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'The bottom line was we looked at the percentages of those making a career in soccer and they were slim'

After choosing athletics over Cork City, Brandon Arrey represented Ireland at last year’s European Championships and is now gearing up for this month’s Nationals.

Ireland's Brandon Arrey.
Ireland's Brandon Arrey.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

THREE YEARS AGO Brandon Arrey sat down with his father and mapped out a plan for the future.

Arrey had moved from Cameroon to Cork as a young boy and immediately made an impact on the local sports scene, running for Blarney and ending up on the books for Cork City as a striker.

With a towering physique and lightning speed, a professional career in the game was a possibility. But the margins are fine: some of Arrey’s former teammates at City went onto leave the sport altogether while others like Alan Browne forced a cross-channel move to Preston North End and ended up with senior international honours.

For Arrey, it came down to a moment of clarity with his dad.

“We wrote down the pros and cons for each sport,” Arrey said.

We referenced the fact that soccer was a team sport and that even if you were excelling you could still not control the destiny of your team. Whereas with athletics it would mainly be an individual sport and you could control most everything.

“The bottom line, however, was we looked at the percentages of making a career in soccer and they were slim. We compared that with athletics, DCU came in and offered me a scholarship and in the end the decision was pretty straightforward.”

He hasn’t looked back.

Well, not all that much.

Tonight, City have close to a full squad to choose from for their Europa League first qualifying round first-leg clash with Progrès Niederkorn at Turner’s Cross (kick-off 7.45pm).

City have a lot of tired bodies with games in quick succession against Derry, Finn Harps and Bohs providing the backdrop to this Europa League qualifier.

Brandon Arrey during the Men's 400m Heats Brandon Arrey at the National Senior Championships last July. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

In a different world, Arrey could have have been part of new head coach John Cotter’s plans. But he’s quite happy with the path chosen.

“Look, there were times when I sat down and watched City play FAI Cup finals and I did a bit of ‘what if’.

But you can’t spend your life in that vein. I think the decisions I’ve had to make in life so far will be as tough as any I will ever have to make and I’ve found maturity early. I have done well in athletics but hopefully I will do a lot better.”

Arrey keeps an eye out for Cork City’s results and was disappointed to see a slump in form cost John Caulfied his job.

But he is optimistic that the Leesiders will turn things around soon.

“They will,” he insists. “They are a good bunch and there are too many good footballers around for them to stay quiet for long.”

Arrey’s kid brother, Benny, is already with the City U10s and fast making a name for himself. For big brother, though, it will be athletics for the long term future before he one day returns to football on a more casual basis.

His preferred events are the 400m and 400m hurdles and he recently captained the Irish team in Dynamic New Athletics (DNA) at the European Games at Minsk, competing against Poland, Belarus, Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania across 8 events and the final decider of the match ‘The Hunt’.

The DNA competition featured 24 countries of mixed-gender line-ups, facing each other in six-way knockout matches over four rounds.

Such experiences are helping to fill out Arrey’s learning curve all the time.

It’s the busiest period of his young life. He is currently writing a Thesis based on the psychology of finance for DCU, taking a three-month internship at an accountancy practice and training for the Irish Life Health National Seniors which take place at Santry on 27 and 28 July.

“The Irish Life Health nationals are huge for me,” he says. “They are my focal point right now.

“At last year’s finals I was so nervous – even more than at the Europeans. I feel that if you can do well at your national championships, it builds up the confidence and sets you up for a good subsequent programme.

I have work to do on the track, but I feel there is a lot more in me. My goal is to make Tokyo and be an Olympian. The base for all that starts at home in our national championships. They are huge for me”

Brandon Arrey Brandon Arrey competing at Morton Stadium in 2018. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

During the winter, a lot of Arrey’s training is based adding on speed and endurance, ranging from 250 metre runs all the way to 600m.

As he gets more into the racing season he picks up the speed with 150m and 250m.

Mondays are high intensity with 200m runs at 23 seconds pace. Tuesdays are tempo sessions on grass. Wednesdays are spent in the gym – all efforts based around strength and explosive work. Thursdays are lactic sessions with 150m runs on Astro. Fridays are based around conditioning and Saturdays around speed. Sunday is rest day.

So, how does the young Cork man, now running out of Raheny, fit it all in.

“It’s enjoyable,” he says.

“I might look back some day and wonder how I managed to do it all at the one time but right now it’s just hard work but I am making a go of it.

“It’s a great complaint to have.”

As he prepares for the Irish Life Health nationals at the end of the month Arrey would appreciate all the support from his own county that can be garnered.

He is grateful for all that Cork and Ireland has given him and is fully aware that he is one of a new generation of Irish athletes who are blazing a trail on the international stage.

It’s been a resoundingly positive experience working his way up the levels and representing his country. There have been one or two negative comments passed in his direction but he has learned to ignore them.

“As I get older I know I just need to focus on making the people who support me happy,” he says.

Other athletes like Gina Akpe-Moses and Patience Jumbo-Gula are blazing their own trail and Arrey says they can help build a new legacy for youngsters with multi-cultural backgrounds to aspire to one day wearing the Irish vest.

“We are showing that people can excel in more than just academics. Sport is so important. Being received is too.

“It’s so busy at the moment that I am not getting home to Cork as much as I would like but when the season ends I will have time to catch up with family and friends then.

“And that is just as important as anything else.”

- Originally published at 14.22

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About the author:

Damian Lawlor

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