Finish line in sight for UCD’s new athletics track

Final layering of the 400m track surface is increasingly weather dependent

Ten years exactly since the original site was deemed unsafe and in need of urgent repair, then ripped up in parts to serve as a car park, the finishing line at the new athletics track at University College Dublin (UCD) is within sight.

All that is standing in the way of its fabled reconstruction now is Mother Nature. A series of delays, mostly Covid-19-related, means the final layering of the 400m track surface – essentially the icing on the cake – is increasingly weather dependent: it also means a springtime opening date is most likely.

The blue-coloured top rubber (not to be confused with the red base rubber) is about one-third finished, and given the method of construction is best completed in dry conditions. Almost everything else – the floodlighting, the infield area, banking at either end – is ready and waiting for the 2022 track season.

That will be almost two years later than originally planned, and over a decade since the original track was suddenly closed in November 2011 due to “health and safety concerns” such was the deterioration of the running and jumping surface.


It’s also almost four years since the anonymous donation of €3 million was given to UCD, in January 2018, for the sole purpose of building the new track and then maintaining it for the next 20 years.

Production line

“Covid-19 was the big thing, shut us down on three occasions, and also shut down the production line in China, Germany and elsewhere,” says Dominic O’Keeffe, UCD director of student services and facilities. “Brexit hasn’t helped either in terms of getting certain supplies and some of the athletic equipment.

“And if it wasn’t Covid it was the production line linked to Covid. Like getting products in from China has been difficult. We would have ordered the blue surface material for delivery last March, and it arrived in the last week in September.

“We’ve about 140m of the track down, and we’re just caught with the weather a bit at the moment – it’s like putting down glue outdoors. You wouldn’t put down glue in rain and wind. We’re not getting a consistent run at the weather, and still about nine working days to get there.

“But we’re still on budget, it’s a 400m track, we have changed anything, didn’t move anything, it was well designed at the start by Henegen Peng, there’s been no variations or changes.”

The site comprises of 3.73 hectares located at the Sports Precinct of UCD, at the Richview/Clonskeagh end of the campus, the track laid as a double-rubber (sandwich) foundation, more suitable to training and long-term use rather than the Mondo brand (favoured by the more strictly competitive tracks).

This long-term absence of an athletics track has been a particularly sore point, especially with UCD having the largest student body in Ireland, some 30,000 people in all. Only now, rather than race to the finish, O’Keeffe is conscious of timing it right.

Big investment

“We don’t want to hit problems downstream, after the track is laid, if it’s not laid right. We’re trying to be careful, it’s a big investment, but in another four and a half weeks or so the contractor will have finished all the other exterior work, including the spectator area, and at that point we have a decision to make, to wait until March, line up it then when the track season starts to get going, aim for that window, finish it then.

“There is the option to bring in more marquees, put in heaters and ventilation, which is what they’re trying to do with the new running track in Birmingham, to finish that off in winter. That’s an option, but we’re in a good space, have a mock-up schedule of how it will be run, who will run it, and optimistic the athletics scene is growing here in UCD again, there’s huge enthusiasm there now.”

The Irish University Championships and an Irish Milers’ Club meeting are also being provisionally scheduled in at the new track for late April, and UCD is also looking to engage with Athletics Ireland on further use this summer.

Such was the affection for the original track the €3 million donation wasn’t entirely surprising, and while the identity of the philanthropist is still unknown the process of naming the new track is also under way.

O’Keeffe also confirmed the next stage of the Sports Precinct will be a new all-weather rugby pitch in left area behind the new running track, one of three that will all be floodlight, the tender for that going out early in the new year.