MAEVE O’Neill doesn’t need to look too far for role models.
The newly-crowned 2021 Celtic Ross Hotel West Cork Junior Sports Star is setting the pace for the next generation of talented, young athletes who are following in the footsteps of West Cork trailblazers like Irish record holders Phil Healy and Darragh McElhinney.
In recent weeks, Olympian and Ballineen woman Healy and Glengarriff native McElhinney both competed at the World Indoor Championships, while both are also recognised as two of the best in the business right now.
For up-and-coming local athletes like Doheny AC runner O’Neill, from Ballinacarriga, it’s important to see that West Cork athletes can compete at the highest level.
‘Athletics is so strong in West Cork, and Phil and Darragh are two people who I really look up to,’ O’Neill (17) says.
‘To see them challenging at the world level, it shows me that it can be done, that athletes from West Cork can compete with the very best – and we need to have role models like that.
‘Hopefully I’ll follow in their footsteps in the future.’
Both Healy and McElhinney won West Cork Sports Star monthly awards in 2021, so MICC Dunmanway student O’Neill was in good company at the awards night in the Celtic Ross Hotel last Friday.
‘It’s amazing to win this award, there is so much young sporting talent in West Cork and I’m so grateful to be selected and recognised,’ she says, and considering her achievements in 2021, it’s easy to understand why she was chosen as the winner of the junior award.
She represented Ireland at the 2021 European U20 Championships, set a new 800m PB, broke a 34-year-old 800m schools’ record held by the legendary Sonia O’Sullivan, won 800m gold at the national junior championships and won the 400m and 800m double at the All-Ireland U18 championships.
Already this year, in an encouraging indoor season, O’Neill won Irish 800m titles in both the National Junior Indoor Championships and the National Indoor Juvenile Championships. She is targeting qualification in her favourite 800m for the World Athletics U20 Championships in Columbia in August.
‘In the outdoor season I will try to get the qualifying time for the World U20s. It’s 2:05 and I have a lot of races to try and get that. I’m optimistic. My PB is 2:06, so there’s not too far to go,’ she says – and judging by the progress she has made in the last 18 months, don’t bet against her competing on the world stage later this summer.