Neville goes into the women’s 60m at the Irish Life Health National Senior Indoor Championships at the Sport Ireland National Indoor Arena in Abbotstown as the favourite with a berth on the Irish team for the European Indoor Championships in Belgarde next month in the offing.
It has been far from a clear road for the fifth year student in Castletroy College who came to prominence when running 7.45 seconds for the 60m at the national indoors two years ago in Athlone. She was just 15.
Neville went on to win the European Youth Olympic 100m title in Tbilisi, Georgia that summer but, since then, it has been somewhat of a stuttering progression despite being part of the Irish 4x100m relay team that came fifth at last summer’s World U20 Championships.
Her individual times regressed in 2016 with no personal bests but she sprang back into prominence in Athlone with a record-breaking 7.30 seconds to win the national junior 60m title last month. In the process she set a national junior record and equalled the national senior record.
To highlight how good that time is, it put her joint top of the world U20 list for 60m alongside USA’s sprint sensation Candace Hill who won the world 100m title in the age grade.
The time surprised Neville, particularly as it was her season opener.
“I really didn’t know what to expect coming up in the car,” explained Neville. “I’m relieved to be honest and I’m thrilled that I was able to run so fast. My coach (Noelle Morrissey), my family and my training partners kept telling me I was great when I was struggling.”
UCD’s Sarah Lavin, a European junior 100m hurdles silver medallist, is part of her training group and helped encourage Neville and keep her on track during the dark and challenging days. Neville admits the drop in form could easily have derailed her athletic dreams.
“I’m over the moon to be back running well,” she said. “Last year didn’t really go as well as I wanted it to I’m thrilled to be back running the way I like to be. Last year it was really hard not to be clocking the times that I was the year before. I thought I was in shape but it didn’t happen. The confidence wasn’t really back until the heat (of the national juniors) when I was running a personal best. Training has gone well since the juniors and I’m looking forward to a busy couple of weeks with the seniors and the English championships the following week.”
Now back in form Neville’s main threats for the national 60m title look like Bandon’s Joan Healy and Molly Scott (SLOT) – another rising youngster who was on the world 4x100m relay team.
Phil Healy (Bandon) narrowly missed out on the national 60m record at the Athlone International on Wednesday running 7.31 seconds but will be focusing on the 400m at the new Sport Ireland National Indoor Arena.
Healy is in search of the European Indoor 400m qualifying standard of 53.75 and should have an exciting duel with DSD’s Sinead Denny who got the standard last week in Vienna. The Bandon sprinter just held off Denny at the AAI Games and it should prove to be a mouth-watering clash. Ciara Mageean (UCD) is entered for the 800m, 1500m and 3,000m but hasn’t yet finalised what distance she will compete in this weekend. The European outdoor 1500m bronze medallist has had a stuttering indoor season. The Portaferry native’s preparations have been hampered by a head cold. Despite these setbacks Mageean is determined to be in competitive shape for the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia on March 3rd-5th.
Should she choose to compete in the 3,000m in Abbotstown there is the prospect of a face-off with former European indoor bronze medallist Fionnuala McCormack who is on the entry list. Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle) and Emma Mitchell (Queens University) have both been in excellent form this indoor season and are also listed.
Thomas Barr (Ferrybank) made a brief indoor appearance to light up the University Indoor Championships but has now called time on competition ahead of a big outdoor season this summer.
This leaves Ciara Neville and Ireland’s leading female athletes to take centre stage this weekend with a highlight show to be aired on RTÉ 2 at 8.30pm on Sunday.