By Tadhg Peavoy

The 1983 5000m world champion, and three-time Olympian, Eamonn Coghlan, believes that Ireland may struggle to medal on the track at London 2012, but feels lightweight boxer Katie Taylor is primed for gold at the Games.

“Unfortunately, we can’t hope for a lot [on the track], and that’s with 100% respect for all the athletes. Just trying to qualify for the Olympics is a major challenge to one’s ability, but I think we’re a little bit short of athletes who realistically have a chance of winning a medal on the track,” said Coghlan.

Eamonn Coghlan raises his arms in the air as he crosses the line to win the 5000 Metres final during the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki

The Dubliner, now working as a Senator in Seanad Éireann, points to Paul Hession and Ciaran O’Lionaird as track athletes that are very close to making Olympic finals, but not quite at the required level.

“It’s going to be tough making a final. I think maybe Paul Hession in the 200m. It’s going to be extremely difficult for Paul competing against the North Americans, the Jamaicans and other west African-born athletes who are going to be competing for a multitude of European nations"

“It’s going to be tough making a final. I think maybe Paul Hession in the 200m. It’s going to be extremely difficult for Paul competing against the North Americans, the Jamaicans and other west African-born athletes who are going to be competing for a multitude of European nations.

“Ciaran O’Lionaird, who made the final of the World Championships last year, shocked the world of athletics and the world of athletics in Ireland when he improved his personal best that season from 3 minutes 44 seconds to 3.34 to qualify for the World Championships and thus the Olympic Games.

“Ciaran finished tenth; however, since the indoor season he hasn’t competed at all. He’s had Achilles tendon issues, and the likelihood of him qualifying for the final will be a miracle, having not raced for the Olympic Games," said Coghlan.

Robert Heffernan

"He might get one or two [races] in the next week or so, and that will give us an indication of where he’s at. But I can’t see him making the Olympic final.”

But Coghlan sees the walkers and Deirdre Ryan as strong contenders to do well this summer.

“The only finalists I foresee are in the events that are already finals. Olive Loughane in the 20km walk, Robert Heffernan, Colin Griffin. If anyone has a chance of making a medal, perhaps it could be Robert Heffernan, based on his two fourth places in the 20km and 50km walk"

He said: “The only finalists I foresee are in the events that are already finals. Olive Loughane in the 20km walk, Robert Heffernan, Colin Griffin. If anyone has a chance of making a medal, perhaps it could be Robert Heffernan, based on his two fourth places in the 20km and 50km walk [at the 2010 European Championships].

“Deirdre Ryan, I watched her competing in wet conditions in Santry over the weekend, good bounce in her legs. Possibly Deirdre could get into the final.”

Outside of the track events, Coghlan feels that four-time amateur lightweight amateur boxing world champion Katie Taylor is the obvious name that stands out as Ireland’s main medal hope.

“We’ve been talking about this lady for seven, if not eight, years and reality has come home to us now, with Katie Taylor and women's boxing being included in the Olympic Games. There’s a prime example of an athlete who has consistently won at European level and world level for numerous years,” said Coghlan.

"Katie has it all and the only thing that can go against Katie is the Celtic curse. We’ve seen great Irish athletes – including myself – going to the Olympic Games and missing out on a medal by tenths of a second"

“That’s the type of performer one can look to to win an Olympic medal. Katie has it all and the only thing that can go against Katie is the Celtic curse. We’ve seen great Irish athletes – including myself – going to the Olympic Games and missing out on a medal by tenths of a second, because on the day you got your tactics wrong, or in the week or two beforehand you might get ill.

“Katie is someone that I think can do it; I believe she will do it.

“The only thing that can go against her is misfortune. Katie all the way.”

Coghlan also heaped praise on the support and guidance Taylor has been given.

He said: “Katie is really well handled. She’s a world champion, she’s a pro as an amateur. She has the right people and the right mechanisms around her.”

Coghlan also praised the Irish Sports Council and the work they have put in place to make sure that Team Ireland performs to its optimum at the Games and beyond.

“The team going to the Olympic Games in all 14 sports represented have been well supported financially and well prepared by the high performance programme in their respective sports," he said.

"Into the future, the Department of Sport - through the Irish Sports Council - have done a better job than most countries in the world supporting their athletes for the Games.

“There’s been a transformation in the Irish Institute of Sport under the guidance of Gary Keegan. He was responsible for the transformation of high performance in boxing, which gave us the three medals in Beijing.

Kenneth Egan, Paddy Barnes and Darren Sutherland

“The Institute of Sport and the Sports Council have gained the trust of athletes and the trust of federations. Kudos to the Sports Council and the Institute for looking after the athletes so well.”

Seoul 1988 was Coghlan’s last Olympics, but the 1979 Indoor European 1500m champion feels little has changed training wise from his time on the track.

“There’s absolutely no difference in the physical preparation of competing in the Olympic Games. In my particular sport you can only do 100 miles a week. You can’t do 150 or 160 or 180 miles more. However, it’s how you do it that makes the difference,” he said.

“I feel there is more pressure on the athletes preparation today then there was in my era, because of the media, because of the social media, and the interaction of social media. People on the outside world can make comments about you. It can mess up the mind of an athlete’s preparation"

“I feel there is more pressure on the athletes preparation today then there was in my era, because of the media, because of the social media, and the interaction of social media. People on the outside world can make comments about you. It can mess up the mind of an athlete’s preparation.

“The biggest fear for athletes nowadays is the outside distractions that can affect your performance.”

Coghlan senior’s son John (23) is also an athlete, and was part of Ireland’s under-23 team that won gold at the 2010 European Cross Country Championships.

Coghlan junior was attempting to make the Olympic 1500m 'A' standard this season, but fell short of the target. However, Coughlan, the elder, feels his son’s progress is bang on course.

John Coghlan

Coghlan senior said: “Coming to the Olympic Games, it was always going to be a long shot to get Olympic qualifying times. I always believed that if he is going to succeed at a higher level internationally it would be between 24 and 28. Thus the next four years will be his peak physical years as an athlete.”

There are favourites and outsiders coming into every sporting event, and Coghlan feels if he could give one piece of advice to every Team Ireland member it would be: “believe”.

He said: “[The athletes] must realise there is going to be a huge amount of pressure on them. They are going to be dealing with nerves in a way they’ve never dealt with them before. Your nerves can overcome you and destroy your performance.

"Or you can overcome your nerves and keep them under control and channel those nerves in a positive way into your performance,” said Coghlan.

“[They must] maintain their routine during the Olympic Games; the 17 days of glory as they’re called. Enjoy every bit of it and believe. Believe in yourself.”

Tadhg Peavoy was in conversation with Eamonn Coghlan on 12 July 2012.