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Young sports stars to watch in 2021

Sport

In the last part of our series, we look at some outstanding young Mayo sporting talent

Athletics
Jake O’Brien
Moy Valley AC
JAKE epitomises all that is required to make a great athlete — dedicated, hard-working and driven to achieve goals — qualities that have shone through during the current pandemic.
He was introduced to athletics when he was 12. His younger sister was competing already so he decided he would have a go.
He always loved to run, taking part in local runs for his football team, Parke. He also loved the National Schools Cross Country Championships, which has been a great springboard for many Mayo athletes. He competed in Community Games from a young age and he won a National bronze medal as part of the Boys Mayo Marathon team. He also enjoyed much success in Athletics Ireland Cross Country events at Mayo and Connacht level.
He had reached a crossroads and was about to give up athletics due to his commitment to other sports, when a fellow athlete who was race walking caught his attention so he decided to explore the discipline further. He was then introduced to race walking coach and Olympian Deirdre Gallagher at Moy Valley Athletic Club and she took it from there. That was March 2019.
Four months later, July 2019,  he claimed the Boys Under-16 3,000m walk, National Title, and displayed the potential for greater success and an appetite to take his training up a level.
He spent the following winter training to compete in his first International race in the Isle of Man in February 2020. He competed in the Murray Lambay 5km, his first race at that distance and won gold.
Following this win, Jake had plans for a busy year ahead for 2020 but all these hopes and dreams were dashed due to events being cancelled due to Covid 19.
Despite the various disappointments and setbacks, Jake kept up his training and was very grateful to be given the chance to compete at the National Junior (U20) Track & Field Championships in the 5000m walk, which were held in the Morton Stadium, Dublin last September. Jake, three years out of age, put all his training to good use and took the silver medal home. A tremendous achievement.
Despite uncertainty around the 2021 competition season, Jake is staying focused and currently training towards achieving the qualifying time for the Under-18 European Youth Athletics Championships in Italy this summer.

Tennis
Róisín Murphy
Castlebar
LIKE all athletes the teenager’s training was hampered massively by Covid-19 last summer, particularly given that tennis in Ireland is so dependent on weather conditions and so largely a summer sport.
So Róisín’s weekly trips to Dublin for training could no longer happen, and instead she set up camp in her home club in Castlebar and kept herself sharp.
Her commitment paid off too because last November it was announced by Tennis Ireland that Róisín would be heading to the prestigious Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania on a sports scholarship after the completion of her Leaving Cert’ this year.
Murphy was ranked fifth in Ireland in 2020 and has recorded a number of impressive victories on the provincial and national circuit over the last number of years.
She was also awarded the Martin Sheridan Bursary award from Mayo County Council last year and everyone in tennis circles is excited to see what mark she leaves on the sport in the years to come.

Soccer
Conor Reynolds
Westport
THE talented youngster is the latest teenage prodigy from the Westport United conveyor belt of underage talent to roll off the line.
A nephew of former Westport United star Joe Mulroy, Conor is already on track to emulate his uncle by getting to represent a Republic of Ireland international side, as well his club-mates Daniel Kelly, Adam Nugent and Conor Walsh who all received caps last year.
The Rice College student is an athletic centre-back with a striking ability to sense danger and cut it out at the stem.
Those talents are some of the main reasons why he is part of the national academy and attracting interest from a number of League of Ireland clubs for the 2021 season.
The son of Paddy and Carol Reynolds of Doon, Westport, Conor was captain of the Mayo SL Under-12 side who won a national title in 2018 before captaining his school to the All-Ireland Futsal title the following year.
Only for Covid-19 in 2020, he would certainly have earned his first international cap, but that looks set to arrive sooner rather than later.

Volleyball
Ciara O’Neill
Mayo VC
THE Partry native is one of Mayo VC’s youngest players after joining the club as a 15 year-old novice.
However, three years later she was accelerated up the Division 1 Women’s team as a starter setter — a position that is very challenging, both physically and mentally.
Ciara continued to better herself by playing on both the underage team – a team that she captained – while training and playing with the senior side.
She has competed in various competitions outside of the National League matches and first got a taste for victory in a mixed-beginner tournament.
The 18 year-old went on to play as setter on a team that won a mixed tournament in which she competed against experienced senior players from various countries.
As well as this, she jumped at the chance to take on some of the Mayo senior Gaelic footballers in a friendly volleyball match, welcoming the unique opportunity last year.
Like all successful athletes, Ciara’s determination to step up to challenges and overcome them has propelled her forward into a more advanced player.
Her commitment and hard work will certainly open up opportunities to play at a higher level, with a potential call up to the international squad on the cards.

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