With the whole nation consumed by our all-conquering Gaelic Games, our guilty pleasure of the ‘foreign sports’ of soccer and rugby, and the bandwagon machine that is Conor McGregor, it’s easy to forget that our country has athletes competing internationally in a vast array of sports far beyond the aforementioned few. With the rich tapestry of sporting infrastructure here at UCD, we are blessed to be able to support these athletes, giving them a platform to continue their progress both on the field (or court, or pool, or table) and in the classroom. We here at The College Tribune feel it’s high time that these athletes received the exposure that their talents surely warrant, and with Charlie Fitzgerald, we begin our new fortnightly feature of ‘UCD Sports Star of The Week’.

For Charlie, the past few years have been something of a whirlwind. Whether it was flying the flag for Ireland at the European Youth Championships in 2016, representing Blackrock College at two World School Championships, or winning several Irish ranking tournaments at youth level, he has barely had time to come up for air. Thankfully, Charlie agreed to take the time to answer a few of our questions this week about what it takes to make it in Table Tennis, and how he will manage to juggle sporting success with attaining a degree.

So Charlie, the question on everyone’s lips: How did you get into the sport of Table Tennis?

I actually only got into the sport in my first year in secondary school in Blackrock College, I just happened to sign up and it took off from there really.

What is the typical week in the life of an elite table tennis player?

A typical week during the season would entail 4-5 two hour training sessions on the table prior to a tournament at the weekend. A tournament could range from one day of play, or for a big tournament like The European Championships it could last for a week. In addition, extra fitness work is necessary to play at a high level.  Being in UCD as part of a great team and club will allow me to avail of the state-of-the-art gyms, while learning from experienced coaches to improve that side of my development as a player.

What has been the highlight of your time in the sport so far?

Going to Israel with my school to compete in the world schools championships was pretty special. To play against such quality opposition but also to see such an interesting place was great.

What does being a sports scholar at UCD entail? And how do you manage to balance your busy sports schedule with coursework?

Being a sports scholar is great in that it gives me access to the gyms and pools, with the added benefit of academic flexibility. I’m studying Social Science, and balancing study with training is never easy, but the more flexible college hours will suit me in my opinion. In addition, the scholarship will give me the opportunity to work with players here who have won 18 inter-varsities in a row. Practicing with players of this calibre and being part of a good squad will definitely aid my development.

Finally, what are your ambitions in the sport? Will we be seeing you at Tokyo 2020?

Olympics is obviously any athlete’s pinnacle event, but it won’t be easy because of the level of opposition and the number of qualification spots. That said, future Olympics could be in store for what is a young, ambitious Irish team. For me, a more focused and short-term ambition is to break into the senior Irish squad properly now that I’m transitioning from junior level and playing in World Senior and European Championships.

Charlie is a member of UCD Table Tennis, one of many competitive sports teams present at last week’s Sports Expo. For more information about Table Tennis at UCD, visit their Facebook page, or email tabletennis@ucd.ie.

Chris Foley – Sports Editor