Todd Ireland can’t pick from his stable of on-form runners

Date: 18th March 2021

“What will be will be” is coach Todd Ireland’s mantra when it comes to picking a winner from his group for the Powercor Stawell Gift Men’s Open this year.

Ringwood training partners Daniel Sonsini, Jason Bailey and Matt Burleigh finished the Waverley Gift in February in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place respectively, however before the final Todd had no idea how they would place.

“Even as the boys walked up to the start before the gun went off, I had no idea who would win, there is not a lot between them,” admitted Todd.

“Daniel’s win means he gets a lift at Stawell.  Jason is certainly a better runner than he was two years ago (when he came 3rdin the final) so despite being pushed back he has improved and gained confidence.  Matt will have the biggest mark, has matured as an athlete and it is the right time for him.” And Matt won at Hastings last weekend.

However, a fourth athlete of Todd’s, Hamish Adams, could also be right up there this year. 

“Hamish has battled with injury since he won at Bendigo last year when he was tracking well but came good at the end of the year and is really improving and so the next few weeks could see him just hit form in time for Stawell.

“At this point I couldn’t pick, it changes weekly. We’ve been in contention in most of the races this year so far. It all depends on who they are drawn against on the day, being in the right shape, having the right handicap – and a lot of luck!”

According to Todd, despite being highly competitive the boys are all good friends. “They work together, are supportive of each other, and enjoy each other’s wins.  They all stay together at race meetings and are constantly playing on Xbox, it’s a good atmosphere.”

According to Jason Bailey, Todd is a popular coach and boss, who employs him at his electrical firm. “Toddy’s a great bloke.  In seven years he has trained me to win four gifts (Ararat, Geelong and back to back Wangs) and a good handful of 70m races.

“I see Toddy as one of the sport’s great coaches,” said Jason. “The program he runs just works. Toddy will say on race day: “it’s up to the running gods to decide what happens now.”

Todd of course has his own family of runners as well, being dad to Darcy, Jake and 16-year-old Ebony Ireland.  In 2019 Jake won the Stawell Athletic Club Bill McManus Backmarkers’ 400m and Darcy took home the Nectar Farms Bill Howard 100m. 

“After 30 years of pro running having two of my kids win on the same day at Stawell was pretty special. Running is what we do as a family.” 

Todd has been in three Stawell Gift finals including the 1990 scorcher with Dean Capobianco and Tim Mason. 

“It was a great era for pro-running, there were 39 heats in the Stawell Gift that year (compared to 2019 with 20 men’s heats).”

To have his kids run competitively is a great source of pride for Todd.  Jake Ireland won the Wangaratta Gift in January (ahead of Matt Burleigh and Sebastian Baird).

“Jake ran out of his skin on the super-fast track so that was costly for his handicap but that’s pro-running.

“It means so much to me to see them win, much more than any of my own wins.”

Whether it’s one of Todd Ireland’s “awesome foursome” or one of his own children who takes the crown, we’ll have to wait to see what the running gods have in store for Easter.


photos by Neil Jameson of Jamesons Photography

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