Scholarship programme the key to athletics dominance – Warne

They are one of the most decorated clubs in DCU, and the Athletics Academy are keen to add more silverware to their trophy cabinet.

Already hugely successful, they count athletes such as Brian Gregan and Fionnuala Britton amongst their alumni. The introduction of the sports academy six years ago alluded to an increase in scholarship opportunities for athletes and the Athletics Club boasts nearly 70 of those awarded with such.

DCU have dominated proceedings across varsity events for a number of years. Thanks to the large number of members, fielding teams for all four annual varsity events is not a problem for a college which has been mostly undefeated across all varsity championships in the last four years. Captain of the men’s team, Joe Warne, has been a scholarship student since 2007 and is an integral member of the Athletics Club.

The PhD student feels the scholarship programme is the key to their success: “The biggest success we have comes from the fact that the programme we have is so big that we can field a team at varsity events. Most other colleges don’t have full teams for those because they don’t have the scholarship programme, which means they don’t have the access to so many athletes.”

The cross-country Intervarsities are taking place this week in Jordanstown, where DCU will be fielding a strong team. Warne’s belief and confidence in the team is clear to see, stemming from a successful showing at the Indoor Track and Field Intervarsities in February. This year hasn’t been all glittery, though, as the men lost out to rivals UCD for the second year in a row at the road relays in November.

The club has gained popularity in recent times, with elite athletes choosing DCU over going to the United States, for example, but what makes the club so successful?

“Mainly it’s the training environment. The unique thing about the DCU academy is that all the athletes live together so we have a house with 50 athletes living there. It’s very much a training orientated environment, and we have a huge amount of facilities available to us.

“There’s the swimming pool complex, the high performance gym, the full laboratories for physiological testing, the track just down the road, the sprint track on campus and the sports grounds across the way. Bringing all those athletes together, getting them in a very close knit family, getting them all training consistently in the different groups and then having the facilities on campus is really what makes it,” Warne continued.

The bar is set high for athletes and a rigorous training schedule allows the club to maintain its high calibre. The teams train up to 12-14 times a week, and you would imagine academic work suffers as a result. However, this is not the case, according to Warne.

“With a lot of athletes, they prioritise their training and really fit their study hours in and around that.

“Athletes tend to be very highly motivated and organised people themselves, so with other clubs their academia level may not be the same as ours. For some reason, all the athletes seem to exceed exceptionally well academically.”

Irish athlete Brian Gregan was a DCU member until last year, and has received many plaudits since bursting onto the international scene. Warne’s admiration for the 23-year-old shines through as he speaks about him. He considers Gregan to be the perfect example that one can compete at a very high level, and complete an academic programme successfully.

For the coming few months, a number of DCU athletes will be targeting the under-23 European Championships. Warne is hoping to take part in the World University Games in July, along with John Coghlan, son of Eamonn Coghlan and one of Ireland’s leading athletes.

With so many top-class athletes coming through, who should we be looking out for? According to Warne, youngster Paul Robinson is the next big thing. The county Kildare middle-distance runner has a personal best of 3.37 minutes for the 1500 metres, and is being tipped by many as a hot prospect for the future.

Jessica Farry

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