AthleticsTV View

TV View: Virgin Media takes the Ryanair approach as everyone roars the house down for Ciara Mageean

Portaferry’s finest can only finish fourth and Mark English does his stint in the dentist’s waiting room

Ah no. Not fourth. Anything but fourth.

If the people complaining about the noise of the planes at Dublin Airport thought things were bad, they must have been having kittens around 8.35 on Tuesday night. For that was when the final of the women’s 1,500m got serious and when Ciara Mageean held third place down the back straight. And when every house for miles around roared at the Virgin Media coverage.


We knew what to expect. Gold was never on the cards. Short of being provided with a motorbike, nobody was beating double Olympic and world champion Faith Kipyegon. Everyone else was playing for silver and bronze. And there, right there, with 200m to go, the bronze was within the grasp of Portaferry’s finest.



She couldn’t have given it anything more. Even when Sifan Hassan passed her at the top of the bend, Mageean came back at her. All the way to the line, everything she has and everything she is. And by a lousy 0.61 of a second, it wasn’t enough. Her greatest performance, yet another Irish record, fourth in the world.


It’s a slightly odd experience, watching these championships on Virgin. They’ve gone the Ryanair route of buying the rights to the world feed and adding strictly no frills. No studio build-up, no panel of home-based experts, no Irish commentary. Just reporter Will Dalton doing pieces to camera and interviews with the Irish athletes as they file through. You half expect him to ask them if they want to buy anything from in-flight shopping before they go.

But in a weird kind of way, it actually works pretty well. The commentators, Rob Walker and Tim Hutchings, don’t miss a trick at any stage. They’ve both been at it a long time and they’re elbow deep in every event. They keep the action moving and there’s no hopping back to studio in between races. They’re here for the action – you want chat, you gotta go someplace else.

There is one annoyance, all the same. The ad breaks on Virgin are either set to happen at a specific time or they’re being called up by someone randomly leaning on the wrong button at Virgin HQ. In the second heat of the women’s 100m hurdles, the American Kendra “Keni” Harrison ran the fourth-fastest time in history, seeming to surprise herself with her speed in what was, after all, just an opening round.

Well, if she was surprised, imagine how the boys in the box took it. “That’s the second fastest time she’s ever run!” screamed Walker. “In fact, only two women have ever run quic…” That was all he got out before the feed was chopped and the ad break was upon us.

Thankfully, they came back with Dalton’s interview with Sarah Lavin, who had run a scorching time herself to qualify automatically for the semi-finals. It was only two one-hundredths of a second outside her personal best and continued her brilliant form this season. Dalton asked her what she’d need to make the final now. “I need to do everything right, exactly right in the exact moments,” Lavin said. “That’s the difference in this game – those hundredths.”

Mark English knows all about it. Soon after Lavin walked off the track, the Donegal doctor was up in the heats of the 800m. The second heat, to be exact, during which he got bumped and knocked around the place before surging down the home straight to nick fourth place, one outside the automatic qualifiers. Which meant he had to go and sit in the Q Zone, reserved for the three fastest losers, and wait.

And wait. And wait some more.

English’s heat was the second of seven, which meant he had to spend half an hour sitting there as the next five races came and went. All the while having the world feed stick a camera in his face, along with Tshepiso Masalela of Botswana and Poland’s Filip Ostrowski. Masalela and Ostrowski are young and were happy enough to ever so slightly entertain the folks back home.

English, appearing at a record sixth World Championships, affected far more of a dentist’s-waiting-room-while-double-parked look for the duration. And it worked. “That’s wonderful for the followers of track and field back in the Emerald Isle,” said Hutchings as English’s progress was confirmed.

That was the begorrah. For Ciara Mageean, the problem was Faith.

“I came into this championship with an aim,” she told Dalton after the race. “Knowing that I had a chance to medal. Feeling the best I’ve ever felt going into a championship. To come away with fourth is bittersweet. I’ll probably have a wee bit of a cry.

“But honestly, I’ve had the season of my life. Many years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of fourth in the world at senior level. I’m coming away with a PB and a national record and I’m disappointed. I just know that I have it. It’s there. We’ve got another year to the Olympics. I’m putting myself up in a fighting place, challenging the best in the world.”

Go on Ciara. Go on.