for the Games in 2020.

Following in the footsteps of Oliver Dingley – Ireland’s first Olympic diver in 68 years – Cryan is preparing to realise her dream of reaching the pinnacle of the sport – a dream first hatched more than 16 years ago.

“I started diving when I was nine years old and stayed competing until I was 22. At the time, I needed to fall in love with diving all over again.

“I enjoyed my time diving, but I wasn’t sure if competing was the right thing for me. I took a break and did show-diving for nine months. I missed competing so much. I thought to myself I had to go back.”

Her struggles in the pool around this time were borne out of a combination of burnout from work, coaching and juggling her love of diving.

“Training to compete is intense. I found it hard to deal with nerves and I struggled to perform at competitions.

I knew I was able to do my dives well in training, but competing wasn’t always so good. I had just finished university, so I was working and training around the clock. It all became a little too much.

“I didn’t manage that time very well. I decided to do show diving because I didn’t want to quit altogether, but I needed to do something different – some respite.

“I learned to perform rather than standing on the board and feel everyone was watching me.”

With a background and degree in sports science, Cryan admits she was almost embarrassed by not being able to get herself in the right frame of mind.

A lot of the stuff that you’re learning [in the course], I understood. But when I was ‘Diver Clare’, I knew I wasn’t following any of it.

“Since I’ve been back, my routine and strategy has been way more effective. That’s helped me so much when I had come back to compete. 

“There are still some days when you do the opposite of whatever you’ve learned. Especially the psychological side of diving.

There are definitely days when you’re struggling and then you think ‘this is what I’ve learned, why amn’t I doing it?’

“I try to take that step back and look in on it from the outside.”

She understands now that this mostly likely came from a period of exhaustion brought on by coaching and working for extended periods.

Weeks during this time began to go by in a blur.

“I’d finished Uni and I was coaching seven days a week. I had two different age groups squads. Then, I was doing some admin work at the [Sheffield college] sport centre too.

“So, I was training six days, working seven days. I never left the building. For me when I graduated, I had that feeling that I had to just work.

“I had no student loan. I felt like I needed to fend for myself.

I had that onus on me to get working, without knowing how to balance work and training life. I’ve always been busy, but at least when I was busy it took me away from the building. For the year after I graduated, I basically lived at the sport centre.

“It all just got a bit overwhelming. I needed to take a step back and reevaluate. Was it diving that I wasn’t enjoying or was it the working?

“A lot of the people I graduated with, they were applying for jobs and all these other bits. I was just like ‘I don’t know what I want to do.’ I’m still not completely sure.

“It’s almost what society is telling you to do. You’re just graduated, now you need to get a job. Yes, that does happen and for a lot of normal students that is the next step but I had something else to juggle with in there.

All the people who I was graduating didn’t have that. They weren’t balancing an athlete’s lifestyle. I was comparing myself to them when really I shouldn’t have been.

“I was trying to figure out what aspect of my hectic life wasn’t working. It turned out that it wasn’t the [competitive] diving because as soon as I left it and kept up my training, I began to miss the competitions.”

Her break brought her to the Caribbeans. After nine months in sunnier climes, the competitive itch returned.

Clare Cryan Clare Cryan pictured at the announcement of Tesco Ireland’s sporting sponsorship of Swim Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

When she came home, she found the old adage was true. The change was as good as a rest.

“Having that break and coming back, I knew where I wanted to be here. It made me more focused. I know that I missed it and I never want to look back with a ‘what if?’”

There then came contact from Ireland’s national diving coach, Damian Ball.

Despite having represented Great Britain at junior level, Cryan was never in any doubt about her allegiances to the country.

“When I made that decision [to represent Ireland] in 2017, I couldn’t wait to come over. I was coming to stay. That was a definite move to go and compete. I was staying here to dive. The support network here is phenomenal.

I always knew about my Irish heritage, but at the time I didn’t even know Ireland had a diving team. When I got that opportunity, I took it.

“I’d seen [Ball] at competitions before. I arranged to come here for the Irish national diving November 2017 and stayed afterwards.

“On the campus where we train, there’s an athlete’s house. I didn’t have to worry about finding somewhere to live. I just had to bring my stuff and myself over. It’s weird initially but you just have to go and get stuck in.

You know what the deadline is. The Olympics at that point was three years away.”

And since her assimilation into Irish life and competition, her performances have garnered impressive results, most notably a first-ever medal (bronze) for Ireland in synchro-diving alongside Dingley at Canadian Grand Prix last month.

“Ollie helped me out, I was messaging him before I came over. I didn’t know anyone in Dublin really so it was nice to have him to chat to before I got here and then he showed me around because I had no car.

“He helped me out so much in the first few weeks. He’d introduce me to people around the pool and the institute. Ollie had been through that. He’d done what I’m doing.

“When we compete as a team there’s almost extra pressure. You don’t want to let the other person down. It’s no longer just a bad dive and you let yourself down.

“If I did a bad dive and Ollie did a good dive, then you feel bad for someone else as well. It’s weird. When I’m on the board I don’t want to let him down.”

They now go to the Glasgow International Swim Meet next month before July’s World Championships where the pair will get their first chance to qualify for their Olympic main event – the 3m springboard, an individual event.

While the synchronised diving was more of an experiment to keep the pair sharp between major Grand Prix events and World Championships, the results are promising.

And with the first chance to qualify for the Games in July, all eyes will fall again on this growing Irish swimming squad and a their bid to make history in Tokyo.

Clare was speaking at the launch of Tesco Ireland’s sporting title partnership with Swim Ireland, the National Governing Body (NGB) for swimming, water polo and diving in Ireland. Under the new agreement, Tesco pledges to support Swim Ireland in providing as many ‘little helps’ as possible to the organisation, its athletes and their families, as well as aiming to increase active participation in swimming throughout the country through a number of joint initiatives which will be rolled out over the life of the partnership.

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