Andrew Dempsey speaks to UCD Athletics Club ahead of an exciting new era for the club as the installation of the much sought-after running track nears completion
It has been a difficult few years at the office for the UCD Athletics Club since their previous track was torn up and turned into a car-park. The previous site adjacent to the N11 Stillorgan Road was a historic site in itself, so to lose not only the site, but a historic one – was a major blow.
National and university records had been set on that track, and when you speak to those involved with the club, not only today, but from a bygone era also – there is always a glint in one’s eye when it comes to reflecting on this previous time.
And with no track (the equivalent of a football team having no pitch), the club were forced to make do with makeshift arrangements. Initially, the club ran buses for its members to bring them to Irishtown, but this was to soon end. While some activities have remained on the Belfield Campus, some athletes were forced to train as far away as Santry – on Dublin’s Northside.
“I think it (the track) is very important,” club secretary Éamonn Murphy told The University Observer. “Especially for likes of the sprint and field groups. The sprinters have had to travel up and down to Irishtown for the last seven or eight years. There was a bus at the start, and then they had to start getting Dublin Bus or rely on people giving lifts to each other.
“So, it kind of splintered the sprints group a lot and a lot of people dropped off because of that. Whereas now with the track here, they'll get much higher participation rates and be able to retain people a lot better and also, it'll attract people in. If you're a really good athlete and you are thinking of going to a university and there's not a track there, then you're unlikely to go there because you don't have a track to train on.”
And while some athletes were able to train on the Belfield Campus, a number of the club’s elite level Ad-Astra athletes were forced to train elsewhere; “I suppose for the distance groups we normally would train on the sports pitches,” Murphy explained. “We'd be lucky in the terms of that. In terms of training on like a long loop, the grass is probably better for us but coming into the summer season the distance group would be travelling to Irishtown as well.
“I know as well some of the Ad-Astra athletes used to travel up to Santry on the Northside to train, and they’d probably be going there every day which would take a fair bit of time out of their day. They’re student athletes so they have to combine study as well which is never easy.”
And while the club’s main operations were splintered around the capital, rumours of what was going to happen in regard to a new track circled around the club. But there was little to no official concrete information as to what was happening, which left a cloud of sorts hovering around the club – until an anonymous private donor stepped in.
“It was hard for the club during that period when there was no track,” he added. “We knew there was plans to go in for a track – we just didn’t know when it was going to be (put in place). So, really the big thing was that the anonymous donor came in and gave them (UCD Sport) money for the track and that's been like because of that, then I, the track went to the top of the list because the funding was already sorted. We have to thank the donor because it is going to be a great thing for the club going forward.
“We haven't actually won a team event for, I'm not sure how exactly how long, but it's been a while. So, it will be good to be able to attract in more runners and the runners that are here will be able to train better. There will be a larger field of sprinters at our main competition every year. In the track and field championships is something DCU have been dominating for the last probably 10 years at least and mainly that’s due to field events – Sprints and everything.
“They dominate completely, and we wouldn't hardly even have anybody competing in those events. So, it's going to be great in that sense in terms of the competitiveness of the club on varsity level and also just start participation rates should go up as well.”
And not only has the track boosted morale around the club, the achievements of Ciara Mageean and Mark English in recent times have also; “Everybody has a sense of pride in terms of what they achieve, but, it's not necessarily going to increase participation numbers.
“We have four varsity competitions during the year. So, we started in November and then we have indoors, which is in a couple of weeks’ time. And then cross country and then the outdoor track and fields, which is in April.
“We have been improving in terms of the number of athletes we've had competing. We'll definitely have another boost with the track. Along with that, there's a few new athletes on our Astra scholarship who have come in. There was sort of a group there before with Mark English and Ciara Mageean and, and those all sort of left over the last couple of years. Now there's a new group after coming in who should definitely improve the club (competitively).”