As the dust settles over an historic summer of sport, the enormity of the achievements by Ireland’s women are finally beginning to sink in. The countries sporting heroes have gripped the nation with magical memories that will live long in history.
Ciara Neville is amongst the new generation of sporting stars whom have contributed to Ireland’s unforgettable sporting summer. Neville was part of the 4x100m relay team which made history, securing the country’s third-ever silver medal in the World U20 Championships. She was also a member of the senior team who broke the National Senior 4x100m record at the European Championships last month– this all at just the tender age of 18.
It’s been a whirlwind of a year for the Emerald Athletics Club sprinter, who began her first day of college on Monday, at University of Limerick. Reflecting on last season’s highpoints, Neville said, “Obviously the highlight was the silver medal at the World Juniors with the girls, that was just amazing and I still can’t get over it to be honest.”
The All-Ireland Schools Championship is often marked as one of the best events in the Irish Athletics calendar and Neville notably picked this out as another one of her highlights. “On a personal level, finishing my school career with three gold medals meant a lot to me and running in the World Juniors individually, both in the 100 metres and 200 meters was really great as well”
At the 2017 All-Ireland Schools Championships, Neville ran 11.52s, which is still her personal best and ranks ninth overall on the all-time senior list. This year in 2018, she signed-off her school’s career with Castleroy College, remaining unbeaten and taking home gold in the Senior Girl’s 100m, 200m and 4x100m, as she did last year.
The Limerick flyer said, “It’s so good to look back on all the medals and the pictures where I’m wearing my school vest, it’s definitely one of my favourite competitions and I’ll remember them forever.”
Another bonus for the teenager has been the travel which comes with competing internationally. “It’s great getting to travel everywhere, although we don’t always get to see much of the place because of competing. We do get a few hours after to wander around and explore after the competition though, which is nice.” The Olympic Stadium in Berlin is something Neville won’t forget as she describes it as ‘the most amazing stadium I’ve ever seen in my life.’
For years, Irish Athletics have long been associated more for their long-distance runners than sprinters. The likes of Sonia O’Sullivan and Catherina McKiernan both competed and had enormous success on the world stage. Suddenly there appears to be a transformation, with Irish female sprinters coming to the forefront. With the abundance of sprinting talent, Neville stated, “It’s absolutely amazing. We all motivate each other to do better and push each other on. It’s definitely really good to be a part of and it’s something that can only benefit the country as a whole.”
Despite her remarkable success on the track, you’d be forgiven to assume Neville has had no other commitments this year. Astonishingly, this couldn’t be further from the truth. To add to her commitments to the track, she also had the little task of sitting the Leaving Cert and managing her personal life. Most students usually prioritize their studies over sport at this time but Neville made it work. This makes her achievements this year even more spectacular.
“It was kind of stressful at the start not going to lie but I just had to get into a routine and make sure I had a plan of what I was supposed to make the most of my time.
Once you make a routine of it, it comes a bit easier but it still is hard to train to such a high level and study and do well in your exams at the same time”
It’s obvious to see the passion and dedication Neville has for Athletics. She usually trains six times a day and has made several sacrifices to reach this point. Like many other kids, she had played numerous team sports such as hockey, Gaelic football and soccer but ultimately athletics was always her favourite. Her appetite for the sport began where she joined in on a session coached by her friend’s mother, Noelle Morrissey.
“My friends mum was the coach of the athletics team. She used to go down and hang around by the track while her mum was coaching. I went down with her one day and joined in and kept on it from there really.”
Noelle Morrissey, an ex-Irish International herself, has been coaching Neville ever since. Morrissey was one of Ireland’s most versatile athletes before a foot-injury ended her blossoming career. She now coaches for Emerald AC and is helping produce some of the finest athletes in the country. Neville is always quick to acknowledge the help she has received from her coach especially in formulating a plan to balance her training and studies.
For someone so young, Neville seems to have a wise head on young shoulders. She speaks eloquently and has an aura of calmness. This is something which she brings to the track where she appears composed moments before a race. “I just try hard to just focus on getting the job done and executing my race. I just try to keep a clear head and focus on the job that I have to do, not letting else get in the way.”
Unlike some sports stars, Neville isn’t too competitive outside her sport. She keeps her competitive edge for the track. “I wouldn’t be competitive in that kind of way but once I get on the track, the competitive side comes out of me, but off the track, I’m grand.’
Her season came to an end after the European Championships in Berlin. She has enjoyed some time off but is back to training again next Monday. “I’m still on a break. I finished competing about four weeks ago after Berlin and I’m going back to training on Monday… so the break is over!”
Irrespective of the short-turn around, Neville is buoyant about the upcoming season. “‘The European Under 23’s are on in July and that’s the main target but the World Championships are also on in Doha in October. That’s a senior competition so it will be quite difficult but it’s definitely in the back of my mind that I want to be there!”
With the recent success of the relay squads, Ireland will harbour hopes of more medals in the future. Coached by Karen Kirk, the women’s relay team have come on leaps and bounds and are reaping the rewards of hard sessions undertaken. Neville shares this enthusiasm, “I definitely think the World Championship this year is in our reach if we keep working hard and training throughout the year, getting races under our belt and getting fast times.
“Qualifying for the World’s will make our goal of reaching Tokyo more realistic and then we can even start to think about Paris 2024. We just need to keep improving year on year both individually and as a team, so we can go really fast!”
With more time to concentrate on her passion, Neville will surely be one to watch in the upcoming season. If all goes to plan, we might just see her compete at the Senior World Championships in Doha, certainly not beyond her capabilities. Watch this space.