Athletics: Timely funding boost for schools
IRISH schools athletics bucked the trend nationally and defied the recession by announcing a new sponsor yesterday.
Insurance giant Aviva has stepped in with a three-year deal at a critical stage after Irish schools administrator John Shields admitted yesterday that his organisation was really struggling to survive.
Schools athletics benefitted hugely from one of the longest sponsorships in Irish sport up until two years ago but ever since Nestle-KitKat ended their 46-year support in 2008 they have been frantically seeking a replacement.
"This is a godsend," Shields said. "We've met so many companies in the past two years who showed genuine interest, but were then hit by the economic downturn, and Aviva is a perfect fit given their health insurance arm.
"Athletics is an expensive sport to administer and we run over 100 events, including leagues, countrywide every year," Shields said yesterday.
"We were finding it extremely difficult to continue, especially in the four schools internationals that take place every year," he revealed. "We were only able to continue for the past two years thanks to the support of Athletics Ireland, for which we were extremely grateful."
Aviva is already a major sponsor of UK Athletics and, through that association, has also been sponsoring the Ulster schools body for the past two years.
All of Ireland's greats have been part of Irish schools' illustrious history.
Provincial qualifying will start in January for next year's Aviva Schools Cross-Country Championships, which will take place in ALSAA on March 1, and the culmination of the schools track season will take place at Tullamore Harriers on June 4.
Stars of past, present and future were represented at yesterday's launch by Eamonn Coghlan, Ailis McSweeney and Brian Gregan and rising schools stars Siofra Cleirigh-Buttner and Patrick O'Connor.
Elsewhere, Donore's traditional 'Jingle Bells 5km' scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed to December 18, while the Woodies DIY National Walks Championships scheduled for Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday, have also been called off.
Robert Heffernan and Jamie Costin were among the world-class walkers due to take part in this event, as was rising West Waterford star Kate Veale, who was fourth at World Youths last summer and added the Irish U-18 inter-county cross-country title to her bow in Derry last weekend.
Seamus Power was another who did well in Derry last Sunday when seventh in the senior men's race, but, like Martin Fagan, he has passed up the opportunity to travel to the European Cross-Country Championships in Portugal in a week's time because he doesn't feel his form is good enough.
A 10-time winner of Irish cross-country titles -- six inter-county and four inter-club triumphs -- Power's bid for an 11th Irish crown was dashed by a recent quad injury, yet his seventh place still earned him a call-up, as reserve, on the senior squad for the European Cross-Country Championships on Sunday week.
But Power has declined to travel, feeling his current form is not sharp enough for what is required on international duty.
"I love competing on the domestic scene," Power said, "and I wasn't a long way off the mark on Sunday, but if I was to go to Albufeira, I would need to be competitive from start to finish."