Ciara Mageean: ‘My shin scars remind me of the great summer that I had’

Ciara Mageean celebrates after winning the 1500m silver medal at this year's European Championships in Munich
Ciara Mageean ran courageous races to take second behind Laura Muir in the 1500m at both the Commonwealth Games and European Championships

“I was getting showered after a very wet training session this morning and washing all the muck off my legs.

“I’ve got scars down my shins from the races this summer and was thinking many girls probably wouldn’t be pleased that they’ve got permanent scars on their shins but every time I see them I’m reminded of the great summer of racing I had.

“I have to pinch myself to check that it was real. It was and it’s been an accumulation of a long time of work.”

Ciara Mageean is on a video call with the BBC’s Mark Sidebottom at home on the Ards peninsula and she is initially more interested in talking about her cousin Conor Mageean and his team-mates’ prospects of dethroning Ulster kings Slaughtneil in Sunday’s provincial club hurling semi-final at Corrigan Park before being gently coaxed back towards her day job.

With Ciara competing alongside the likes of Tyrone talent Nick Griggs, Darragh McElhinney and Michelle Finn at Sunday’s Irish Cross Country Championships at Rosapenna in Donegal – which doubles as the national trials for next month’s Europeans Championships in Turin – her sister has been delegated the task of feeding her regular score updates from west Belfast.

“I don’t think my daddy [former Portaferry and Down hurler Chris Mageean] will be able to calm his nerves enough to send a text message in the middle of matches like that,” she said.

2022 seems to have healed ‘those internal scars’

But after a long preamble about the hurling, she is finally recalling those glorious summer and early autumn nights in Birmingham, Munich, Brussels and Zurich.

Portaferry’s sporting hero describes those aforementioned physical scars as “my badges of honour”.

But her remarkable 2022 track campaign seems to have helped heal those “internal scars” that accrued from competition days when things didn’t go to plan.

Mageean, now 30, never bottled up her emotions so we saw tears on occasions in the post-race mixed zone when she spoke to us on our TV screens. In truth, that’s why we warmed to her so much although we couldn’t be sure what toll the bad days would take.

Ciara has never been afraid to acknowledge that she needed help with her mental struggles so she’s been working with sports psychologist Kate Kirby for several years.

“I have such lovely open conversations with her,” she said.

“That’s the hardest thing chatting about your doubts because you never want to show those to anybody else.

Ciara Mageean celebrates after her Diamond League triumph in Brussels when Commonwealth Games and European Champion Laura Muir was among those in her wake
Mageean celebrates after her sensational Diamond League win in Brussels as friend and rival Laura Muir smiles

“But airing them and chatting about them and working on them is the thing that is going to make you better.

“There comes a lot of pressure. I’m out on the track in front of the world. There’s a camera on me so my successes and failures are there for everyone to see.”

The Emerald Isle collectively rejoiced in Ciara’s successes in 2022 as she wonderfully articulated what those epic battles with Laura Muir at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships meant to her, in clinching the bravest of silver medals on both occasions behind the likeable Scot.

Medals will always remain the currency for world-class track and field athletes but the county Down woman admits her subsequent stunning Irish 1500m record performance in Brussels as she obliterated Sonia O’Sullivan 27-year-old national mark was “possibly a career defining moment”.

The fact that the Cobh athletics legend was there to witness it and congratulate her only gave the occasion added symmetry.

“Since I was no age, I was dubbed as the next Sonia O’Sullivan. With that comes a lot of pressure. They are big boots to fill,” she said.

“So to share that moment of getting the Irish record and she was at the race as well.

“To be able to get a picture and have a little chat afterwards was something special.”

Portaferry always remains in Mageean’s heart

After Mageean’s glorious summer, the return home, which included showing off her medals in the local schools, was memorable.

And while Ciara is now based in Manchester but whether she is there or at high altitude training in St Moritz or racing in Brussels or wherever, Portaferry always remains in her heart.

The genes on both sides of her family made some kind of full-on sporting endeavour by the young Ciara an inevitability and she did play camogie into her late teens even after emerging as a top junior athlete.

Her father played on Ulster Hurling Championship winning sides for Down in the 1990s as well as being a Portaferry stalwart but that barely scratches the surface of her clann’s sporting pedigree with her aunt Edel Mason one of Down camogie’s greats and great uncle Paud Braniff said to have been probably the greatest caman exponent produced by the St Patrick’s club.

“Your genetics make up a huge part of it but it’s the mentality of sport so to come from the two sides of the family that had such a passion for our club and giving to the club.,” she said.

“My granny Kathleen was a chairperson of the club for many years. I was out there sweeping our changing rooms when I was a youngster.

“Being from a town like Portaferry and having that support around us, that support is there for me throughout the whole year and it’s going to be behind the lads on Sunday.”

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