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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 22 November, 2019

'I'd still love to make the Olympics' - Irish decathlete Bowler's unlikely Tokyo dream

The 27-year-old talks his career in athletics, ‘big dreams’ and taking inspiration from his native Wexford’s provincial success.

Michael Bowler competing in the Men's Pole Vault earlier this year.
Michael Bowler competing in the Men's Pole Vault earlier this year.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

LAST SUNDAY MICHAEL Bowler headed up from Enniscorthy to watch some old friends take on Kilkenny in the Leinster senior hurling final at Croke Park.

Bowler had enough on his plate to justify skipping the final but he’s glad now he made the trip up.

On Thursday he flies out to Ribeira Brava, on the Portuguese island of Madeira, to represent Ireland in the European Combined Events Team Championship, taking place this weekend.

The decathlete is looking forward to picking up another Irish cap, but his focus will quickly turn then to preparing for the Irish Life Health National Seniors in Santry’s Morton Stadium at the end of July.

Taking time out to chat after the Model County’s fine win over Brian Cody’s side, Bowler said he was glad to take time out to see his friends and former teammates land a first provincial title for the county since 2004.

Back in 2011, the Duffry Rovers clubman played a part in delivering another historic title for his county – the Leinster U21 football title – and was part of the panel that overcame Longford by just one point in an exciting final.

In doing so Bowler and his teammates took the Seamus Flood Cup back to the south-east for the first time ever.

They had previously contested four finals with no success. Bowler was part of a squad that also featured Matthew O’Hanlon, Liam Og McGovern and Emmet Kent.

He also played youths soccer with Lee Chin.

“And it was great to see all of those lads achieve their goals on Sunday,” he says.

“Especially Liam Og [McGovern] after what he has overcome. That would serve as an inspiration for anyone.”

After recovering from hip surgery and two ruptured cruciate ligaments, McGovern’s story is an inspiration for anyone involved in sport.

And as Bowler prepares for this weekend’s European event, and the Irish Life Health Seniors in a few weeks, he says you could not be but inspired by hearing his story – and watching the Wexford hurlers sticking to their game plan through thick and thin.

“A lot of the work I do is away from the gym and the track,” Bowler says.

I work hard at mindfulness, visualisation, eating properly and ensuring every step of the technique is taken care of.

“Trust, technique and repetition are key and the Wexford boys would know that too.

Once that is sorted you get confidence. I would feel that confidence is something that the Wexford hurlers had been lacking for a few years. But not anymore.”

Michael Bowler competing in the Men's Pole Vault Michael Bowler of Enniscorthy A.C., Co. Wexford competing in the Men's Pole Vault at the National Indoor Championships. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Bowler, 27, competes out of Enniscorthy AC, and was named 2018 Athlete of the year at the annual Wexford Athletics awards last winter.

When he was younger, he took advantage of the family farm – and local amenities to train, making a high jump mat out of bags of hay, and pole vaulting onto mattresses no longer required by the nearby St John’s Hospital.

After spending some years at DCU, he has spent the past few years in the UK studying physiotherapy and ended his college days by winning the 2018 British University championships last May.

That result, along with a second-place finish in the UK Decathlon championships, with a P.B. of 7,263 points, made it a successful year.

Bowler also ended the year as number one Irish decathlete and number eight on the all-time Irish decathlete list.

“I’m currently ranked number two,” he says. “I want to get the number one ranking back.

You always need a target because competing is about the journey as much as the results,” Bowler, now working as a physio in Kilkenny, says.

The Wexford man is currently combining 30 hours work a week with his own training, preparation and travel and says that he has to pay exceptionally close attention to prepping food and resting, in order to perform to his best.

He will compete in the pole vault event at the Irish Life Health National Seniors but this weekend sees him in decathlon territory with the Irish team.

“There are events where I am strong and events that I need to work harder at,” he says.

But that’s where the visualisation comes in. I can try to pre-empt some stuff that might go wrong and then hopefully revert immediately to my technique during an event if something goes wrong because I have already imagined it beforehand.

“It’s important to work at the stuff just as much as the training.

“It’s important too to watch the body. I have seen the attrition GAA players go through and the injuries there – but it’s worst for athletes. It’s regular wear and tear and often on hard surfaces.

I still have big dreams. I would love to do well this weekend. Do well at the nationals at the end of July and, though it might be a bit late for me, I would love to make the Olympics and be part of the Irish team heading to Tokyo.

“But I do know that I might be a bit far on. When I was younger, as I said, I had to improvise with my training. The facilities were not there at local level. I would love to see Wexford unite as a whole when it comes to improving athletics and work close together – that’s the only way you can achieve things.

“And when I am finished competing, I would like to help out and make sure that young athletes coming through get every chance.

“For me, though, I compete in a very technical event and it was really only when I went to DCU and university in the UK that I had facilities and technical support that I needed.

That may have come too late in life for me to make Olympic level, but it is certainly in my mind to give it every best shot.”

A stellar college career also saw Bowler come third in the 2018 British Universities pole vault with a P.B. of 475cm, which put him in a great position to subsequently take the senior Irish pole vault title at last year’s event.

Retaining that title – plus another good showing in Madeira this weekend would leave him right up there competing with the Wexford hurlers for this year’s sports star awards later in the winter.

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