Efrem Gidey received a hero's welcome home to Dublin a couple of weeks ago.
The day after an epic performance at the European Athletics Championships, friends and supporters gathered at the airport to greet one of the stars of Irish athletics at the moment.
Gidey had returned from Munich after producing the performance of his life to finish sixth in the 10,000m at the championships, the best ever performance by an Irishman in the event.
He ran a new personal best of 27.59.22, to knock two seconds off his previous fastest time, a significant achievement given the tactical nature of the race.
With two laps to go Gidey was still in medal contention, tracking every move that was made by the leaders, just losing contact with less than 500m to run.
His warm smile beams as he reflects on the championships.
“It was a very good experience and nice city,” he says.
“It was a good race for me, I'm so happy."
Gidey admits now that the prospect of winning a medal did cross his mind. For a short time the dream was certainly alive as he mixed it with Europe's best for the majority of the race.
“Four laps to go I was thinking like that because 21 laps for me was very comfortable.
“I try but you know I don't have energy; I was angry by that.”
Efrem 6th in European 10,000
Efrem Gidey has just ran the race of his life. A controlled and mature run in tonight’s European 10,000 m Championships in Munich where Efrem...https://t.co/HNYwXrrfDj pic.twitter.com/JjmDZWAQZ4
— Clonliffe Harriers (@ClonliffeHAC) August 21, 2022
Back with Clonliffe
I meet Gidey at the Clonliffe Harriers clubhouse at Morton Stadium, Santry, a place that means so much to the young athlete who has been through remarkable adversity to get to where he is now.
He has now happily settled in Ireland, representing his adopted country with great distinction since he first had the opportunity to do so back in 2019.
Gidey arrived in Ireland in 2017 from Eritrea with no English and no family to accompany him, enduring an arduous journey to his new home via a refugee camp in Calais.
His running potential was first spotted at Le Cheile Secondary School in Tyrellstown and shortly afterwards his love affair with Clonliffe began.
Joe Cooper was asked to coach the then 16-year-old and took on the task with the pair developing an extraordinarily close relationship with Gidey eventually moving in with Cooper’s son as his running talent continued to blossom.
His bronze medal in the U20 race at the European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon back in 2019 marked a major leap forward in his career, as people outside the athletics community began to really appreciate his ability.
As Covid hit and racing was predominately paused, tragedy struck Gidey and his club.
Cooper became ill and passed away in December 2020, an event which those around him say hit Gidey badly.
His current coach Peter McDermott was left to take up the mantle and keep Gidey on track to fulfil his potential. McDermott is assisted by Alan O’Neill, Stephen Bateson, and Gerry Cullen.
There is the slightest tinge of disappointment in Gidey's voice when he speaks about missing out on silverware in Munich but having came into the championships with the sixteenth fastest time on the start list, his performance was one of the most notable from an Irish perspective across the week.
Gidey now receives support from the Athletics Ireland carding system and the Jerry Kiernan Foundation, which was setup in memory of the late Olympian to support some of the country’s most promising young athletes.
He is also undertaking a course in fashion at Colaiste Idé in Finglas and shows me a singlet he has designed and made himself.
Gidey is grateful for the support he has received.
“When you still, you need energy. When you work, you're tired,” he says.
The very best of that support however has not come financially but through the friendship of those in Clonliffe Harriers who have taken Gidey under their wing and have nurtured him into who he is today.
“They are not only my coaches they are like my family.
“They make me happy and proud,” he adds.
“They text me, contacting me like my family.
Assistant coach Alan O’Neill agrees with Gidey’s sentiment.
“We really are one big family.
“We don't just come to training, get through the programme, and go home.
“We text, socialise and look out for each other.
Efrem Gidey inspiring the next generation of athletes
O’Neill describes Gidey as a “role model” to the younger athletes in Clonliffe.
“The young kids that come up to the club, they see Efrem and how relaxed, professional, and dedicated he is to his training.
“One of these young kids could be like Efrem one day.”
Following his success in Munich, Gidey has now returned to light training, which will be ramped up in the weeks ahead as attention turns to the European Cross Country Championships in Turin this December.
Having missed the championships on home soil in Abbotstown last year due to injury he is relishing the opportunity, knowing what it will take to achieve his goals.
“I need to do hard training and be healthy without injury, I need to keep to my coaches plan.
“I'm looking forward to the Cross Country.”
All going well Gidey will feature on the Irish U23 team that won team gold last year along with the likes of Darragh McElhinney, Keelan Kilrehill and others who all remain eligible to run in the age category.
Another major championship medal would continue Gidey’s meteoric rise in the sport in a country he is extremely proud to represent.
It has been an incredible journey for him to get to where he is now but as Robert Heffernan put it during RTÉ’s coverage of the championships, ‘the sky is the limit’ for him.
Efrem Gidey is hopefully a name we will be hearing about for many years to come.