New UCD athletics track could be up and running by 2020

Planning application to be submitted next spring after anonymous €3m donation

The old UCD athletics track at Belfield in 2011. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Ten months after an anonymous €3 million donation took it off the waiting list there is now a clear timeline on the operation to rebuild the athletics track at UCD. It won’t be rushed and certainly not rash and the intention is to have it up and running by 2020.

It may not come in entirely on time to benefit student athletes preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but central to that €3m donation - the identity of the philanthropist still unknown - was that the new track be built to last: the money is enough for the building of it and also its maintenance for the next 20 years, and the immediate priority was to ensure the prime track location.

The new running track already had a designated site at the Clonskeagh end of the campus, in what is now termed the sports and recreation zone, put in place not long after the original track at the Belfield end was suddenly closed in November 2011.

That original track was also built to last and in fairness it did: first opened in June 1977 by then Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, costing £175,000 old Irish punts, it was the first tartan running track in the Republic, until its sad demise in recent years, blamed on fears for “health and safety” when effectively it was simply worn and torn.


The first stage in building the new track is its design: the tendering for that project was put out during the summer and while it will fit somewhere in the Clonskeagh site, issues such as exact track orientation still have to be decided. UCD is currently working on a new master plan for its sports and recreation zone, including an extension to the main sports centre, originally built 35 years ago, and this may also influence exactly where the track is laid.

Also being taken into account are factors such as sunlight and prevailing winds, the track likely to sit on a north-south axis, essentially running parallel to the Clonskeagh Road.

It was also agreed the eight-lane tartan-surface track would feature all in-field event facilities, such as long jump pit and hammer cage, and all approved for competition purposes by the IAAF, the governing body of world athletics. It has also been recommended to use the double-rubber track foundation, more suitable to training and long-term use, rather than the Mondo brand favoured by the more strictly competitive tracks.

Once the design team is agreed, a new planning application will be submitted in the spring of next year. After that it is estimated there will be a 19-month build period, some of which may be weather-dependent. A report in UCD Connections, the alumni magazine, also outlines the plan for the new track to become a “legacy project” and “central to our sporting vision for the future”.

After the original Belfield track closed, in 2011, the cost of rebuilding a new one was estimated to be around €1.6 million, “subject to funding becoming available”: only for six years it didn’t, and not long after that the track was partially ripped up to serve as a student car park.

The new Clonskeagh location however fits with the now sporting end of UCD, on that west side of the campus where Leinster Rugby also have their training pitches, and next to the Olympic-size swimming pool, the national hockey stadium (currently being planned for an up-grade), and the UCD Bowl.

The absence of an athletics track had been a particularly sore point, however, UCD having the largest student body in Ireland, some 32,000 people in all.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics