No loneliness for this long distance distance runner on Cork's thrilling coast
Darragh McElhinney is confident.
And restless. Few laps of the Glengarriff GAA pitch, the one he's played in since he was a kid. Then out the Caha Mountain road, ideal to break the monotony of boring short laps.
McElhinney was a fine footballer, on the Cork development squads at 16. Loved it, too.
Loop around and back into Glengarriff. Longer laps beat short ones, he goes again.
Bigger fish to fry. You can't mind yourself playing Gaelic, or save yourself running 80 miles a week. Not if you want to make it anyways. McElhinney talks to you with the straight up conviction, of a fella hell-bent on making it.
It's early morning on the Cork/Kerry border, where you can almost hear the gushes and splashes of the Altantic Coast. West Cork is asleep but Darragh McElhinney is pounding the AM roads.
He's meant to be up in UCD but with the country at a stand-still, the lock-down has taken him home; home to Glengarriff, where the birds chirp all around him and the Sugarloaf towers high into the sky. Not a bad lap at all. This buck certainly ain't standing still.
"You're at a bit of an advantage if you can get your training in these few weeks, so that's a good thing already," he says.
No bother on him.
There comes a time when every gifted teenager must make a decision they're way too young to be making. McElhinney, the distance runner, was racking up Munsters and All-Irelands for sport. He'll never forget winning a Cork Under-16 title with Beara, but that victorious game of Gaelic, as you have already guessed, would be his last one.
"When I was in second and third year, I was trying to juggle a lot. I was on development squads for football and soccer, and Cork city is an hour and a half away from my house. I gave up the soccer and then just played football for the club, didn't train, just played games. That was a great way to bow out, winning that championship, and the running took over then..."
Hell for leather off the running. He tears on up the country hills and down the other side. Off again.
Sometimes older brother Eoghan comes along too. Whenever the talented musician is not singing or playing the guitar, he's clocking up the 50 miles that make up his weeks. And that softens the journey. The McElhinney household, four brothers up and at it, is a lively one.
Darragh McElhinney is the fastest teenage distance runner Ireland has ever had. When he crossed the line in Sweden last August, he became the first Irishman to win a Euro under 20 distance running medal in 28 years.
It wasn't back-claps or nice stats he wanted though after the Euro Under 20 5000m; he was going for gold - make no mistake about it -and that he didn't get it left him almost apologetically rueful.
It takes a hell of an athlete to be disappointed with a European bronze medal 🇮🇪🥉🇮🇪
Darragh McElhinney did himself and his country proud with the first 5000m medal for TWENTY-NINE YEARS
Here's his reaction: pic.twitter.com/3ntJdaDVad
— Athletics Ireland (@irishathletics) July 21, 2019
"Your first few times going there," the 19-year-old looks back just now.
"You're happy to just go there and get the experience whereas now, it's come to the stage now where it's like; yeah it's cool to be going there to these major championships, but you don't have any business unless you think you can do well..."
"I might have been just happy to just put on the Irish vest...but come to last summer, I said to myself 'that's enough, time to kick on.'
"I wanted more. In hindsight it was great because medals at major championships are hard to come by. The fact that I've had the taste of a medal - it doesn't satisfy you, it leaves you wanting it even more..."
The Olympics move back a year, how about an opened door to the promised land? McElhinney won't rule it out. His Irish under-20 record and personal best of 13.54 over 5k will need to be improved upon, but that's not what's keeping him up at night.
The threat of a summer without a chance is.
"I think for me now, it's in a bit of a grey area. I was never really looking at Tokyo 2020 because I thought it was coming too soon, but it's all happened so fast now.
"I'm not really getting a chance to test myself over 5000 at all at the moment. If it gets to a stage where we don't have an outdoor season, I won't have a marker and that's what makes it a bit more frustrating, is that I'm confident things are going in the right direction and if I did have a summer this year, things could go very well. The annoying thing is you mightn't have a chance to show it."
"But I'll train as if I'm going to it anyway, I'll keep myself to that sort of a standard," he says.
No better man.
"There's a great history there in Irish distance running - with Eamon Couglan and John Treacy..."
The list goes on. There might be another one to join it soon.