Thursday 14 November 2019

Sonia's old college Villanova in hunt for Cleirigh Buttner

Siofra Cleirigh-Buttner celebrates with her gold medal after winning the senior girls 2500m race at the All-Ireland Schools Cross Country Championships last week
Siofra Cleirigh-Buttner celebrates with her gold medal after winning the senior girls 2500m race at the All-Ireland Schools Cross Country Championships last week

Cliona Foley

Young Irish middle-distance star Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (18), whose phenomenal unbeaten record in Irish schools athletics continued last weekend, is contemplating taking the same US college route as Sonia O'Sullivan.

Irish track legends Ronnie Delany, Eamonn Coghlan and Sonia O'Sullivan all graduated from Villanova, and Marcus O'Sullivan is another of the college's famous athletics alumni.

The latter is now head coach at Villanova, and is a regular visitor to the Irish schools' nationals in Tullamore every June; he has already visited Cleirigh Buttner and her family in Ireland.

The Foxrock teenager started out in Greystones AC and then came through DSD's excellent nursery system, where she is now coached by Donal Hennigan.

She confirmed yesterday that she will be making a short visit to Villanova in the coming months.

Over 25 top Irish athletes have come through Villanova's legendary 'Irish Pipeline', including 12 Olympians and six world-record breakers. Cleirigh Buttner revealed that she has already consulted with Sonia O'Sullivan on the matter but stressed that she has not yet made up her mind up about where she wants to go next year.

She has also applied to UCD for a place on its sports scholarship programme and described herself as "still 50-50". It appears her choice of subject/career focus will be a key factor in her decision.

Cleirigh Buttner has never been beaten in her Irish schools career, whether on track or over cross-country, and added her sixth title in the latter last weekend.

She won a 1500m silver medal at the European Youth Olympics in 2011 and, though still only 16, made the 800m semi-finals at World Juniors (U-20) a year later.

Apart from her Leaving Cert and maintaining her winning streak in her schools track swansong, her next priority is securing the qualification standard for World Juniors in Oregon in July.

Her 2:03.81 800m PB, run at Irish schools last summer, is world-class but she is targeting the 1500m at World Juniors, which has a 4:19 A standard. Her personal best is 4:22.37.

Irish Independent

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