Sharon Heveran competed for Ireland.

Exclusive: How A Former Irish High Jumper Has Inspired Cardiff’s Women To Soar To New Heights

Cardiff AC’s women are preparing to compete in the top division of the UKWAL for the first time in their history. Here, Dai Sport’s athletics writer, Owen Morgan, talks to former Irish international high jumper Sharon Heveran, the women’s Team Manager, on how the club has risen from the depths so fast.

Just five minutes on the telephone with Sharon Heveran and you understand how she has led Cardiff AC’s women’s team from the depths of the domestic league structure to its pinnacle in just four years.

Ten minutes on the phone and you understand why she is confident the team will thrive this season amongst some of the biggest and most historic clubs in British athletics.

Heveran is a force of nature. Her enthusiasm is as infectious as her laugh and as engaging as her lilting Irish brogue.

No wonder Cardiff’s women are about to compete alongside their men’s team in the top echelons of UK athletics for the first time in the club’s half-century history.

Sharon Heveran took over with Cardiff’s women in the bottom league.

As well as assembling an impressive array of talent, the former Irish international high jumper has engendered a team spirit – in what is essentially an individual sport – which would be the envy of many rugby and football teams.

The Cardiff women’s team manager is rightly proud of the success achieved by her charges in reaching the Premier Division of the UK Women’s Athletics League (UKWAL).

Heveran says: “The girls have just been awesome. The team spirit that we have now makes it a really enjoyable team to be on. I look forward to going with them at the weekends and stuff. It’s a good old trip out and I think they enjoy it as well.

Long jumper Rebecca Chapman has shown her versatility by competing in the javelin.

“The first thing I said I wanted to do when I took over was to create a team. Because athletics is an individual sport, it is very easy to come along, do your event and leave. I think the girls now make a real point of being there and they enjoy it and make it part of their season.”

It wasn’t always quite so much fun. When Heveran took over the reins, Cardiff were in the bottom tier of the league structure and dependant on a handful of stalwarts, who were willing to fill in the gaps in events other than their own.

Heveran recalls: “We were in the bottom division then and we had the same eight people every match, in one of the first matches we had just 13 in total on the team and that was everyone doing extra events . . . even me!

Last season’s Cardiff AC’s women’s team

“I had to bring a vest along and register. I was throwing a hammer or a javelin, or whatever it needed to be. I used to be a high jumper back in the day, but it was a long time ago now and I’m very, very injured.”

Although athletes still had to fill in some gaps, Heveran’s enthusiasm started spreading to others and the team began to climb the leagues.

“I think with the girls seeing that even I was pulling my weight, they were like ‘oh, hold on, this is a really good atmosphere to be in’.”

Heveran’s example was also being followed by some of the team’s more experienced and established members, such as Wales Commonwealth Games long jumper Rebecca Chapman and sprinter Charlotte Wingfield, who has represented Malta at the Olympics.

Charlotte Wingfield (centre) competing in the relay for Cardiff has been an inspiration…apart from her singing on the bus

Heveran says: “Becca Chapman, she’s just an absolute legend, so she is. She just gets everybody riled up and ready to go. She’s really, really good.

“I remember she would do a hundred, do a long jump, a javelin and then do a relay and be head to toe covered in tape. She’d be broken and saying ‘I’m fine’. And I’m saying ‘ you’re not fine’ and I’m trying to drag her off the track and telling her ‘no, you’re not doing it’. But they just want to do what they can for the team.

“You have people like that and they are absolute legends. They are the heart of the team and encourage all the younger ones coming through.

“Becca went to the Commonwealth Games! And the likes of Charlotte Wingfield . . . she’s an Olympian! And she still comes to women’s league with us because she enjoys it.

“Ok, we don’t enjoy her singing on the bus, but it’s still enjoyable to have her there . . . with your earplugs in!

“These are the people for the younger ones to look up to.

“It’s a really good atmosphere and I think the younger girls realise that now. So I try and bring some of the junior ones through if I can and try to make sure they are on the team.”

Sarah Omoregie is a regular points scorer in the shot

As a result, the Cardiff squad is mixture of experienced athletes and exciting young talent.

Since promotion was secured last summer, Heveran has also tried to fill in some gaps to strengthen the team further in readiness for the challenge of taking on some of the giants of British club athletics, such as Birchfield Harriers and Thames Valley Harriers.

Heveran says: “We are very lucky that we’ve got such an amazing selection of athletes. But we do have a couple of places where we’ve had gaps.

“Not every club is strong right across the board and we are still essentially a development kind of team coming through.

“Last year we struggled on our throws. We had the awesome Ffion Palmer in the hammer – an absolute legend – and Sarah Omoregie and Lucy Griffiths in the shot but we didn’t really have anybody else. We also had some injuries and there’s that work life balance as well.

“As we’re new into the Premier League we couldn’t leave gaps, and more than anything I desperately didn’t want to be throwing anything myself!

“So this year, I’ve tried to get some new blood in for the throws and try to get in as many Welsh athletes as I could.

“I was looking at North Wales, Carmarthen and I went around everywhere looking to see what I could find. Looking for people who weren’t already attached to a club. I was like ‘look, you’re really good, do you want to come and compete for us’.

“And a good few of them did. So we’ve got Bethany Moule, she’s amazing. She’s only 17, or maybe just 18, and she’s been throwing just brilliantly. So I’m really excited to have her and give her the opportunity to come into the premier league.

“I think it’s going to be really good for them. I think we’re going to have a really good year this year. And more than anything, we’re really going to enjoy it.”

Sprint hurdler Lauren Evans in league action

Olympian or emerging teen, each athlete is expected to pull their weight for the good of the team, says Heveran.

“I don’t suffer fools and I don’t tolerate superstars,” she says. “We are a team at the end of the day. And if you think you’re better than anyone else on the team, you’re not going to be on the team. I’m not going to pick you. It’s that simple.

“The girls who are on the team are people who are willing to put the work in. Charlotte Wingfield – an Olympian – did the javelin at one point for us.

“I would never ask anyone just to fill in at something they couldn’t do. She actually had done some javelin in the past, that’s why she did it. It wasn’t like it came out of nowhere and she hadn’t done it before.

“But we’ve got some amazing people who will take one for the team and do some extra stuff. One superstar doesn’t make a team. We are lucky, we happen to have a lot of superstars that actually like to compete for the club.

“They’re a great bunch. I have four captains, the reason I have four is because I like to make sure they all get involved and know everybody else’s name. I do it myself.

“People will tell you that you’ll always hear me before you see me at the track. As a rule I know everybody and I’m chatting with everyone, even on the other teams I know a lot of them and I’ll be cheering everyone on.

“I want the girls to be the same, so I always have a jumps captain, a throws captain, a distance captain and a sprints captain. And I make sure all of them at least know the other people on the team and if they don’t know anybody they make sure they go out and they are cheering people on.

“If they’re sitting around doing nothing, waiting for the next event, I make sure they get up and cheer the next person on. I think if you give them the title of captain, it just gives them a little bit of responsibility.

“They do such an outstanding job, I think I’m very lucky to be in the position I am with the girls, they are a really good bunch.”

Lucy Griffiths in action

Heveran is confident that tight-knit bond between the athletes – added to the rich talent within the team will see them survive in the high-quality top flight.

“I don’t have any doubt, we’re not going to get relegated. That’s not going to happen. We’re too good for Division One. We spent an extra year in it last year and we pulverised them, we absolutely annihilated them, so we did.

“And we took great pride in it. When they were calling out the scores and we were 20 to 30 points ahead, every one of the girls was cheering. This year, I think we are where we should be, we are in the Premier League and we can compete.

“I’m not saying we’re going to win it or anything like that. There are big, wealthy clubs like Birchfield to contend with, but I think that we’ve got something different in that we’ve got a team that might not be winning all the time but we’re working hard the whole time and it’s an enjoyable experience.

“At the end of the day it’s supposed to be fun isn’t it? That’s what we try and do, we bring an element of fun into it.”

Fun there may be, but there is also plenty of substance within the Cardiff squad.

Heveran said: “I was looking at our team on paper last night and I was thinking ‘this is our team? What!?’ The only places we have filled in are some of the throws I didn’t have previously.

“It’s just blown my mind that this is our team. How did we come from having eight athletes on the team to now having 10 of them being in the top 10 in the UK? And they are all people who have been competing for us over the past few years.”

As much as Heveran wants the team to succeed, her focus is also firmly on the athletes in her charge succeeding and developing as individuals in their own right.

“I am never going to ask anyone to do something where they could get hurt, even in their own event. If they’ve got a niggle, I would pull them out and say ‘you’re not doing it’.

“So we try and preserve them and their careers. As far as I am concerned they are doing us a favour by coming out and competing for us.

“Charlotte Wingfield could be going to the Worlds. That’s a long time away, but she’s going to be coming out for the first match in June. That’s a long season for her.

Hannah Tapley joined after moving to Cardiff to study at university

“But I think if you asked any one of them, they’d say this is one of the first athletics teams they’ve been on, as such. We are a team, rather than people doing individual events.

“They’ve dragged themselves up from the bottom, they really have. They’ve pulled themselves up together.”

“Some of the girls who have literally come up from the bottom have worked so hard, the likes of Sara Gearey, who is a multi-eventer.

“She is a superstar, she would do anything for you. She has done, over the years, every single one of her multi-events and a triple jump, and I am telling you, there is no-one more reliable on the third leg of a four by one.

“But this year, she hasn’t progressed like she should have in all of her events, so Sara potentially might not have made the team.

“Sara knew that going into the winter and I said to her ‘look, I’m sorry but I might not be able to pick you going into this season’.

“I’m telling you, she worked her backside off all through the winter and she has come out absolutely blazing in the long jump and she is my B string long jumper now.

“She knew she was going to have to step her game up to make the Premier League team. So as far as I am concerned, it’s a win already for someone like Sara Geary.

“Hannah Tapley is calling this place her second home now and she only came down here for uni, she’s loving it.

“The likes of Lauren Evans, as well, these are the young ones, these are the future. These are the ones who are going to have to be running it in future.

“These are the future Becca Chapmans, the future Charlotte Wingfields. Sarah Omoregie, she’s coming in all guns blazing this year as well.

“Some of them have already stepped up to the next level because they know they want to part of the team. That makes me so happy that they want to be part of the team.”

Having seen the work put in by her athletes, Heveran now can’t wait for the season to start on June 9 at the Leigh Sports Village near Manchester.

“I’m so excited for it. It’s going to be a big year for Cardiff, for the men’s team as well. They are unbelievable, have you seen their relay team? It’s incredible. If they get all of the boys out . . .”

“Our third match and they’re fourth match is together in Birmingham and we are so excited to compete alongside the men. We just cannot wait.

“They got Premier League last year when we were still in division one, so the men were such a motivation for us. The fact we get to be with them in Birmingham, in such a good arena as well, we’re really excited.”

There’s no doubt about it, a big and exciting season lies ahead for Cardiff Athletics.

The excitement is evident in Heveran’s voice and surely can’t fail to inspire her team as they prepare to take on Britain’s best this season .

 

 

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