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Sonia O'Sullivan: 'People are out there killing themselves and not getting any acknowledgement for it'

The former world champion and Olympic silver medallist feels Ireland’s athletes could do with more support.

Sonia O'Sullivan talks to students at St Brigid's National School in Castleknock. Fionnuala Britton and Paul Robinson are pictured in the background.
Sonia O'Sullivan talks to students at St Brigid's National School in Castleknock. Fionnuala Britton and Paul Robinson are pictured in the background.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Updated 17:00

SONIA O’SULLIVAN SAYS she can empathise with the comments of fellow Irish athlete Jerry Kiernan on funding for the sport. The retired middle distance runner believes athletes face a tough task in chasing their goals — often without much support or funding — but she refused to criticise the GAA, as Kiernan did in late March.

O’Sullivan is back home for the Spar Great Ireland Run, taking place in the Phoenix Park on Sunday. The Cork native, who retired from athletics six years ago, told TheScore.ie she had read some of Kiernan’s comments on the GAA getting taxpayers’ funding. Only recently back in the country from Australia, where she lives and works, O’Sullivan says she did not hear Kiernan’s full interview on Newstalk.

Kiernan, a former Irish Olympian himself, found himself motivated to air his views after Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore announced the government would give €600,000 towards a €5m redevelopment of London GAA’s headquarters and ground. “My views on this are actually quite blunt,” he declared. “I don’t believe that the GAA should get any amount of taxpayers’ money.”

O’Sullivan said, “Everybody loves their own sport and they see that as being the hardest sport, the one that takes the biggest commitment and one you have to make the most sacrifices for to do it. What you give up in not working and not having a career, for that chance of becoming a top athlete, it is a huge risk to take.”

Paul Robinson, Fionnuala Britton and Sonia OÕSullivan with students from Saint BrigidÕs Paul Robinson, Fionnula Britton and Paul Robinson with students of St Brigid's National School in Castleknock. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Sullivan commented, “In a way [Kiernan] is saying that some people are not doing that as they are not willing to take that risk because you don’t know where you will be in five years’ time. In five years or 10 years you may find yourself behind the people you came out of school with and you have to start all over again.” She added:

And then, you’re doing it by yourself whereas if it is a team sport it is a bit different as you’re all involved and you’re brought along [to training and matches] together. Sometimes you’re out there on your own with athletics, depending on where you are, how determined you are to make it work, and if you can do it with or without funding as some people can’t.

“You like to be noticed for what you’re doing and encouraged. Sometimes people are out there killing themselves and not getting any acknowledgement for it. Then, I suppose, they see teams out there and every county has a GAA team with big following and whatnot. It may seem [for the athlete] a little bit easier for them to get the support, acknowledgement and coverage. You’re fighting to get noticed and get attention for all the work you’re doing. You do all those hours and you ask ‘Is it worth it?’

O’Sullivan will be presenting prizes and doing television commentary at the Great Ireland Run, as well as lending her medal-winning presence and clout to the event. She has not competitively run in a major event since the Boston Marathon in 2008 but says she will go for a jog around the route early on Sunday morning, before the serious action begins.

– First published at 15:09

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Patrick McCarry

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