Finn McGeever tells Dan Danaher that the local support will give him a real boost in the pool in Tokyo
A FORMER student of St Anne’s Community College has described securing a place on the Irish Olympic swimming relay team as a “dream come true”.
Finn McGeever, (20) will be making history in Toyko, as he is part of an Irish swimming relay team, that will compete in the 200 metre relay event for the first time in 49 years.
Securing nine Olympic places means this is the largest Irish swimming team after three qualified for the previous games.
The Irish men’s four by 200 metre freestyle relay heats takes place on Tuesday, July 27, between 7 and 9.30pm Tokyo time, which is eight hours ahead of Ireland.
Finn, a second year student at University of Limerick (UL) is the youngest son of Roisín and Charlie and a past pupil of Ballina National School and St Anne’s Community College.
In a post on social media, Finn’s alma mater St Anne’s Community College stated years of hard work and dedication had helped Finn secure his Olympic spot, and added the school couldn’t be prouder and happier for him, his family, swim coaches and team mates.
— St.Annes CC Killaloe (@stannescck) July 21, 2021
Finn has described seeing the large billboards with his photograph wishing him good luck in the Olympics erected at the entrance to Killaloe bridge and other vantage points in Ballina, as an “amazing experience”.
“It the coolest thing that has ever happened to me seeing these posters around the village. When I am getting up on the starting blocks, it is a big help.
“Since the Olympic trials in April, I am getting loads of support and more than I have ever got previously because I have moved up to a higher level.
“Having that support behind your back moves me on a lot. To have loads of people watching who have faith in you, it is really cool.
“It is a dream come true to be heading for the Olympics.”
Finn breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was officially confirmed he was included in the Irish team following a “rollercoaster of events” leading up to it.
Speaking to The Clare Champion, Finn admitted he has been rushing around so much in recent days the sense of achievement hasn’t fully sunk in yet.
“It is just crazy getting photo shoots and things I have never experienced before. It is so cool.
“Going to the Olympics is the ultimate reward in sport. It is easy to motivate myself now and all the hard work has definitely been worth it. Getting to the Olympics is all any swimmer or athlete wants to do.
— Limerick Swimming Club (@LimSwimClub) July 21, 2021
“The whole thing is a bit crazy at the moment. This will be a great learning experience for me if I manage to qualify for the 2024 Olympics. This Olympics will set me up nicely.”
Normally, Finn would be trying to beat his Irish rivals, but now he is working with them trying to get the best time in a relay event.
“They are rivals throughout the year, now they are your team mates, and you have their back, which is really cool situation to be in.
“During the year we want to beat each other, but outside of the race we are all good friends. I am loving the team element, which is something I haven’t experienced at this level before.
“We will have a specific order we will race in. The coach will tell us that closer to the race.”
The University of Limerick student was one of four Irish swimmers who reached the qualifying time.
However, Fina, the governing body for swimming, has a rule that only gives two specific Olympic places to the relay team, and the final two places have to be taken up by swimmers who have qualified in their own individual events.
None of the four Irish swimmers had their own qualifying team in a different event, which meant only the fastest two could travel to Tokyo.
Finn admits it is heartbreaking for the other two swimmers left behind, but there is nothing Swim Ireland can do to address this situation.
Talented Limerick swimmer, Eoin Corby (19) who also trains in UL, lost his Olympic ticket, by a combined total of 0.21 seconds, from two individual events.
In the summer of 2019, Finn broke his arm. His timing by coincidence was impeccable because he was on a four-week break from training, which were spent with his arm in a cast.
When the cast was removed, he could swim but couldn’t lift weights. It took a few months before his arm was solid again and while he still experiences the odd pain, it is fully healed.
Finn attributes the dramatic improvement in his times – a drop of four seconds in the 200 metre freestyle and seven seconds less in the 400 metre freestyle since 2018 following a plateau to his coaching team, head coach, John Szaranek, assistant coach, Michael McCarthy, strength and conditioning coach, Lorna Barry, nutritionist, Carol O’Sullivan, physiotherapist Catherine Fahy.
“It is the difference between qualifying and not qualifying. Everything is done in a military fashion in training because hundredths of a second really matter.”
The National Centre Limerick had targeted the 2024 Olympics to secure a place for a swimmer, but Finn’s success means they are three years ahead, and only missed getting a second swimmer on the plane to Toyko, Eoin Corby, by a whisker.
Finn believes his coaching team have really excelled in their job and feels others in the National Centre Limerick are in a very strong position to contest for the 2024 Olympics.
Swimmer, Roisín Ni Riain, who also trains in the National Centre UL, will participate in the Toyko Paralympics.
Recently, Finn scaled new heights by recording his first individual senior record in the Irish National Swimming Championship.
Dominating the 400 metre Freestyle Final in an impressive performance, Finn finished on 3.52.83, which smashed Northern Ireland’s Jack McMillian’s 2019 record of 3.53.31
In fact, the Ballina swimmer achieved success on the double with his second place finish in the semi-final and third place in the final of the 200-metre freestyle.
Because Finn hadn’t competed in the 400 metre freestyle for a long period, his coaches were confident he could beat the Irish senior record.
In April 2018, John Szaranek started working as head coach in the Swim Ireland National Centre Limerick.
John explains Finn has made “significant progress” in the last year. “He got to the final by honest endeavour in the training pool.
“Finn’s attributes are his honesty, what you get is what you see. When we ask Finn to work hard, he works hard. He doesn’t shirk the work and is very keen to put the effort in. When it comes to the really tough sets, he will leave it all in the pool.
“He has always applied himself really well. When he races, he is strong under water, which is something we are still trying to improve on. He is strong at the back end of any race.
“For the coaching team to have Finn qualify for the Olympics is fantastic. That is why we are here. It is a team effort to get everything in place here.”
John hopes that Finn will be an inspiration to other swimmers, notwithstanding the fact that younger swimmers in their development squad are behind in their training because they couldn’t train due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Finn trains in the UL 50-metre pool for two hours nine times a week, and between two and four gym sessions depending on the season.
“When I started, swimmers began pool training at 5am, which is massively demanding from an academic perspective if they are in secondary school or university.
“I changed that to 5.30 am. Even 30 minutes extra in bed a day is eight hours extra a month. After the first lockdown, when we got back in we were the only ones using it so we moved the training sessions from 7 to 9 am,” John explains.
The National Centre’s target was to secure an Olympic place for swimmers in 2024, and the coaching team are delighted to get two swimmers on the plane, three years ahead of schedule.
John believes Covid-19 proved to be a blessing in disguise for swimmers, who got extra sleep, less distractions and more focus on training in the water and in the gym.
He estimates Finn averages about 55,000 metres a week in the pool, which takes huge dedication to his individual training plan, nutrition and self-management.
Every effort is made to improve swimmer’s performance in stages over the season.
Assistant coach, Michael McCarthy, recalled Finn improved his underwater times when the pool was split into short course 25 metre for training, and carried this through when it returned to 50 metres.
“Finn doesn’t give up during training sets. Some people reach a certain threshold and drop off a little, but Finn goes past the pain barrier into the next level.
“The reason there is such a small percentage of Olympians is most people aren’t prepared to make the sacrifices that athletes have to make.
“It is great to have Finn competing in the Olympics and we could have had a third athlete. It is a great endorsement for the work we are doing.
“For all the young swimmers in the development squad to see an Olympian who has come up through the same system as them is massive. They will think ‘if Finn can do it, I can do it”.
“In 2024, hopefully we will have more swimmers at the Olympics.”