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'I truly believe Ciara has talent but it's getting to a stage now when she needs to do it'

David Gillick is confident Ciara Mageean can overcome the issues which have been holding her back over the last 18 months.

IT WASN’T THE first time Ciara Mageean exited stage left without so much of a whimper. She had been here before. Not once, or twice, but at three consecutive championships. Disappointment has followed her around of late.

IAAF World Indoor Championships - Day Two Mageean finished seventh in the World Indoor Championship semi-finals last weekend. Source: Sam Barnes

Last season failed to live up to anyone’s expectations. Mageean made no secret of her desire to medal at the European Indoors in Belgrade, but dropped out in the 1,500m final. She also wanted to qualify for the final at the World Championships, but finished last in her heat.

The 25-year-old sought a fresh start, and new challenge.

Last November, she made the bold decision to end her partnership with coach Jerry Kiernan to move to Manchester to train as a full-time athlete with Steve Vernon’s Team New Balance.

And by all accounts it has been a progressive career step. Mageean is now fully immersed in a professional lifestyle and is living with other athletes as she looks to build on her prodigious junior career and then the achievement of winning European 1,500m bronze in 2016 after a fair share of injury problems.

But since that memorable day in Amsterdam, and an encouraging semi-final performance in Rio, Mageean has struggled for form. Something hasn’t been quite right — “I couldn’t really pinpoint what was going wrong,” she said of last year — and the previously upward career curve had changed direction.

After her move to Manchester, Mageean had been in a positive frame of mind heading into last weekend’s World Indoor Championship in Birmingham, but again she failed to live up to expectations, crashing out in the semi-finals after another underwhelming performance.

The sight of the Portaferry native forlornly making her way off the track — disillusioned, deterred, downbeat — has become quite a familiar one of late. And for an athlete as talented as Mageean, it is concerning.

“It was disappointing again for Ciara,” two-time European Indoor 400m champion David Gillick says. “You’re competing against the best int he world, you want to be performing their best. It didn’t happen and she needs to find out why.

“I’ve been to championships and I’ve been the person coming last in races and everyone is wondering why. All athletes need to do a debrief and likewise for Ciara, she has made huge changes this year. It didn’t go well in Birmingham but why did that happen?”

There are a number of theories.

With the Commonwealth Games and European Championships the main events of this year, Mageean has spoken about tailoring her schedule towards peaking for those championships.

Therefore, Birmingham was seen as a stepping stone towards next month’s on Australia’s Gold Coast but, in reality, last weekend was a good opportunity for Mageean to assess her form and progress. To test the legs, even with the intention of hitting her peak in a few weeks.

“She needs to be honest with herself because in athletics you’re defined by championships and you’re defined by what happens at them,” Gillick continues.

Ciara Mageean dejected after finishing in 7th place Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“If you’re an athlete who is capable of doing well but are getting bombed out, something is amiss. I’m not being negative to Ciara because she is talented, she has got it. But she needs to put it out there. She needs to perform.

“2016 was a good year, she medalled in the Europeans and got to the semi-final in Rio. Since then things have gone the opposite way. We can all say what we think is going on but it’s only the athlete themselves and they have to be honest with themselves.”

Gillick believes a lot of it comes down to Mageean’s mentality.

“Is it a case of when they’re putting on their spikes in the call room that they’re completely overcome with nerves, and anxiety? When I watched the race last weekend, she looked like somebody who was worried. She can fix it, she can definitely fix that, and the thing about athletics is that one race can change it.

“But when you think back to the last indoor season in Belgrade, she looked worried. She didn’t look comfortable on the start line and the minute the gun went, you could see how it was going to unfold.

“Likewise in Birmingham, I hoped over the first couple of laps she was holding back to see how the race was unfolding but she was soon kind of dropped and that was a little bit disappointing because she’s better than that. She knows that and I think confidence is an issue.

“She needs to look at where she gets her confidence from because if she’s just relying on races, that might need to change.”

Gillick himself has experience of being weighed down by lofty expectations and being beset by nerves and anxiety before big races, particularly after he sensationally won European Indoor gold in Madrid in 2005.

“I went into the 2006 outdoor season and I thought I should be medalling and that’s what I thought everyone else was thinking,” he explains.

“I came last in the semi-final, and not only last, I was out the back door. I ran woefully bad and I was absolutely devastated. I was gutted, I was embarrassed and I felt I let a lot of people down. I didn’t come out of the house and a huge low.

“That was the first time in my career I actually did a debrief — what am I doing this for, where am I going, where do I want to go?

“My only confidence income was from races so if a race went well, it was a great. But if it didn’t, it was bad. I wasn’t mentally bulletproof, I needed to work on that and learn how to control my nerves and that anxiety. I was almost hoping everything would just play out and go well.

“It goes back to taking a bit of control and putting your hand up and saying, you know what maybe I need to go and talk to someone or I need to try something different.”

By cutting ties with long-term coach Kiernan, Mageean made that change last year in the hope it would spark an upturn in her results but it hasn’t quite worked that way as of yet, albeit it’s just one major championship into a busy season.

Ciara Mageean dejected after finishing in 7th place Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

But Gillick is confident Mageean can unlock that undoubted potential again having seen her come up through the ranks as an extremely talented young athlete. It’s only a matter of time before we see her hit her straps again, he believes.

“She has always done very well. Winning medals, that’s where Ciara belongs,” Gillick, who this week launched the Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon, said. “I truly believe the girl has got talent and she can compete. She can fix it but the problem in athletics is you don’t get many chances to fix it, it’s not like there are races week in, week out 12 months of the year.

“You have these championships which you’re defined by and unfortunately if you’re going and getting knocked out first round, that’s what people will remember you for.

“I’m retired now and I would just love to say to Ciara there will be a time you’ll back on your career and think ‘what was I really worried about?’ Enjoy it, get on with it, be honest and be true to yourself. If there are things you need help with, put your hand up and ask for it.

“She’s got good pedigree and I believe it’s there, but now it’s getting to a stage when she just needs to do it.”

David Gillick was speaking at the launch of the 2018 Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon. Entries are open at www.vhiwomensminimarathon.ie 

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