US Scholarship Series: O Brother, what should we do? Part Two
In the second of a multi part series, we attempt to provide prospective student-athletes with an insight into the american scholarship system. Instead of speaking to athletes who have only been on scholarship in either America or Ireland, we will speak to athletes and coaches who have experience of both systems.
Br. John Dooley won the national senior 1500m title in 1972. He then got involved in schools athletics in the 1960s. Dooley, who attended St Johns University, New York returned to Ireland in 1988 and later became Principal in North Monastery, in Cork where he set up a PLC course which attracted many of the countries top distance runners. North Monastery CBS dominated the Senior Boys CC winning 10 Senior team titles from 1989-1998. Mark Carroll and Robert Heffernan are two of the school’s most famous past pupils. He now works as a liason for US Based athletes for Athletics Ireland.
How did you first get into running?
I always loved running. In primary school, we ran to and from school twice daily. In secondary we played hurling, I was built for “flight” rather than fight, so i excelled in the laps of the fields! My holidays were spent hunting rabbits in the hills of Templederry. When i joined the Christian brothers, hurling and football were my sporting outlets, but i did win the annual c.b cross country six years in a row. When I taught in Crumlin CBS primary school between 1965-1972 i coached hurling, football and athletics. Ciaran O Cathain (Athletics Ireland President), the Treacy brothers, Ronnie Carroll and Brian O Keeffe were part of these teams and ran with Phoenix Harriers.
What was your experience like in UCD?
I ran with UCD between 1969 and 1972. They were fun times as Michael McKern, Peter McDermott, Pat Cassidy and Sean McBride were my teammates.
What made you leave?
UCD A.C brought in a rule that to be eligible to compete in Inter-varsity athletics, a student athlete had to transfer to UCD’s BLE* club. As i had been many years with Dublin City Harriers I was not prepared to transfer. I “transferred” to Trinity for my H. Dip Year and ran for College and Club.
* BLE was the forerunner of Athletics Ireland.
How did you end up deciding on St.Johns University in Queens, New York?
In 1986 after 5 years as Principal of Colasite Eanna in Ballyroan where Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington were students, I was offered a sabbatical by the Christian brothers. I chose to study for an M.A in Youth Ministry in St Johns. I had met Head Coach Duffy Mahony on his visits to Ireland, and advised him to offer scholarships to Declan Kennedy (800m) – Dublin City Harriers and Geoffrey Sheehan(Short Hurdles) North Cork A.C. Duffy incorporated me into his coaching staff and for the next two years I observed the US NCAA system from the inside. I also traveled the length and breadth of the US with the team.
Did other Irish athletes coming over in the past, and their success, influence your decision to go stateside?
Yes, the success of Ronnie Delany, Donie Walsh, John Hartnett, Noel Carroll, Eamonn Coghlon, Sonia Sullivan etc. attracted me to the US System. In 1974 I was coaching Ray Flynn and advising John Treacy and Louis Kenny before they went to US colleges. I learned a lot from them despite no I.T in those days.
What was a typical day at American university in your time?
Similar to today. Classes for undergrads start at 8am, practice at 2:30pm. For grad students the classes did not start until the evenings. Morning work consisted of working as a Graduate Assistant doing research correcting, proctoring and teaching some freshman classes.
Note: Some of the brothers said my main job was to empty the professors waste paper baskets!!
How would you rate your time in the states?
As a most enriching experience. From 1986-1988 I lived with the brothers in All Hallows H.S in the Bronx. I studied under eminent professors, tutorials were stimulating because each of us 12-15 students had a voice. The coaches, track team and the many road trips to invitationals and championships were memorable. Whenever i was introduced as Ray Flynn’s high school coach I was most warmly welcomed. The melody still lingers on.
What are the advantages of an American University?
They are very student friendly. The competition is world class. Everything is structured to support the student athlete, both academically and athletically. Socially you have an international mix. If you have a problem with a class or subject e.g calculus or western civilization you will be provided with one to one tutoring.
What would you consider the down sides of the American system?
It is heavily results based i,e a scholarship costs the college 35-65000 per year. You are expected to score in the conference and by junior/ senior year to qualify for the NCAAs. You must also remain academically eligible. Some colleges over train/ race the athletes. If you get injured it can be a nightmare. Some student athletes go out unfit and ill-prepared. You are on a contract, you must deliver. Many colleges do not give scholarship student athletes the opportunity for work placement or work experience.
In your time at North Monastery, you were integral in shaping the careers of many young athletes and helping them get to the States. What attributes meant that an athlete could be successful in the states?
The attributes for success are the same wherever you are – honesty, a dream, discipline, commitment, embracing smart hard work. As Mark Carroll says “I am going to hurt and if you want to beat me you have to be prepared to hurt more than me”. If you are going to the states you must “buy in” to what they do. Remember the gospel says “you cannot serve two coaches”.
One of the main downsides is that many of the academic degrees are not recognized back here in Ireland. How off-putting is that for prospective student athletes?
It depends on the College and on the degree courses you take. It is wise to do a masters and get work experience before returning to Ireland. Remember, 7 of the top 10 universities worldwide are in the U.S. List of Ranking here
In April 2014 A.I. through CEO John Foley and High performance Director Kevin Ankrom asked me to accept the position of liaison person too our US based athletes and to prospective US scholarship athletes. Part of my brief is to give career advice to put US graduates in contact with one or more of the many successful Irish based US graduates.
Many athletes who are unsuccessful in the states tend to blame the High Intensity training they have done there, what would you recommend athletes do in preparation for training in America?
I favor a gap year after the leaving cert. this provides the opportunity to build up mileage, strength and conditioning, research the US opportunities via college websites, Trackbound USA, (very balanced and informative especially the interviews), prepare for S.A.T and study some of the subjects e.g. Driver Ed. Let it be like transition year, “do other things”, meet new people and go to new places.
How successful can Irish athletes be if they continue to choose Ireland over the American system?
As successful as they want to be, DCU and UCD set the standard here. Donie Walsh, Ian O Sullivan, Gerry Deegan, Paul McNamara and others are doing Trojan work with their colleges. The athlete’s clubs could do a lot more to support their college athletes. Transport is a major obstacle for some. (Congrats to Karl Griffin on your new Toyata Auris)
Finally, if an Irish athlete has the ability to attend any College in Ireland or America – on balance, which would you recommend as the better option?
It depends on the students athletes ability, personality and interests. My choice would be Harvard!