Less than two months into his relocation to Ireland to take up a post at Trojan Swimming Club, experienced coach Jonathan Preston sees huge potential in Irish swimming and the chance to make a real impact.
Preston brings with him plenty of depth of coaching background, having worked in five different UK clubs around the north west, producing Olympians, national champions and European junior medalists.
His relocation has a dual motivation: swimming has always offered a chance to travel, one he’s regretted failing to take up before now. He’s also lured by the chance to work alongside the British men recently appointed at the top of Irish swimming, .
“So far, based on the first few weeks, I think it’s quite a simplistic programme compared to the UK but that’s to be expected, given the relative sizes,” Preston told the Dublin Gazette. “I’m pleased we seem to have the backing of people right up to the top. People seem to be buying in, and there are lots of very experienced coaches around who can help us start showing a bit more on the international stage.”
Trojan, providing for communities around Stillorgan and Blackrock at the Newpark, offers the kind of environment Preston desires and he sees the club as having plenty of potential to produce stars.
There are structural issues for Irish swimming in general, he admits, but nothing insurmountable.
“A few too many pools are part of schools which can restrict how much we can use them,” he explains. “We can’t always be traveling to UCD or the National Aquatic Centre, which are the only 50 metre pools in Dublin, but that’s not everything.
“Some world class swimmers have emerged from 25 metre pools, and there’s no reason to think we can’t do that. Ideally, a lot of clubs would have control of their own facilities.
“The GAA have the right idea: if we can lift the sport to a place where you have local businesses sponsoring teams, lots of community interest and all the clubs have their own pools to train in, that will lead to lots of opportunity.”
The project, though, is very much about the long game.
“You need ten years to produce an elite swimmer,” Preston says. “That means ideally you need kids to get involved when they’re six, and then some of them will be on the world stage at sixteen.
“If you get them at ten, that can work, too, but once they’re 14 or 15, they’re peaking a bit late, their bodies are already changing.”
Nevertheless, optimism abounds: “I expect you’ll see more of us in relays, and having some success with female athletes,” Preston says of the Ireland team.
“They’ll certainly be a bit more depth. It’s a new team at the top, and I think it feels like a new start to everyone.”