Athletics News

UCC: a Rebel college with a cause; JTG Feature

This is the second in a multi-part series giving you the lowdown on all things Varsity in Irish Athletics. The aim of this series is to provide athletes with a general idea of what is on offer in each of the main third level institutions, as well as what you need to do to get yourself a scholarship to one of these hallowed halls of education. This week, Ben Thistlewood put in the hard yards of research to tell us about his alma mater: UCC.

University College Cork

1) List of Facilities

Sonia O’Sullivan Athletics Track at the Mardyke, CIT Athletics Track: within 2 miles of each other. The UCC track is free and available to use whenever the Mardyke Arena is open, which is 07:00-22:00 Mon-Fri.

Mardyke Arena

Mardyke Arena

The “Farm” / Curraheen Road Sports Grounds
“We use this every weekend for our running sessions,” explains Thistlewood. “It’s over 55 acres (~10 rugby/GAA pitches worth) of manicured grass and is home to the various UCC clubs at our facilities, which are located about 4 miles from the main campus. There is a handy pedestrian-only walking/bicycling path that cuts through the estates and farmland and goes straight there. You can run a nice 2-mile loop on the grass around its perimeter. It is partially lit at night in the wintertime, so if it’s getting dark out you can still get a run in on the soft surface.”

Indoor track (straightaway)
Inside the Mardyke Arena, a 60m sprint lane of rubber track, just like the one outside. Also used for circuit workouts.

A beautiful, state-of-the-art facility that has basically anything a gym would need, and recently underwenr a significant expansion of the fitness areas. There is also a dedicated varsity weight room and a strength and conditioning coach is available. Plenty of treadmills and cross-trainers overlook the outdoor track, which is nice for those long sessions instead of staring at a wall. Also has a 25m pool in which you can do pool running (shudders at the thought…).

ucc gym

UCC Human Performance Laboratory
Our UCC exercise physiologist conducts free comprehensive fitness assessments (i.e. body composition, lactate threshold, VO2max, etc.) for all scholarship athletes.

2) What the Team has won in recent history

Well, our ladies just won the IUAA Cross Country Championships! In the past few years they have regularly been in the top three at IUAA Championship events across the board, but they have a particularly strong group of young runners coming through the club at the moment who will be around for years to come. Our men’s team has not been as successful in terms of trophies; however we have some great young talents, that in a few years’ time, should be contesting for titles.

3) What a Full Scholarship entails

Wide range of options – I won’t bog you down with the nitty gritty details, check the website for those – but basically starting from receiving a stipend of several hundred euro all the way up to the “all-inclusive” Quercus scholarships. Services include full assessment at the Human Performance Lab (see above). Full details at:

Phil Healy offers her view on what attracted her to UCC:

UCC Indoor Track

UCC Indoor Track

“Facilities are definitely a big attraction. Having the track within walking distance from college accommodation makes everything so much easier, compared to other colleges where they have a couple of buses to catch in order to get to the track. In the sprinting side of things, the indoor track is great, and without it I wouldn’t be able to do half my speed sessions because of the cold and wet weather outdoors. Obviously, financial support is good. There is also availability to get strength testing done to pick out weaknesses and then work on the areas with a designated S&C coach. Hydrotherapy is also available along with performance analysis. On the academic side, there is a huge variety of courses available. I’m on the QUERCAS academic scholarship as well as the support so I get more support with that aspect when I need to go travelling for competitions.”

4) Likely criteria to get a full scholarship

Basically, the gist from UCC’s website is as follows: “Applicants must demonstrate outstanding ability in their chosen sport and demonstrate an ability to compete at National or International level”. You can read the complete criteria on the website.

5) Training Schedule

It depends on how much you want to meet up outside the scheduled sessions – some UCC athletes meet up five or six days a week, others just do the group sessions. For the middle distance athletes, there are scheduled sessions on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Road Relay Men-UCC

Road Relay Men-UCC


6) Massage/ Physio Benefits

There is massage and Physio available in the Mardyke Arena, our gym facility, but we do have to pay for it.

7) Is there a Strength and Conditioning Coach available?

Yes, he can design and supervise individualised plans for athletes, and is available to provide coaching and help with exercises. Many of our athletes go into the gym between sessions.

8) Is there an onsite nutritionist?

Our exercise physiologist Trevor Woods helps us with any dietary questions and information we need.

The view of UCC student and international race walker Luke Hickey:

“Aside from the obvious financial benefits that are attached to scholarships, UCC has a terrific set-up in terms of facilities. The Mardyke Arena is a world-class centre for sport, well equipped to handle all types of activities. The areas I find most beneficial are the 400m outdoor track which I can use at any time, the hydrotherapy pool for recovery sessions, the strength and conditioning coaching provided by Jeff Gomez, which is available to me through the scholarship and has proved essential to my development since becoming a UCC student. Trevor Woods in the High Performance Lab also is a great benefit, offering terrific feedback and advice on all things sport. The sports department attempts to ensure the life of the athlete is as simplistic as possible, helping with any academic issues which arise when I am training or racing abroad. In my first year they went above and beyond and made it possible for me to sit college exams in China as I was away competing for Ireland. Assistance is also given by the sports department in terms of financial assistance for racing and training abroad which are essential parts of an athlete’s lifestyle and can be a burden, which is alleviated greatly by their support. Finally, one of the main draws to UCC for me was the college itself: great location and terrific course choices. I didn’t put down any other university on my CAO and I don’t regret it one bit.”

9) Are there many areas nearby to run/ do hill work?

There is no shortage of hills in Cork; you’d have more trouble trying to find flat ground. Luckily there are several great ones for training on within a couple minutes’ jog from both of the tracks, and the Farm, so we can combine hill and track work within the same session, and we do that sometimes.

10) Are there any specialist coaches in the area?

Yes, of course; the UCC club has coaches who have coached international-level athletes in the sprint, jump, throw, and distance events. Our athletes are welcome to train with the UCC group, which most do, or can stay with their current training group.

For more info, go to and

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Ronan Duggan

Ronan Duggan

Ronan Duggan is an athlete, coach, athletics fan and, most importantly, was once named Bandon AFC's under-12 Player of the Year. He was once a promising athlete but is now a promising coach, teacher and part-time athletics writer/broadcaster. While an 800m runner himself, Ronan has coached everything from pole vault to 10km with varying levels of bluffing. He has regularly been threatening to do something for years but is yet to deliver. He is regarded as our expert on the American running scene, though has yet, to prove his knowledge in this realm.

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