CHAMPIONS Kilkenny athlete, Eileen O’Keeffe has decided the time has come to hang up the hammer. Eileen’s decision brings to an end a unique athletic career. Her first venture into the world of athletics was on a bicycle when she won the under 14 cycle race at the Community Games National Finals in Mosney.
Then a chance purchase by her brother of a video on Hammer Throwing in The Pound Shop in Kilkenny got her interested in throwing. Her father put down a concrete circle in a field to allow her practice.
She then joined Kilkenny City Harriers to get involved in competition. That was 1995 and year- by- year as she diligently applied herself to the training discipline she showed steady improvement.
Her achievements are all the more remarkable in that unlike many other international stars who received major sponsorship deals, enabling them to be full-time athletes, Eileen combined her nursing career with her athletic development. With limited opportunities for meaningful competition in Ireland, Eileen frequently used up her holidays to make numerous trips abroad, often at her own expense, to further her career.
Some part of her success can be attributed to her phenomenal speed of turn in the hammer cage.
As she progressed from juvenile to junior to senior she set records all the way. In the year 2000 and at nineteen years of age, competing in her first national senior championship she threw 52.02m to win silver in the hammer.
In 2001 she took first place and set a new national record with a throw of 56.15m.
Year by year while competing in the national finals and at numerous international events she continued to break her previous records, achieving her personal best throw of 73.21m in the 2007 senior championships. Also in 2007 she finished sixth in the World Championships in Osaka, Japan. Winning the 2008 championships with a throw of 72.75m suggested she was peaking in good time for the Bejing Olympics.
Disaster struck with a knee injury that almost prevented her participation but nevertheless unfortunately limited her performance. Persevering with treatment and training she again won the national seniors, for the ninth consecutive time, in 2009.
While athletics is generally seen as an individualistic sport it wasn’t just that for Eileen. She was extremely loyal, making many sacrifices to support club and country teams throughout her career. Year after year she returned to her base to compete in the county championships in Scanlon Park. While she is best known as a Hammer thrower she was also proficient with the Discus and was national champion on six occasions. She also successfully represented her college, Royal College of Surgeons, in The Intervarsities athletic championships where she set new records in Hammer, Discus and Weight for Distance. In 2007 she competed and won silver in the Hammer at the World University Games.
Hanging up her hammer before her 30th birthday sadly brings to an end an illustrious career that brought immense pride and enjoyment to many. Thanks for the memories.