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Striding for success

All year long, clubs around the country have been working hard to strengthen grassroots membership and the future of this wonderful discipline. We nod our hats to you all for keeping your clubs up and running and in this issue, we profile United Striders Athletics Club and the strides it has made since its foundation in 1976.

New Ross Athletic Club began life in 1976, with current coach Mel Heynan (also the club’s sole Honorary Lifetime Member) and New Ross native John Delaney, among the founder members. The club amalgamated with other clubs in the locality and, during the 1980s, adopted the United Striders Athletic Club (USAC) name. There was lots of success in the early years, with both the senior and juvenile sections thriving. The club earned a strong reputation in middle/long-distance events, producing athletes who gained success at national level including Olympians Andy Ronan and Jimmy McDonald. In the early 2000s, membership dropped significantly and, for several years, the club had no representation at the county flagship events. In 2008, the club made important changes that would lead it to re-establish itself as one of the most prominent athletics clubs in the southeast. Now the club has more than 270 members, in thriving senior and juvenile sections.

Kathleen Flannelly was pivotal in the organisation of a new committee, improved structures for training sessions and an aggressive juvenile recruitment drive, some 10 or so years ago. That laid the foundation for a turnaround in club’s fortunes. With a small squad of under-age athletes, the club returned to competition in the late 2000s, in the Wexford Juvenile Track & Field and Cross Country events. Around that time, the clubs senior section consisted of a handful of dedicated middle-distance athletes, but rarely enough to make a team at county road and cross-country events.
“Colin Byrne and Athletics Ireland were great support in establishing good practices and helped a number of our coaches attain AAI coaching certification,” says Brendan Murphy, USAC PRO.
“Juvenile training sessions mushroomed in popularity, with kids having great fun and gaining exposure to all the various athletics disciplines. In competition, the Striders juveniles were starting to achieve some great results at county, provincial and even national level. Meanwhile, the club senior sections were undergoing a similar resurgence, acquiring new joiners and starting to make an impact in competition again.”

Fast forward to 2018 and the USAC has never been in better health.
“This year, the first of our athletes to come through our juvenile system following the 2008 restructure, represented the club at senior level. Aedan Rogers and Katie Murphy both competed at senior level on Striders teams, at the recent Wexford Cross-Country Championships. Earlier in the year, we had a host of our ex-juveniles join the seniors to compete at the county track & field event.
“Following an outstanding provincial cross-country season, the current focus for USAC’s juveniles are very much the national cross-country events. Coached by Ted Flannelly and Mel Heynan, the USAC boys under-14, -15 and -16 teams all won Leinster club titles, with the boys under 17 team finishing second, at the recent Leinster cross-country championships. Meanwhile, under the guidance of sprints and jumps coach, Vance O’Reilly, more juveniles are preparing for the indoor season. This year has also been fruitful for the senior section of our club, with various initiatives paying dividends.”
Coaches Catherine Ronan and John Kent have developed a Fit for Life Programme, attracting many non-competing athletes and they have also been a driving force behind the female teams, the New Ross parkrun and the recent Dublin Marathon effort that had in excess of 20 Striders participate. John McGrath’s selection for the recent British and Irish International Masters Cross Country event, in Wales, was a high point for the men’s section. Additionally, the Striders men’s teams were very prominent on track, road and cross-country this year, which included a titanic effort to win their first senior county cross-country club title since 1983, that ended up with a narrow second place finish. Another 2018 highlight has been the introduction of a number of the club’s older juveniles into the coaching ranks, through AAI certification and involvement in training sessions with the smaller kids.
“We look to continue investing in under-age athletics, endeavouring to keep teenagers active and providing them with a seamless transition to senior athletics,” says Brendan.

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