When Ciara Mageean crossed the finish line in Glasgow’s Emirates Arena, claiming a bronze medal in the 1500m showdown at the European Athletics Indoor Championships, the small town of Portaferry in Co Down rejoiced.
Their local sporting heroine had added another major championships medal to her collection.
Her grassroots are a huge part of who Mageean is, and of what she represents. However, it’s not running around the locale as a young girl that she credits as the making of her, it was learning how to strike a sliotar, with the help of an influential family member.
“I remember that I was out in my granny and grandad’s yard, learning how to hit the ball in the air,” Mageean told RTÉ Sport.
“I’d been watching my older sister Máire, and my daddy had tried to teach me as well. I just couldn’t get the hang of hitting the ball, cack-handed, trying to throw it up on my left side and swing.
“My aunt Edel came home and I remember running in and asking her would she help me learn to hit the ball in the air.
“She came out and spent the whole day with me, until it was starting to get dark and Granny called us for the dinner. I kept practising, practising, practising.”
The aunt Edel that Mageean speaks of is Edel Mason. She was the first Camogie player in history to win All-Ireland Intermediate Championship medals with two different counties; her native Down in 1998, and her adopted Antrim in 2003.
Camogie-mad youngster Ciara didn’t have to look far for a role model.
“Although I’m a runner, I grew up with a hurl in my hand, and I grew up playing Camogie.
“Both sides of my family played hurling for our club in Portaferry, the men for Portaferry GAC and the girls for Portaferry Camogie Club. As people say in the GAA, you’re born into it.
“I wanted to follow in my aunt Edel’s footsteps, she was my idol. I remember going through her jewellery box and looking at all the medals.
“My dream was to play for Portaferry and win club championships, and play for Down and play for Ulster, and I wanted to be nominated for an All Star just like her.”
Once she got into the swing of it, Mageean would spend her summers observing her aunt at work, following her to the local pitch, observing and learning.
Edel would set out ladders and hurdles for sprint drills, and spend hours striking frees, sidelines and 45s, with Mageean and her older sister Máire as the ball girls, trying as hard as they could to strike the ball the whole way back to her.
She saw first-hand what it takes to achieve sporting success – and it’s had a lasting effect.
“What I learned from my aunt Edel was the hard work that goes into it and although I’m not playing Camogie anymore, she taught me that in sport you have to work hard.
“It’s the days that nobody else sees; the days that I saw her out training were the days that she didn’t have a training session on, and she was just down when the field was empty and I saw that the hard work can pay off.”