JUST six Irish athletes from the class of 2014 took up scholarships at US colleges this year, a stark reflection of how the numbers crossing the Atlantic have dwindled.
The growth of domestic opportunities to help talented youngsters make the difficult jump to senior international standard, while also getting a college education, is the biggest factor in that swing.
But some of Ireland’s best young talent is still opting to take the demanding American collegiate route, and DSD’s Siofra Cleirigh Buttner was undoubtedly this year’s ‘top pick.’
She has followed in the footsteps of Sonia O’Sullivan and gone to Villanova, where Marcus O’Sullivan is head coach.
She has already finished 12th in cross-country in her conference, Villanova’s best individual result in the Big East since 2010.
Next come today’s Division One ‘regionals’ where Cleirigh Buttner is among the top Irish bidding to qualify for NCAA National Cross-Countries on Saturday week.
Ferrybanks’ Shane Quinn and his new Providence team-mate Aaron Hanlon (Clonliffe), who were ninth and 23rd in their conference, are among them.
Another US rookie is Limerick steeplechaser Kyle Larkin (23rd in conference), who went to Wichita State, where graduate Tomas Cotter is now a volunteer coach.
Clonmel’s Sean Tobin, of the University of Mississippi, is another to watch as he’s already finished sixth in his conference.
Kevin Dooney will also be in action after finishing fifth for Yale in the Ivy League, and another competing today with high hopes is Iona State’s Mullingar’s Jake Byrne, who won the Metro-Atlantic Conference.
His team-mate Tara Jameson (Wicklow), now doing a Masters in Iona, was also second.
Fionnuala Britton’s sister Una and Sligo team-mate Anna Reddin, who compete for Eastern Kentucky, will also be involved in the Division One regionals.
The NCAA qualification system is complicated but the top two teams, and four individuals (outside of those teams) in each region, automatically go through.
Then 13 more ‘at large’ teams join them but that’s where it gets technical.
Br John Dooley, who, for 40 years, has acted as unofficial advisor and genial father-figure to so many young Irish making that difficult transition, is now AAI’s official liaison officer with Ireland’s NCAA athletes in all divisions and he’ll be keeping a close eye on all their progress.