Travers aim to pay special tribute to Jerry Kiernan

by Stephen Findlater

** Donore Harriers’ John Travers crosses the line in a personal best 3,000m time at the recent Atletics Ireland micro-meet.  Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Donore Harriers’ John Travers says there is a “definite sense of doing it for Jerry Kiernan” as he faces into his first championship since the death of his legendary coach in January. 

Travers will contest the 3,000m at the European Athletics Indoor Championships this weekend in Toruń, Poland, hoping to advance from Saturday’s heats to reach Sunday’s final. 

And the Donore man says this was one of the events he and Kiernan had targetted for a big performance. 

“This Euros was one of our goals from years out as a time to do our best,” the 29-year-old Travers told the Dublin Gazette. “I probably only have one or two more attempts before I step up in distance.  

“We targeted it from a long way out so with the timing of it, I know I have to be here, perform and fulfil what he wanted. It will be difficult but I am in great shape.” 

To that end, Travers ran a personal best at the recent micro-meet, out-stripping his previous best by five seconds when he clocked a 7:50.40 at the National Sports Campus. 

It was his only chance at qualification as – being a full-time worker and having a young family – he was not able to go out on the circuit in search of times and he duly nailed it, making to what will be his fifth Euro indoors. 

That he is on this stage, he puts down heavily to Kiernan’s influence. Travers only took up the sport by chance at a 16-year-old in 2007 as part of a Gaisce challenge but within a few years, he was in Irish underage teams. 

However, while a student in Athlone IT in 2012, he was on the verge of quitting before Kiernan’s intervention. 

“I was a lazy athlete. I had raw talent and that’s what got me going in the early days. I could do one or two fast races a year but never put a block together because I wasn’t really bothered.  

“I tried to play Gaelic and soccer on the sly, picking up the odd niggle. Then in 2012, my coach was half-packing it in and I wasn’t really interested. It was only thanks to Dermot McDermott who brought me down to Jerry’s group [at UCD]. 

“I was pretty abruptly told not to bother coming back [after my first session] but I did and it all worked out from there. Jerry knew how to talk to me, he was such a good judge character. 

“If he had gone soft on me at that stage, I definitely wouldn’t have gone back. But I thought ‘fuck, that’, I have to prove this fella wrong. 

“It was pure stubbornness that I went back, saying ‘I can do this, what is he talking about?’ I needed that challenge and it worked. I went from strength to strength, doing a 3.55 mile a year and a half later.” 

And now he is hoping to pay a strong tribute to a man who became like a father-figure to him over the years, taking a chance at an event which looked like it might have been off limits a month or so ago.

“If that micro-meet didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be at a European Championship. There’s a few in my boat. For the likes of me who has a full time job and a family, I couldn’t go away to race.

“Getting that event was the icing on the cake for the likes of us, giving us one chance where we knew we would have to get it right. 

“Those events are the ones – particularly when you don’t know if you will get them – are the ones you grasp. The main goal is always to get into the final and then anything can happen. I wouldn’t put too many limitations on myself. 

“I am in a great place physically. I am not over-raced, not over-trained and fresh so I am fairly confident I can put in a good race on Saturday and hopefully land a final spot on Sunday.”

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