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Phone thieves cost me a top 3 finish in the marathon AND they broke my hand; DEDICATED ATHLETE REVEALS PRE-RACE STING BY THIEVES; EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: ALANA FEARON

A TOP athlete who finished sixth in the Dublin Marathon told how he was robbed of a "dream" win by a gang who nicked his phone and left him with a broken hand.

Running coach Gary O'Hanlon's hopes of coming first in Monday's marathon were shattered after thieves forced him into a dramatic undercover sting that left him "in bits" less than 24 hours before the start of the race.

The 39-year-old, from Co Louth, was working at the Dublin Marathon Expo at the RDS on Sunday when he realised his [euro]500 Samsung phone was stolen.

He texted it from his friend's mobile and got a reply demanding [euro]200 if he ever wanted to see the phone again.

Because he coached 20 of the runners who were taking part in the Bank Holiday race, he was panicking about how he was going to get in touch with them for their last-minute pep talks.

So he told the phone thieves he'd meet them - then secretly alerted gardai who went in undercover to nab the gang.

Officers managed to arrest one of the suspects in a dramatic swoop near O'Connell Street.

But one of them threw Gary's phone into the River Liffey and the athlete ended up with a broken hand in the scuffle.

Despite the shock of the sting that was like "something out of Love/Hate" and not being able to sleep a wink the night before the big race, Gary decided to run the marathon anyway.

But he was left bitterly disappointed when he managed to finish sixth and failed to smash the 2hrs20min-barrier he was aiming for.

And speaking exclusively to the Irish Mirror yesterday, the athlete who has lived and worked in Dublin for the past 15 years, blamed the phone thieves.

He revealed: "Yeah, I lost a [euro]500 phone that was only a couple of months old but it cost me so much more than that.

"I lost loads of important numbers and pictures and I lost out on a top three finish.

"I was so shocked and p****d off by what had happened and I just couldn't think straight so I didn't get a wink of sleep going into my biggest race of the year.

"I had been training flat out for the past three months and I feel I would have been third at worst but like most of the top guys I was hoping to win and I lost out on all that and it's gutting."

Gary, who coaches running at Dunboyne Athletic Club and the Star of the Sea Club in Gormanston, Co Meath, was almost killed when he was just 17 after he was knocked down by a car and left with severe head and facial injuries and in a coma.

After overcoming all the odds to survive the injuries and get back to racing, he knew he couldn't let the thugs who stole his phone win by forcing him to pull out of the marathon. And after initially deciding he was in no fit state to take part on Monday morning, he decided he had to lead by example and so he joined the more than 14,000 other runners at the starting line.

But the drama of the previous 24 hours destroyed his concentration - and marred his day.

He revealed: "After about five or six miles I suppose I forgot about the pain in my hand and put the trauma out of my head. But I was exhausted from no sleep and my head was all over the place.

"I should have spent Sunday relaxing and getting good fuel food and drinking loads of water but I didn't have a bite to eat after 1pm because of all the drama so it was the worst preparation imaginable.

"I keep thinking now that it's OK and that it could have been worse but it couldn't have happened at a worse time and I'm still so angry about it.

"I wasn't scared going to meet the guys because I knew the gardai had my back.

"But I thought I was going to get my phone back in the end of it all and it just ended up in the river."

alana.fearon@irishmirror.ie

I didn't get a wink of sleep going into my biggest race of the year GARY O'HANLON yesterday

CAPTION(S):

INJURED Gary O'Hanlon ran with broken hand

OFF THEY GO Sunday's Dublin Marathon
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Oct 31, 2013
Words:743
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