Sport

Multi-eventer Finn O’Neill to continue his career in the United States

The Faughanvale teenager will join Rhasidat Adeleke at the University of Texas San Antonio

Finn O'Neill
Finn O'Neill Faughanvale's Finn O'Neill is to continue his athletics career in the US

ANOTHER talented Irish athlete is set to follow the edict “Go west, young man”. It has been announced by the University of Texas San Antonio that Finn O’Neill will be joining its programme later this year, joining Ireland’s Olympic sprint hopeful Rhasidat Adeleke.

Aaron Fox, director of track & field/cross country confirmed that he had signed the Faughanvale teenager, who will join at the beginning of the 24/25 season.

“We’re excited about signing Finn O’Neill and welcoming him to the Roadrunner family,” Fox said.

“He’s a talented and skilled athlete who has only scratched the surface of what he can accomplish in the multis. We can’t wait to help him reach all his academic and athletic goals here at UTSA.”

O’Neill was the winner last weekend of the national U20 men’s heptathlon title, coming out on top after two gruelling days of competition.

The Lifford-Strabane athlete amassed a meeting record score of 4908 points on his way to victory and in the process winning all bar one of his events. Arguably his strongest performances came in the pole vault, where he cleared four metres.

Last year, the Limavady Grammar School student, claimed the silver medal in the decathlon at the England U20 Championships in Manchester with a score of 6,764 points. He improved his season-best with a third place tally of 6,794 at the U20 Meeting Internacional de Arona de Pruebas Combinadas in Spain. In both competitions, he was competing a year young.

In 2022, he set the Irish U18 decathlon record with 6,838 points while winning the AAA of England championship in Bedford. He also struck gold that year at the Somerset Schools & County Championships with 6,586 points and was a qualifier for the European U18 Championships but had to pull out injured midway through the competition.

O’Neill’s high jump coach Wendy Phillips, a former Commonwealth Games competitor herself, welcomed the news with mixed emotions.

“I’ll miss him,” was her initial reaction. “But it’s best for his career. He’s been the top multi-eventer in his age group in the UK since he was 13 and will have the best of facilities in Texas. Here he has almost nothing here during the winter and has to travel miles even to get to Jordanstown. He’s a lovely young man, I’m definitely going to miss him, but I can see this is best for his career.”

Wendy’s views are echoed by Finn’s father Shane O’Neill, who was an outstanding footballer in his time and spent five years at Nottingham Forest before a knee injury brought his career to an abrupt end.

Shane and Finn were in the United States over Thanksgiving and visited a number of universities before plumping for UTSA.

“What decided it for us was that Aaron Fox was a decathlete himself and he brought four English multi-eventers out a few years ago and improved them all significantly,” said Shane.

“Wendy Phillips (high jump), Michael Curran and more lately Jim Alexander (pole vault) as well as the coaches at Lifford-Strabane have done a great job but Finn won’t be able to go much further unless he is training with a group of multi-eventers and has access to the best of facilities.”

In one of life’s coincidences, Finn will not be without family in Texas as his maternal great-aunt and her husband live just 30 minutes from the University. Both are sports fans and are elated that Finn will soon be joining them.

However, Finn’s great-uncle Steve Pema may have a change of sport in mind for the young Derry man pointing out how his physique and speed combined with his background in gaelic football and rugby would make him a more than useful addition to the football roster.

“Initially Finn was cautious about the move but now he is excited. I’ve told him not to have any regrets. If things don’t work out, he can always come home,” concluded Shane.