‘It was great fun racing against the boys in primary school. They used to give out if I beat them’

Limerick sprinter Ciara Neville (18), from Monaleen, is already the joint seventh fastest Irishwoman in history and was seventh in the European junior 100m final last summer. Today she is hoping to maintain her unbeaten record in the Irish Schools T&F Championships where she will be competing, for the last time, for Castletroy College, four days before she starts her Leaving Cert?

‘It was great fun racing against the boys in primary school. They used to give out if I beat them’

When did you first know you were a flyer

I wasn’t really fast at first. I just did it for fun because my friend Ellie’s mom (ex-Irish international Noelle Morrissey) was the coach. Then I won my first All-Ireland, at U10, in the Community Games when I was eight. In primary school, it was great fun racing against the boys, they used to give out if I beat them. I didn’t always win but they used to get very competitive.

Is there speed in your family?

No! I’m not really sure where the speed comes from really. My dad is very sporty but neither of my parents were into running, I just came upon it when I was younger.

Is it true that you declared you wanted to be world champion when you were only seven?

Doesn’t everyone say that? When you’re little all you want to be is the fastest in the world and run in the Olympics. I remember being so overwhelmed when I won that first Community Games I was bawling crying. I beat Rachel Bowler who has moved onto the jumps since.

How do you manage to combine training and study, especially in your Leaving Cert year?

It’s hard enough to juggle it but I’ve always tried to keep the same routine which helps. I go to after-school study for two hours straight after school, then home to get my dinner and straight to training. Afterwards it’s home, shower and into bed by 11.

How many times a week do you train?

Six, mostly at 7.30pm in the evening. I usually take Saturdays off when I study from 9 to 5 and then catch up with my friends in the evening. Sometimes it is a bit hard to sit at home when all your friends are going out but it’s really worth it in the end.

Things like after-school study must have helped you maintain that strict discipline?

Yes. My school has it from 4-6pm and you can go from 7.15-9pm as well if you want. I’m also lucky that my schools and my training (at the University of Limerick) has always been within five minutes of my house. My mom also always has my dinner ready the minute I get home.

You competed at the World (senior) Indoors in Birmingham last March and were away on warm-weather training for 10 days of your Easter holidays. Did you have to bring the school-books with you?

Yes! Thankfully I had my Mocks before I went to World Indoors but my teachers still kept me going with loads of work and I also had my Irish and Spanish orals as soon as I got back from warm-weather training so I had to study out there.

There’s an old coaching maxim that says ‘you can’t coach speed’ but, you can, can’t you?

Yes. People often ask me what we do in training. They say ‘do you not just run fast in a straight line all the time?’ but there’s loads of different types of training; power and strength and speed. When it comes down to 100ths of a second, it’s often a lot about focusing on technique.

So it’s not just putting your head down and runing as fast as you can, it’s about technique?

Right. To a non-runner it might look fine but we do a lot of camera-analysis to get down to the minute detail of technique and keep improving it. I sometimes get to train in the Institute of Sport in Dublin where they can measure things like power output but we also film ourselves in training and analyse it using slow-motion.

Do you match the sprinter’s stereotype of laid-back off the track but ferocious on it?

I’m different — easygoing — with my friends compared to what I am on the track but I try to be the same. You don’t want to be tense because that won’t make you run fast so you’ve got to just chill out and not get nervous.

You were seventh in the European junior 100m final last summer in which Ireland’s Gina Akpe-Moses famously won gold. You were the first to congratulate her but, given that your personal best (11.52 seconds) is four hundredths faster than hers, were you disappointed yourself?

I was a bit. I don’t really know what happened, I think nerves got the better of me but you live and learn and hopfully that’ll motivate me.

Athletes, of all kinds, love their kit. How many pairs of runners have you got?

A lot. I’ve four pairs of spikes and about six pairs of runners at the moment, I even gave some to my mom and sister because I had too many after I got a huge kit-drop from Adidas last year. My favourite spikes, that I just wear for racing, are white with three red stripes.

Sprinting for Ireland means you travel a lot. Anything you do to make that smoother?

Whenever I travel abroad I bring my racing spikes in my hand-luggage. I’d always have my running gear with me in case my bags get lost. And my Beats (headphones) would also be in the bag.

Is there anything else in there that people wouldn’t expect?

Yes, hand sanitiser! I literally put it on 10 times a-day because I don’t ever want to get sick. People in my school think that’s really weird.

You’re competing in the Irish Schools All- Irelands today. Is it as special as people say?

Yes, it’s always been my favourite competition of the year. I always get pumped up for it and ran my fastest time ever there last year. Even though my Leaving Cert starts next Wednesday I still wouldn’t miss it.

Have you ever been beaten at Irish Schools?

No, but I’ve always concentrated just on the 100m which I prefer to the 200m. I only raced once as a junior but twice as an intermediate and this is my second and last year at senior. My school also won the relay last year and that was really tense because Mercy Mount Hawk had beaten us in the North Munsters and Munsters so we really needed to pull it out of the bag and we did!

Avonmore chose you and Joey Carbery as brand ambassadors for their Protein Milk this year. That’s a pretty big endorsement for a teenager but does it add pressure?

No. To perform at the highest level takes a lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. I want to be the best and hope that my ambition and determination can inspire others too.

Once the Leaving Cert is over what’s next?

The World Junior Championships in Tampere in July (19-24). I was in Finland also for the European Team Championships last June and the weather wasn’t great, it was quite cold and it was bright all night as well which was kind of weird. Sprinters always prefer sunny weather as it helps us run fast times.

The Irish Life Health All-Ireland Schools T&F Championships, often called ‘Ireland’s little Olympics’, is always held on the first Saturday in June in Tullamore Harriers AC. It is a rite of passage for all of Ireland’s future senior internationals. The top 1,000 teenagers in the country qualify through provisional championships to battle it out for prestigious individual titles and each finisher also wins points for the team trophies.

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