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Donal Hennigan – the Virtual Interview

Today we have 1978 U11 National Cross Country Champion and Head Coach Donal Hennigan

After a very successful junior career over 800/1500m, Donal has given an incredible amount of time to coaching in the club.



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When and why did you join DSD AC?

Around 1976 – I lived local to the old DFRC (where the meadow brook swimming pool currently sits) back then there wasn’t much else to do. Kick football and run – I did both !

What was your best event and what event did you like best

The 1500 was probably my best event, and the one I liked best, I got away with 3K but found 7.5 laps at the outer edge of my concentration ability.

What is your favourite training workout?

I “liked” sessions of a small number of race pace reps over 800/600/400/200, Its a great feeling when you’re floating around the track (doesn’t happen that often !)

And your least favourite?

Long reps of K’s during the winter trying to keep up with Stephen Judge !

What is your most cherished or proudest moment in your athletics career?

Bar winning the U11 All Ireland XC it has to be a coaching moment.

I’ve been lucky to have coached some wonderful people.

A number of performances spring to mind: I would have to say Seeing Meghan Ryan develop year on year during her teenage years to finish 2nd at U20 nationals and represent Ireland at Euro Cross was a great moment.

Sophie Murphy’s win at U20 nationals in 2016 was especially pleasing as it was the culmination of a number of years of working together

Siofra running an Irish schools record for 800 in 2.03.8 in 2013.

What is your most loved athletics sporting moment of all time ?

There are many but Eamonn Coughlan’s indoor world record run is a stand out. We used get the US Indoor races at lunchtime Saturdays on the old UTV channel. The atmosphere in the indoor arena was spine tingling ! I would race home from training and settle in front one the TV where I was spellbound by what I watched.

What is/was your favourite race / athletics meet to take part in?

I love National XC, I love the team aspect and the surprises it can throw up (didn’t love it so much as an athlete !)

What was your worst injury – and how did you get over it?

Knee troubles – I didn’t ! BUT it taught me a very important lesson – if you don’t look after your mobility & S&C you will pay for it !

What has been your biggest learning as a coach?

First & foremost an Athlete has to train consistently in order to compete well. Therefore you need a healthy athlete – not sick, not injured; this requires control and balance in the training program while you try get the athlete as competitive as possible.

You need to understand the qualities of the athlete and direct the training accordingly. In the endurance events the aerobic/anaerobic relationship is crucial.

If you could have dinner with 3 sporting personalities past or present who would you pick

Eamonn Coughlan, Roy Keane and Katie Taylor

What is your favourite coaching moment so far?

Cross Country National Juniors 2013 – DSD won the Junior Girls team event with 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 8th – we had 5 of the 6 person team at Euro XC.

It was impressive and the DSD colours were noticed and much talked about by the athletes and crowds that watched that race.

I loved the picture below of that race, Siofra was already past and then the DSD vests dominated the chasing group.

How are you motivating yourself to continue training at these difficult times?

The athletes I coach have a great commitment to their training, that gives me the motivation to keep going to support them. Its more difficult for them than it is for me so that prevents me from feeling too sorry for myself.

What piece of advice would you give an aspiring athlete?

Committed athletes are good at applying a training stress under direction however they are less good at the recovery.

Rest is often seen as something that gets in the way of improvement. In fact Rest is the critical part of the Growth equation Very simply Stress plus Rest = Growth. If you stress yourself in running terms sufficiently but don’t do the “rest” part with as much conviction, you will not get the performance improvement sought. If you want to train hard you need to be prepared to “Rest” hard too.

That can be recovery in the form of Nutrition, Sleep, Mobility, days off running, easy running, TV !!

And please tell your coach when you have a niggle, don’t hide it until it becomes a bigger problem !!

Do you have any memorable or funny story from DSD that you could share?

When I was in my late teens a regular Sunday run was a 14 mile mountain run up by Pine Forest and off over the mountain toward Johnny Fox’s pub and back to Marlay, There was always a good group on the run with juniors like I was and seniors. Most of the time the runs were uneventful (unless someone had been out on Saturday night and was feeling a bit rough!), however on one particular run as we were heading uphill past pine forest a Goat with big horns decided to join us on the road, we all thought this was quite funny as we motored up the final part of the hill. After a minute of running with us the goat seemed to get bored, showed a good turn of speed and headed on up the hill ahead of us. As the goat reached the top of the climb he stopped and turned to face us. There were a few nervous giggles as we wondered what our new running mate was up to. We didn’t have to wait long for the answer as the goat preceded to drop his horns, run back toward us and charge through the middle of the group which now split in many directions. He turned again and came back at us from behind. We got to experience what adrenaline can do as we ran up the hill like it wasn’t there. Our friend wasn’t to be dropped though and he came at us again. With most of us being city boys we had no idea how we get rid of our pal. As panic set in and the goat charged one of the Guys he grabbed his horns and with the help of a few others dispatched him over the side of the road where a gentle slope ensured the goat was gone, although we didn’t hang about to see if he made it back to the road. Needless to say the next few weeks Sunday runs up that direction were quite nervy.

Can you share an old picture from your running days

Photo of me after the U11 All Ireland XC, Run in the back fields of St Benildus College. No prizes for guessing which one I am !



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