New national senior cross country champion, Liam Brady talked to Kevin Corrigan
AS a young boy growing up in Coolderry, it would have been automatically assumed that hurling would be Liam Brady's sport of choice. Coolderry are Offaly hurling's most successful club, one of the most traditional in the county and with older brothers, Joe and Kevin enjoying long club and county careers – both are still playing club -, the sport seeped through Brady's veins.
A son of Kevin and Mary Brady, Liam was a keen hurler in his young days but an introduction to athletics in St Brendan's Community School in Birr by their physical education teacher, Jimmy Dunne changed his life path.
A comparatively late starter in athletics, he soon joined Tullamore Harriers where he availed of their top class facilities and coaching and as the years wore on, it was obvious that he was a rare talent.
He has ploughed through some rough patches in his career but on Sunday, he had his greatest day as he won the National Senior Cross Country Championship in Abbotstown, Dublin, racing away from a quality field at the halfway stage and withstanding the ferocious late charge by Dubliner Brian Fay.
27 years of age, he has learnt hard lessons along the way and rather than map out his future for two/three years down the line, he now takes it one day at a time, concentrating on training as hard as he can and be the best that he can be.
Hurling may infiltrate every fabric of Coolderry society but Brady stated on Monday that he was never put under home pressure to follow the route tried and tested by so many locals – and despite his family being very much part of Coolderry hurling royalty. Indeed, this loyalty to a game, parish and club is something that has served him very well in his chosen sport.
“It was never an issue. I was always doing my own thing, whatever I wanted to do. From a young age hurling in Coolderry, it was drummed in about representing the parish and pride in the parish. It becomes part of you and you then want to represent Offaly. I got the opportunity to wear the Irish singlet and it is the same mindset and approach. You want that vest on your back and you give it your all. I went for the bigger opportunity. After being in the sport for a couple of years, I wanted to run for Ireland more than hurl, even though I enjoyed my time hurling.
“I felt there was a bigger opportunity there. I wanted to take the bigger challenge on and prove myself. I was taught to never go away from what you are reared and bred into and I was basically just moving that up to the next level. It has not went too far wrong so far. You can never be disappointed running for Ireland. You are not doing it for yourself, you are doing it for the jersey and country. Once you have that outside your own body experience, it is easier to be content when running for Ireland. There is no pressure as such in running for Ireland, you are more content because you are now expressing yourself. You do be a bag of nerves but that sort of thing makes it easier in a way.”
He knew going into Sunday's race that he had a chance of winning, even if he was an underdog in many eyes. “I knew I had a good chance of winning but obviously you had the likes of Sean Tobin, Brian Fay, Mick Clohissey. I had my eye on the guys who did well in the Dublin marathon. I knew I was in my best shape in years. It was no guarantee, I had gone there in good shape before and came away with fourth. I knew not to have a big head and not let my big wins in Leinster and Offaly make me think I was better than I was. I went in with an underdogs attitude.”
He embraced his pre-race plan of going out with the leaders, knowing that he had to be up there to see and react to all the moves. “I felt comfortable in the first two laps and after the third lap, I decided to go. I had decided I would go around the 3k to 4k mark and I just went then. I had it in my head to keep driving to the line, to make myself suffer to make everyone else suffer.”
With two laps to go, he was feeling the pinch, with the crowd letting him know that Brian Fay was closing the gap. “I was feeling the pinch. I concentrated on my rythymn and style, keeping my ankles high, arms swinging, chest out. I kept my body language strong so no one would know I was fading. I knew with one lap to go that if I was caught, we would have a right ding dong battle in the last 200m to the finish. I was willing to take chances but he never got back on my shoulder and I got away again.
“I was hurting, it was taking it out of me. After three laps, I said I'm fine and I was so far ahead, I wasn't worried but with two laps to go, people were telling me Brian Fay was coming back. Doubts come in and you have to get steely thoughts in and go for it. I knew I had to hang in and if he passed me, not to drop my head, to track him and try and outsprint him. I was under pressure.”
A couple of years ago, it looked like Brady was beginning to drift away from the sport but this was never on his agenda. “Everyone else had the opinion that I was drifting away but I was busy trying to achieve other things, career and education. I was never going to leave the sport without a national title. I don't go around telling everyone my life story on Instagram and the less you tell the more they had to imagine. I had a few other priorities I had to get right.”
Now qualified as an engineer, he has benefitted greatly from secure and helpful employment with Punch Consulting Engineers in Dublin. “I got my routine in order and there was flexibility around training. I am training more than ever. I am workinmg 35/40 hours a week but the flexibility is good so I can pull it off. I can get work done and train, that is different. That has been the real icing on the cake, to get my career on track. Up to that, things were up and down. The demands in the final year in college puts you under time pressure. There are time constraints when you are trying to achieve two goals at the one time and it drags you down. My time management is great now.”
He admitted: “When I am running bad, I am not getting the work done and putting in the effort that is needed. I am getting the work done now and it is showing. That is life, you have to get on with it.”
He has also went through coaches: Robert Denmead initially for seven years after joining Tullamore Harriers, then Athenry man, Paul McNamara and now former Olympian Maria McCambridge and her husband Gary Crossan.
Were all these changes disruptive?
“The first thing I have to say is I have had three coaches and they are probably the best three coaches in the country in the last ten to fifteen years. I have been so lucky. Robert Denmead was fantastic, he really showed me how to do this properly. I thought this was how everyone trained and it was only later that I realised I was training better than others in my early years.
“Paul McNamara was a natural change for me at that time in Athlone IT, it was a good balance. I had split modules and it gave me that flexibility to perform and recover. He was a fantastic help. It was different ways of doing the same thing basically.
“Maria is a lifetstyle thing. There are lots of groups to train with in Dublin but even though I have flexibility, I have to do a lot of training on my own. It is nice to be able to link up with Maria and be coached almost one to one. Things can change for me on a day to day basis. She is a fantastic coach, very knowledgeable. I met her for the first time in 2015 at the Frankfurt marathon and she was very nice, genuine and knowledgeable. It was always very pleasant to meet her and Gary. They know what they are doing, were able to give me a hand and it is paying dividends. It is a different way of doing the same thing. A change of ideas can break the routine and is often a good thing.”
He will now complete at the European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon on December 8 and his first aim is to be the first Irish man home but he is not setting big targets. “The last time I was in the European Cross Country was in 2016 and my goal was to finish in the top half of the field. I had it in mind that if I broke 31 minutes, I should do that. I went very close to 30 minutes flat and finished in 62nd place. I didn't know whether to be happy or sad. I ran way faster than expected and finished in the second half of the field. I will have to study it and see what is a good aim. I will use the same approach as the All-Irelands. I will see how hard I can hurt and how long I can hold it for. That is paying off so far and we will see how it goes.”
He targetted that marathon in Frankfurt for an Olympic qualifying time but he fell apart in the second half of the race and is focusing on shorter distances for 2020. “I will definitely not run a marathon in 2020. I will basically train like a marathon runner and do as much miles as I can, build base and strength but not run a marathon.”
He pointed out that the 2020 Olympic cycle has bypassed him without him “jumping onto that train” and admitted the 2024 one will have to come into his thinking, though not too much. “Obviously I will see if I go for 2024 but I am taking it one day at a time. Any time I looked six, eight, twelve months down the road, things have fallen apart. I am taking it one day at a time and it is paying off. I will do that for the next twelve months. I am not looking past the European Cross Country, I am focussed on that.”
When it was suggested that the marathon could represent his best chance of making the Olympics, Brady replied: “I would be looking to go to the Olympics but all of that has to be disucssed and trashed out. I will see how it goes. Better men than I ever was didn't make the Olympics. There are so many fantastic championships to pick up and go for. That is a better approach to take than aiming for the Olympics. One day at a time and take everything as it comes. In 2015, I was immature, I thought I was better than I was.”
That Frankfurt marathon provided him with one of his great life lessons. “We have all hard of the welcome to senior hurling moment. That was my welcome to senior hurling moment in terms of even thinking I was good enough to go to the Olympics. My ar** fell out after 18 miles. I was too young and inexperienced but it was not a disaster, it opened my eyes. I couldn't put into words how extremely difficult it was to finish that race. It taught me a lesson that I wouldn't learn if I was in school for twenty more years. It was like hitting your thumb with a hammer.”
A three week altitude training camp in Font Romeu in France served him very well in the final block of training for Sunday. “I had three weeks off work and it was a huge boost. My girlfriend Jacqueline was out there and Padraig Ennis (a Kilbeggan colleague in Tullamore Harriers) was a good training partner. Declan Monaghan, a Dublin man, is my physio and I can't put into words how good he is, he is a fantastic physio. You only appreciate how good he is when you see international athletes from France and Europe mad for him to put his hands on them. He took time out of his own time and came out there for a weekend. I am forever indebted to him, he is a really good guy. With people like that backing you, you can't go wrong. It works for me, the extra recovery and altitude. I have nothing to do only run and recover, it is a great boost any time I go out there.
“The hills are very tough out there but they make you so strong. It is not that you don't notice the hill at the back in Abbotstown but it is not taking as much out of you as the fellow beside you. It really pays off.”
With a European cross country date looming on the horizon, Brady could not celebrate in true Coolderry and indeed, GAA, style. After going through an anti doping test for his first time after a race, he and family had dinner at his brother, Joe's house which is not far from him in Dublin. Nieces and nephews were there and then it was back to his own house for rest and recovery.
“I was mad to go out and onto Coppers but I had do suck it up. I was offered the day off work here but didn't take it. What would I be doing only sitting around. People in work are very supportive. I got lots of applause when I came in this morning and I am ready to prepare for the Europeans now. All the clapping on the back has been done and after this chat, there will be no more talking to the media. It will then be head down and not forget what got me to the All-Ireland win, the no bull sh** approach. I will celebrate this when the Europeans is over, I will catch up with everyone when the job is done and that will be shortlived. It will be two days and then I will be back into the hard work over Christmas while I have days off.”
After that, he will look at next year's calendar, pick out the races he wants to prioritise and gear his training blocks to peaking at them. Generally Maria McCambridge gives him a training plan for 3 to 4 days at a time and definitely no longer than a week. He likes this approach rather than having a month mapped out in front of him. “Day to day, you are more disciplined and stricty then. I like only two days at a time. You have nothing else to concentrate on only doing your work correctly.”