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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019

Aaron Sexton off track, on course for Ulster and Ireland 7s

Ireland’s fastest schoolboy was happy to keep his spikes on until this summer.

Sexton runs it back in training at Newforge.
Sexton runs it back in training at Newforge.
Image: John Dickson

AS OF THIS month, Aaron Sexton is officially off track.

At the start of the summer, Ireland’s fastest schoolboy was named among the year one recruits in the Ulster Rugby academy. Yet he was still in sprint competition right up the recent European U20 Championships.

His personal bests stand at 10.43 seconds over 100m and 20.69 over 200, not all that far off the Olympic qualifying standards, but his final bow on the longer distance was a 21.18 run to fourth place in the European final in Sweden.

Trained by his father Roger, himself no slouch as he continued racing at Masters level until quite recently, Sexton is three weeks shy of his 19th birthday and an imposingly strong figure standing 6’2″.

In time he will make that power count in senior 15-a-side rugby, but the medium-term plan for Sexton is to link up with the Ireland Sevens squad. He will be a valuable addition in their maiden World Series campaign and what promises to be a tough final bid for the 2020 Olympics when the World Repechage rolls around.

Watching a series of high-tempo, gruelling drills and match scenarios unfold at Ulster’s Abbey Academy training base of Newforge, Sexton looks out of place in open-field patterns. He is a cut above.

This is not a speedster who is being converted to rugby. This is a rugby player who is athletically gifted.

More than his straight-line speed, the impressive thing about Sexton is his agility. With or without the ball, there is a grace about his lateral movement and he steps tacklers with sublime cut and thrusts that leave them grasping at hot, heavy air.

After catching his breath and rehydrating from a punishing sun-drenched session in Belfast, Sexton looks like a man who is utterly thrilled that he has settled on rugby as his sport of choice. However, not a split second on the track feels wasted for the Bangor bullet.

“It had sort of been looming over me for a few years,” Sexton says of the decision to finally specialise on the field rather than the track.

For the last year it has been rugby but I have been fortunate enough to continue both and I would recommend to anyone to do both sports as long as you can.

“There are a lot of sacrifices of course, and you have to be so disciplined and I have given up a lot of things.  By the end of last year after a few of the matches and stuff, it was an easy choice to go for the rugby.”

He made the decision easy on himself with his performances for Ulster A and seven tries in six outings for the province’s second-string. The province didn’t leave him to his own devices either, calling him up last summer to train as a 17-year-old.

“It was a bit of a shock to the system, but it was a nice shock. I guess I was doing something right. I can’t complain, now.

“Everyone was so welcoming. All the seniors, the likes of Stuart McCloskey and Craig Gilroy were both looking out for you, everyone looked out for you. I learned so much last year I cannot fault anything with it.”

“The first meeting, I was one of the first ones in… the Irish boys were in camp at the time. Then a couple of weeks later you see Jacob Stockdale walking past – not long after scoring seven tries in the Six Nations! Yeah, I was a bit speechless at times, but he has helped me out a couple of times.

“You do not realise how close you are to them, but everyone is so down to earth and there is a real brotherhood in there, great thing to have.”

“Of course I was (nervous), I did not really know what the whole plan was. I was surprised when I came in and they said you get breakfast! I was quite surprised. I was actually happy that I was getting a wee bit of breakfast, meant mum didn’t have to cook me one.

“I knew a few of the younger boys like Angus Kernohan and they really looked out for me and then the coaches introduced themselves to me, made it a lot easier, everyone was so welcoming it was a lot easier than I expected.”

That team ethic, the fabled dressing room, is what many potential athletics stars cite as a reason for veering over the lines, away from the track and towards grass-based team sports. Sexton, however, never considered the individual sport to be a lonely one.

When explaining his path to this point, he continually finds himself saying the word ‘discipline’,  so it’s little wonder that he has thrived in both environments.

Ulster Rugby. John Dickson, IRFU, Dicksondigital, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast, Northern Ireland Aaron Sexton in training with the Abbey Insurance academy. Source: John Dickson

“I enjoy being with the lads and I enjoy the team environment also. I enjoy the individual sport too.

“I would be quite highly motivated and make sure I was more disciplined than the others and try and get across the line first. Obviously they both have their ups and downs, but definitely I like to have the team sport and be with the lads every day, I would far rather do that than be alone.

Everyone here is trying to push each other to be better which is great because there are times out there that you are out of gas, but when you hear someone chirping in your ear it is a good thing, it pushes you on.

“It is the same at the team meeting, that was the main thing last year training with the seniors, it is almost like everyone is coaching you and you are learning so much, and we are learning from each other year. You are trying to get one better on each other, but to do that you need to learn from each other. Learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and get better all the time.”

“Times like today pre-season it is tough, you have to do that, The rewards are definitely worth the hard yards you put in now.

“Obviously it was a tough decision with athletics being a large part of my life, and my dad being a my coach and stuff, it was such a big part of my life. I sort of knew myself it was coming for a while. It was easier than I thought. Have not really looked back on it yet.”

No need when he is storming towards his future so fast.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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