The countdown is on for Ireland's President

The countdown is on for Ireland's President
Getty Images

Ireland's senior women celebrate their team title at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.

When Ciarán Ó Catháin was asked to help out with a problem at Athletics Ireland in 2010, he did not know he would be there six years later.

"The association was in a lot of difficulty because there had been a major issue," he says. "I had been approached to see if I would go in as Chairman of Finance and Risk. I did that for two years and I was elected deputy-President at that time aswell.

"I said I would do that and then I was pulling back and doing my own job but they convinced me…would I go in and do the President’s job.”

In 10 weeks time, that request he answered for help comes to an end when he steps down. In Ireland, officers are allowed to fulfill a maximum of four years as President and how he has enjoyed his time at the helm.

President of Atheltics Ireland Ciarán Ó Catháin.
President of Atheltics Ireland Ciarán Ó Catháin.

"From an organisation's perspective, our numbers have grown by 60 per cent in terms of membership," says Ó Catháin, 53.

“The high-performance unit has really been established and professionalised and we have put a lot of key things in there to make sure we can deliver for our professional athletes.

"But as I always say, 98 per cent of our business and our athletes are not at that high-performing level, they are not the elite athletes, they are a club members. We have to make sure we do things for them and the clubs with development and we have done a lot.

"We have a Fit For Life club set up all around the country, we are helping with park run initiatives and Fit For Youth and Fit Kids programmes are running. We have a lot of different things going on for all our market segments, which is helping generate the whole profile of athletics in Ireland."

Yet that is far from his day job.

Ó Catháin is chatting from his office at the Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT), a higher education institute in the midlands region of the country where he has been President for 16 years.

As the website says: “AIT is an award-winning higher education institution located in the heart of Ireland. More than 6,000 students are undertaking undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Business, Humanities, Engineering and Science.”

It also has quite a place on the international track and field map.

On Wednesday night, some of the world’s leading athletes competed at the AIT International Grand Prix, an event staged in the institution’s new indoor arena. It is some setting, built with the majority of funding - £13 million - from the institute’s own commercial activities.

There were some outstanding performances, including Pavel Maslak’s European-leading 400m time of 46.07 which equalled the stadium record previously held by Ireland’s Brian Gregan.

It has meant a busy week for Ó Catháin, who is used to juggling all the elements of his life.

He says: "I work late into the evenings on AIT business and I can work late into the evenings on athletics business. This week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, most of it was on the Grand Prix, but I did fit a couple of other meetings around it.”

A father of four, it was through his children that he found his way back into athletics.

Ó Catháin, who will stay as an executive board member of the Olympic Council of Ireland when his Presidency ends, used to run the 400m and then sprints when he was at school in Dublin in the 1970s before a damaged leg saw him fall off the pace.

"I moved around," he says. "I lived in France, then Northern Ireland and then I moved back to the Republic 16 years ago. I have four children, we are all interested and involved in athletics.

"I got involved in coaching with them at Roscommon AC, then I became the chairman of the county board and club. It went from there, assisting and officiating…and as these things happen, (people asked) ‘Can you get Ciarán in to help out’."

It was a route which took him to Athletics Ireland and onto the Presidency which finishes at the end of April, but he is an official starter at events and is far from disappearing from the sport.

"I will be on the track every week with my gun starting," he says. "I will still be very much involved in the association. I won’t be gone...never to be heard of again.”