Noelle Morrissey, Emerald AC on of Ireland's top athletics coaches
ANYONE with a passing interest in Limerick sport will have heard of elite athletes Sarah Lavin, Ciara Neville, Jenna Bromell and Jamie Mitchell. The Limerick athletes who have excelled in recent years, all have one thing in common - a coach.
When former elite hurdler Noelle Morrissey moved to Limerick for work, she used to go to UL for walks in the morning. Once she was recognised, the requests to help out with training Emerald AC began. Eventually she said yes and almost 20 years later the runner turned coach is now helping to produce some of the country's best athletes.
“People would ask me about giving a hand. It was relentless, as were my negative responses. Eventually I started to help out with Emerald AC with Brendan O'Sullivan and Padraig Charlton. They left the club over the years, when their kids had grown up and moved on to other things. I stayed and I'm still here today” admitted Morrissey, a Nenagh native.
With the aforementioned elite hurdlers and sprinters in her ‘stable’ of athletes, Morrissey is quick to admit that she does very little for them as a coach, admitting that she just gives them belief and support
“The biggest thing is having someone to believe in you. This is the thing I believe in most. I get emotional about it. The runners need a constant in their lives. You have to be behind them and make sure they know that you believe in them. If you see talent, all you want to do it bring it out. I am not precious about them, if they felt someone else could bring them to another level, then I would be delighted for them” admitted a very modest Morrissey.
With athletes in Emerald AC ranging from six years of age to Masters levels, Noelle found herself in a unique position when she had athletes who had reached 16 years of age.
“I never thought that I would have athletes beyond the age of 16. I would have thought there would have been someone to hand them over to, but there really isn't”
The situation of having to upskill as a coach alongside an athlete who is also learning is something Morrissey feels was hard on the first few athletes she coached beyond the 16 year mark.
“You have to learn by experience which can be tough on the first athlete you bring to another level. Myself and Sarah Lavin would often say, ‘if we only knew this before’ when it comes to modern techniques or training plans. You are always looking to improve”
Much like any coach at the top level of their sport, Noelle has a thirst for knowledge which has taken her outside of Ireland and her comfort zone, to make herself a better coach.
“I decided last year that I needed more knowledge. I needed more than what was in the courses. I have done all the levels and I did a course in Setanta College also. I still wanted to get more information that I could use for the athletes to benefit from. I went over to the UK last year and met with their high performance coaches”
The openness of Stephen Maguire, head coach of Great Britain's track and field team, helped Morrissey to create a support network for her athletes, something she uses every day in what can be a hectic weekly schedule.
“My typical week is just madness. I have three kids, Darren (24), Leah (22) and Ellie (18), couple that with owning Easons in Nenagh and you can see that it takes a huge sacrifice from all of us to allow me to train the lads as I do. The support from my husband and family is what keeps me going”
Individual sports bring their own unique challenges too as a coach. Some events and championships can be a four year cycle. Dealing with disappointment is part of the job for a coach. Something Morrissey is very conscious of.
“You can't say you know what the athlete is feeling, but you have to try and understand it. They are feeling vulnerable. They have been exposed. They feel they have left you down. They could never do that, because I am always so proud of them, but they do feel that
I had to ask one of my athletes once, what they thought of me as coach. One of the questions was about how I dealt with success and disappointment. She said that my coach doesn't deal well with success, she puts her arms around me and cries”
Emerald AC and indeed Noelle provide training for more than just the elite athletes of the region.
Indeed Morrissey lists schools relay wins and seeing people run a lap who could never run a lap before as highlights of her career which has been littered with accolades, medals and records for her Irish stars.
“I want to be a high performance coach because of the athletes I have. Not for any other reason. I am just as happy about coaching someone who could not run a lap, to being able to run a lap. It is never about the coach, but all about the athlete”
With a hectic summer of championships ahead, the dream season for Morrissey is that everyone remains injury free and realises their potential.
“We can ask for nothing more than that. Injury free and happy. It is all about having fun and doing what we love, that isn't work is it?” admits Morrissey.