From 100m gold to English Paper 1: Meet the Irish teenage sprint star on track for glory

Emerging talent Ciara Neville speaks to The42 about balancing her time between training and study as she continues her rise in athletics.

LIMERICK SPRINTER CIARA Neville is involved in an important movement for Irish female athletes.

Ciara Neville Ciara Neville is an ambassador for Avonmore Protein Milk. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

For years, it was our long distance runners such as Sonia O’Sullivan and Catherina McKiernan who appeared to be representing Ireland on the world stage. But the narrative has gradually changed over time. Derval O’Rourke played a significant role in that when she established herself as a world-class hurdler, while more recently, Cork’s Phil Healy and Gina Akpe-Moses have demonstrated the strength of Irish female sprinters at international level. Akpe-Moses stormed to a sensational victory in the 100m final at the 2017 European U20 Championships, and Healy now holds the Irish female outdoor record for the 100m, after running a time of 11.28 seconds to take the crown from Ailís McSweeney and Amy Foster.

Eighteen-year-old Ciara Neville is also contributing to this movement through the times she is clocking up over distances of 60m, 100m and 200m. She has won back-to-back 60m titles at the National Junior Championship in the last two years and prior to that, she picked up a gold medal at the 2015 European Youth Olympics in Tbilisi, Georgia. Neville also runs alongside Akpe-Moses in the relay event, and came seventh in that U20 European Championship final where her teammate triumphed.

Neville urbsintacta Youtube channel. urbsintacta Youtube channel.

“Irish sprinting is definitely on the way up, especially in the women’s,” she tells The42. “It’s good that we can all come together and contribute to it in the relay so hopefully we can get Irish sprinting known around the world.

We were definitely better known for the long-distance running in past years but hopefully we can change that and become known for sprinting and improve as a country.”

The Limerick native has always known the path she wanted to take, both in life and in sport. Athletics was always there but she sampled a few different sports along the way including hockey, soccer and Gaelic football. One by one, they all gradually fell out of her life as athletics took her preference although she still goes to support some of her friends who still play hockey.

She has just completed her Leaving Cert exams with a view to going to UL where she hopes to study either PE teaching or Sports Science teaching. Her friends are all aiming to go to college in Cork or Dublin, but Neville knows where she needs to be, and isn’t afraid to go down that road alone. Sitting major exams like the Leaving Cert often prompt students to park whatever sport they play in order to focus exclusively on their studies, but with the help of her coach, Neville made it work.

She even managed to squeeze in the All-Ireland Schools track and field championships a few days before English Paper 1, where she defended the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay treble she won last year.

“It was grand,” she says, “it was tough to balance it with training and fit it in because the exams were kind of long but it wasn’t too bad. “I stayed training during the exams, I just tried to plan ahead so I knew when I was training and when I wasn’t so I could fit everything. It all went to plan so it’s ok.

“My coach would definitely have helped me a lot. I would tell her when I want to study and then she’d tell me the days I could train so we fit it all nicely. We definitely worked together on that.

“We kind of mixed it up so I would get up early and study and then go train. That would be my break and then go back to study after.”

Avonmore Protein Milk / YouTube

Exam periods are always an intense and pressurised time and students can often fall into bad habits such as staying up late to cram, and reaching for snacks instead of eating proper meals. Neville’s training schedule helped her to keep her discipline in this regard, and while there was a certain sense of an anti-climax after the final exam, she’s thrilled to be able to put the Leaving Cert behind her and concentrate on training and competitions for the rest of the summer.

It was kind of weird. The day after the last exam I was sitting at home and I was like, ‘Oh, what I am I supposed to do now without studying.’ But it’s definitely nice just to concentrate on training and then I can just relax other than that.

“It was hard not to go to bed late and you wanted to stay up cramming but really, that wasn’t going to help you so I was trying to go to bed early.

“When you’re in exams for three hours it was kind of hard not to eat because you might get hungry but it wasn’t too bad overall.”

While observing good diet and rest patterns, Neville also tries to document her performances in a diary as part of her overall training regime. She doesn’t always get time to log her assessment of a session, but she certainly sees the benefits of putting her feelings into writing.

“I have a little book that I write all my results in. I have a training diary as well but sometimes I forget to fill it in, but definitely I’ll try and fill it that in next year properly when I don’t have as much on.

In terms of writing down how you felt in a specific session, you know when you go back that if you try to do the same session again you can hopefully do it better than you did before and you know what times you were in.”

Neville didn’t wait long after the Leaving Cert to throw herself back into competition, winning a gold medal in the 200m National Outdoors Championship over the weekend as well as finishing third in the 100m final at the Mannheim Gala in Germany earlier this month. It all feeds into her preparations for the U20 World Championships in Finland next month, where the ambitious teenager will be focusing on her specialist subjects of the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay.

Ciara Neville finishes 7th in her heat Neville running in the 60m at the IAAF World Indoor Championships. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“We’re leaving for the Worlds on Saturday so we’re just focusing on training just coming up to that and making sure all the details are right.

“This has been my main aim all year so everything was kind of focused on that. So, hopefully all goes well when we get out to Finland.”

Looking beyond that, Neville is contemplating taking part in the National Seniors, and provided she gets selected for the senior relay team, the European Championships are just around the corner in August. She also has eyes for the national junior record in 2018 too.

The Olympics are naturally in her sights as a long-term aim, and if she can get within reach of the junior record, Healy’s 100m senior time is also a target worth chasing too. The movement continues and Neville is at the heart of it.

“I’m definitely happy with how things are going now but once I finish school, I hope to progress on a bit more. Hopefully we can improve in years to come.

“The main goal for any competition is just to run the best that I can so I’ll be looking to get a PB in both of my events and hopefully that will get me through the rounds, and we’ll see then.”

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