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Speedster Aaron is in running to make it to the very top

 

Special talent: Aaron Sexton in action for Ireland U18s
Special talent: Aaron Sexton in action for Ireland U18s
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

The glittering schoolboy athletics career of Aaron Sexton will come to an end in Tullamore today.

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Regardless of what happens at the Irish Life Health All Ireland Schools' Track and Field Championships, the Bangor Grammar pupil will leave behind a stellar legacy.

He won the 100m and 200m titles here a year ago, a performance that was already out of the ordinary.

Breaking a record that had stood for five years, Sexton set an Irish Schools record of 10.52 in the 100m. As recently as 1996, that time would have seen him dubbed the fastest Irish athlete ever. As it is, he has to make do with a mere 14th place on the list.

Later that day he completed the sprint double in the 200m and he'll defend both titles again today.

His form, as usual, is imperious.

Last month, at the Antrim Forum, he won Ulster Schools Athletics Championship gold in the Senior Boys 100m, his 10.49s breaking his own record, and later won the 200m with a time of 21.20 seconds.

After today's efforts, his A-Levels await, and the European Under-20s in Sweden next month may prove to be his ultimate swansong in athletics, but it's just the start of his journey into rugby.

Sexton, like his father Roger before him, who was also a promising athlete, has been a star of the Bangor Grammar team for the past two years.

His Danske Bank Schools' Cup journey was short and sweet this year, with Bangor losing heavily to Royal School Armagh in the fourth round, but he made quite the impression in his side's maiden victory of the campaign, scoring a try and creating two more in a derby win over Regent.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph that day, his coach David Kennedy spoke in glowing terms.

"He is outstanding," he said. "And he has a lovely attitude too, he's so positive and we feed off that."

By then, it was already evident that this was no ordinary schoolboy, not least because he'd already made his Ulster debut, that coming as a 17-year-old in a pre-season friendly with Gloucester last August.

After dropping into his old school later that year, Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey joked that it was easy to forget the player he'd trained with that summer was still a student until he saw him in uniform.

While that warm-up fixture is his only senior experience to date, there were more exploits in an Ulster jersey to come, starring for the second-string throughout their Celtic Cup campaign, scoring seven tries in six games against largely professional opposition and being named Ulster A Player of the Year at the side's awards dinner last month.

It's little wonder Ulster Academy coach Kieran Campbell has already spoken of his vast potential.

"The thing is trying to keep the feet on the ground with him," he said.

"He's the second highest try-scorer in the Celtic Cup this season with seven.

"He's definitely a talent, there's no doubt, and his speed is literally off the charts. It's been great to integrate with Bangor Grammar over his rugby development and they've been hugely supportive of us in putting him up early with the realisation that it's the best thing for him to accelerate him to the senior side."

A long career with the province beckons, while the immediate future will see him try his hand once again at Sevens with the national side, now of course a core side in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens World Series.

Meanwhile, Ulster have confirmed their two pre-season friendlies ahead of the 2018/19 campaign, both to be against Glasgow.

Kingspan Stadium will host the first of the ties on Saturday, September 7 (1.30pm), before the return fixture at Scotstoun Stadium a week later (Saturday September 14, 2.30pm).

The Guinness PRO14 is scheduled to start two weeks later, with the World Cup taking centre stage with Ireland's opening game on September 22.

The friendlies will see UIster get two early looks at the side who ended their season, the Warriors winning the recent PRO14 semi-final between the pair. Ulster have already confirmed five new signings for next season - Jack McGrath, Sam Carter, Matt Faddes, Gareth Milasinovich and Bill Johnson.

l Joe Marler is one of two English players named in the Barbarians' starting XV for Sunday's annual fixture against England at Twickenham.

Harlequins prop Marler makes his first appearance against the team he served over 59 caps until announcing his international retirement last year in order to spend more time with his family.

Gloucester's hard running inside centre Mark Atkinson honours the Barbarians' tradition of picking an uncapped player and he pairs up with New Zealand's Malakai Fekitoa in midfield.

"Playing for the Barbarians is huge for me," Marler said.

"I was talking to someone the other day and they asked 'what's the point in the Barbarians?'. But for me it still has an important place in professional rugby. It's even more important now to have it because everything is so intense, so pressurised and serious. You need to have an opportunity to enjoy rugby for the reasons you started playing for."

Barbarians: C Piutau (Bristol Bears & New Zealand); N Adeolokun (Connacht & Ireland), M Fekitoa (Toulon & New Zealand), M Atkinson (Gloucester), T Naiyaravoro (Northampton Saints & Australia); C Slade (Pau & New Zealand), R Webb (Toulon & Wales); J Marler (Harlequins & England), R Hibbard (Dragons & Wales), J Afoa (Bristol Bears & New Zealand), J Horwill (Harlequins & Australia, captain), C Vui (Bristol Bears & Samoa), S Luatua (Bristol Bears & New Zealand), F Louw (Bath & South Africa), V Mata (Edinburgh & Fiji).

Replacements: D Heffernan (Connacht & Ireland), P Schoeman (Edinburgh), F Bealham (Connacht & Ireland), F Isa (Toulon & Argentina), L Messam (Toulon & New Zealand), R Williams (Dragons & Wales), B James (Bordeaux Begles), F Nakosi (Toulon).

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