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Niall Flannery
31 December 2014

At the start of 2014, everyone was looking to new faces to seize the opportunity of a double championship season and make their mark on the senior stage. One man who did just that is 400m hurdler Niall Flannery. Having made multiple GB & NI appearances through the age groups as well as being supported by the British Athletics Futures Programme, Flannery made a step up in class, becoming British champion for the first time as well as qualifying for both the Commonwealth Games and European Championships.

Seeking to make the jump from talented youngster to senior international, Flannery made 2014 count, winning twelve of his seventeen races and lowering his personal best by almost a second. When we asked him to assess his breakthrough season, which included a fourth place finish at Glasgow 2014, the North East man said:

“I can’t complain in any respect really!

“I knew I had to come out early and run well to get Commonwealth Games selection. I thought that was a realistic aim as there was a spot up for grabs. Rick Yates and Seb Rodger both ran well the year before, so I was eyeing up the third spot thinking I could get that. I obviously came out and ran well in May, and in my last race before the cut off [for selection] I ran 48.9, which was more than Nick [Dakin, his coach] or I thought I could run. That gave me a lot of confidence and I was able to push on and run quicker again from there.

It was in Ostrava at the annual Golden Spike meeting that Flannery really made a name for himself however, extending his 2014 winning run to nine races, thanks to a scintillating 48.80 run to upset a world class field. Of that turning point in his career, Flannery commented:

“I won a World Challenge meet in Tokoyo earlier in the year, but the standard of the field wasn’t quite as high. So going into Ostrava, I had Ashton Eaton, the Olympic decathlon champion, Rasmus Magi who went on to win silver at the European Championships and Emir Bekric who is the reigning World Championship bronze medallist; it was a stacked field! So to go out and run 48.8 and win it, I was over the moon!”

Of the back of that, the Loughborough man was invited to the Paris Diamond League and subsequently the Sainsbury’s Glasgow Grand Prix, which he admitted there was no way he could turn down.  It perhaps speaks volumes about the progress Flannery had made to this point, in that he only described his performances in these first two Diamond League meets of his career as “OK”.

“I ran 49 in them both, which before this season would have been a pleasure to run consistently. So to come away with 7th in a Diamond League and be disappointed shows where I had got to, and told me where I want to be in the future.”

Two weeks later he returned to Hampden Park to make his senior championship debut at the Commonwealth Games, fulfilling his 2014 target. And whilst he was happy with the end result and experienced gained in Glasgow, it wasn’t plain sailing as he might have hoped.

“In the heat I had a shocker! I still don’t know why, but thankfully I was given a lifeline thanks to a DQ and so got a place in the final. I then went on to run 49 mid from lane one and finish fourth, which I was really happy with, especially after the day before. I’d have been happy with it anyway, but given the hideousness of the day before made it even better.

“As clichéd as it is, I went into it with nothing to lose. I was in lane one so I could see everyone, and I just had to go for it and see what I could do. I didn’t want to go out with a whimper, I wanted to battle as in a final anything can happen. I knew there were guys in there who were better than me, but to get close to a medal I was more than happy with it.”

A week later and Flannery was making his second major championship appearance at the European Championships, which  were somewhat a disappointment, as coming into the race with a minor calf problem he was unable to do himself justice. Despite looking in control in the heat, he failed to progress to the final, which was ultimately a race he could have been competitive in.

“It turns out I went out of the European’s with a whimper rather than the Commonwealth’s! None-the-less it was a good experience at the end of a long season, but fatigue eventually got the better of me. I now know that I don’t need to race as often as early, and I can still be competitive.”

So after a whirlwind 2014, what has changed for the man with the infamous bleached white hair? Well despite now being on funding, the 23 year old insists his approach remains the same.

“I’ve still got the same group with the same training environment; I’m just able to tap into regular treatment now to make sure that my body is working at 100% all the time. I can now focus solely on athletics and I don’t have to worry about paying rent.

“We arguably have the best 400mH training group in country at the moment, as we got 1-2 at the British Champs last summer [Flannery took gold with training partner Tom Burton winning silver] and so when you throw in a few 400m guys it’s the perfect environment. All the focus is on doing what I need to do to be as quick as possible come the summer.”

A fine attitude for a man focused on fulfilling his potential.