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Dublin: 18 °C Monday 15 July, 2019
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'I just didn't have the love anymore': Heffernan moves on with family life

The five-time Olympian on retirement and his children’s sporting careers.

THE HEFFERNAN CLAN had barely decamped in the Morton Stadium carpark before Cathal, a promising young footballer, received a call inviting him for Ireland U15 trials at Abbotstown this weekend.

Rob and Marian are up in Dublin to help launch the Irish Life Health Festival of Running and, given the event includes a one-mile run for children, there are few better families in the country to promote it. 

Launch of Irish Life Health Festival of Running The Heffernans in Santry yesterday. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

As well as 14-year-old Cathal, the Heffernans have Tara and Regan with them too and, naturally, they became the centre of attention at the photoshoot, while the eldest, Meghan, is at home in Cork. 

In between media duties and photocalls, Rob — who called time on his illustrious race-walking career last summer — is out on the track kicking a ball with Cathal or running after the two youngest. 

Given both parents are Olympians, the natural assumption is that the four Heffernan kids will follow their path and forge successful careers in athletics, but in the case of both Meghan and Cathal, they have chosen football over running. For now.

Meghan is currently playing for Cork City’s U17 side while Cathal, who has spent time with Preston North End in England, has impressed for the club’s U15 team and the centre back, as of yesterday morning, is on the radar of Ireland’s coaches.

After both started athletics at six, and showed exciting potential on the track, the Heffernans — Meghan and Cathal, that is — have chosen a different sporting path in their teenage years. 

“Cathal has been on trials over in Preston,” Rob explains. “Megan has been playing football with Cork City U17s but she can come back to it [athletics]. She’s a runner playing football.

“There are better opportunities [in football than athletics]. It’s the resources and finances at the top level. You go down to Cork City training, and he’s with them three nights a week, and the whole professionalism.

“They’re looked after, all the boxes are ticked. They have strength and conditioning, they have a physio, they have all the best coaches and everything is organised for them. It’s brilliant.”

As Cathal begins to pursue a career in football, Marian laughs: “I’m hoping he’s not ever going to go [over to England]. You just have to take it as it comes as nothing might come of it.

“He has had an opportunity to go over there and he has to take it. If there is a case of him being offered a contract in a few years, we’ll just have to see where he’s at himself. It might not be for him.”

Even with two highly-successful athletes as parents, it’s clear the Heffernan children are not put under any pressure. They may have been ‘lost’ to athletics for now, but both Meghan and Cathal remain in sport, and remain active.  

Launch of Irish Life Health Festival of Running Marian and Rob Heffernan with daughters Tara and Regan. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

“I said to Cathal when we were over in Preston, ‘this is it boy, it’s boring like,’” Rob continues. “Football pitch, training. And he just smiled at me and said ‘Dad, your life is way more boring.’ He knows you have to train, he’s driven. He learnt that from athletics.”

After over three decades in professional sport, Heffernan’s day-to-day routine is now very different, and he and Marian spend much of the 30-minute chat talking about their children’s sporting endeavours, rather than their own as has always been the case. 

He’s out of the sport a little over a year now after the curtain officially came down on a career which saw the Cork native go to five Olympic Games, win an Olympic bronze over in the 50km walk at London 2012 and then World Championship gold in the same event in Moscow 2013.

Now in his role as Retail Banking Ambassador in the Munster Region for Bank of Ireland, the 40-year-old is kept busy by visiting secondary schools and family life at home.

“No, no,” he says, when asked if he misses it. “My last two years were a drag. I was working so hard and not getting the same reward. Rio, I hung on and was good enough to win a medal but just didn’t have that love anymore and then in London [August 2017] I thought maybe I’d get it because the crowds were there but the first 10k, I was just immune to it. I just didn’t care anymore.

It was the opposite to when I was young and I got excited about everything. Now I wasn’t one bit excited. I was just thinking, I’ve done the training all year, just shut up and deliver something because too many people have helped you and invested in you. I had no feeling in the race.

Now, Heffernan trains for different reasons.

“I get out for a run five-six times a week,” he explains. “It just clears my head, just need to get out. If I went three days without running, I’d be in a bad place in my head. I’d be fierce down like.

“I never take it for granted that I’ll feel good afterwards but 99% of the time I do, even after 20-30 years running.”

Olympians Rob and Marian Heffernan were speaking as brand ambassador to the Irish Life Health Festival of Running which takes place in Morton Stadium on Sunday 28 July in Santry, Dublin.

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Ryan Bailey

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