Rooney far and away McNeese’s top runner

By By Alex Hickey / American Press

It’s a long way from Tipperary. And Cork. And Dublin.

Yet McNeese State has become a regular stop for Irish distance runners, with a pipeline that extends across the Atlantic and more than 40 years back in time.

The first to make the journey, Fanahan McSweeney, accomplished the ultimate goal by competing for Ireland in the 1972 Summer Olympics.

But until now, no McNeese cross country runner, Irish or otherwise, has done what senior David Rooney is poised to do Saturday

— become an all-American.

With a top-40 finish at the NCAA national championships at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park in Louisville, Ky., Rooney will become the

first Cowboy to earn that distinction.

“It means a lot. I’ve been here five

years,” Rooney said. “All of my years here is leading up to this race.

I’ve been to nationals

twice and missed out on all-American twice. It’s disappointing.”

The odds are in Rooney’s favor to break

in to the top 40 in his third trip to nationals. He qualified second in

the South

Central Region with a time of 29 minutes, 41.4 seconds in the

10,000-meter race. He has the seventh-best time in the nation

going in.

“My goals are even higher than all-American,” Rooney said. “I’m aiming for top 10.”

He then added in his Irish lilt, “It’s really all or nuttin’ this Saturday. I’ll just give it my absolute best.”

Rooney’s previous career peak was in 2010, when he was part of a U-23 Irish team that won gold at the European Championships.

However, he was redshirted last fall, forcing him to put off his goal of reaching all-American status one more year.

That delay may work to his benefit. This year the nationals moved from Terre Haute, Ind. to Louisville, and Rooney is a big

fan of the new course.

“This course is a bit different,” said Rooney, who ran there in a pre-national meet last month. “It’s very fast. It’s exciting.”

Meeting his goals will certainly validate Rooney’s decision to pursue a collegiate running career far, far from home.

“Louisiana was a bit different,” Rooney

said. “I thought it would be a nice experience to be down South.

They’re very friendly

people down here. It’s worked out well. The main reason being here

is the weather. In Ireland, most of the year it’s raining.”

McNeese cross country coach Brendon Gilroy, himself one of the many Runnin’ Irish to come to McNeese in the last four decades,

said he had a couple of things working in his favor when landing Rooney.

One was the previously established pipeline, but the other was the fact Rooney was a raw talent. Until his final two years

of high school, Rooney was a Gaelic football player, not a runner.

“He wasn’t the most highly recruited athlete,” said Gilroy, who noted that Iona, Villanova, Providence and Arkansas are top

programs known for landing Irish runners. “He wasn’t running that long. A lot of coaches may have overlooked him. It was a

friend of mine that ran here that told me, ‘Man, you have to take a look at this kid.’”

Gilroy said though Rooney qualified for nationals as an individual, the competitive nature between past and present teammates

is what brought him to this level.

“When Joshua Sawe set foot on campus,

it kind of made Dave perk up to catch Joshua,” Gilroy said. “Then you

had Jarrett LeBlanc

nipping at his heels and Alex Bruce-Littlewood breaking his mile

indoor record last year. These guys have some pride. When

you start building on that, you get a little rivalry on the team.

Which is good when you keep it friendly. You can’t, to use

the expression of the kids, be hating on your teammates for

breaking your records. It just elevates the program as a whole.”

Sawe, from Kenya, transferred to

McNeese after winning the national junior college title and qualified

for Division I nationals

in 2009. Bruce-Littlewood and LeBlanc finished second and third

behind Rooney at this year’s Southland championships as the

Cowboys won the team title.

After this race, Rooney will still have the spring track season before attempting to go pro and qualify for Ireland in the

2016 Olympics.

“I’d like to give a couple years to running, because once it’s over it’s over,” he said. “I’d like to try and get in the next

Olympics if I get in the right situation.”

That is still a long way off.

For now, Rooney’s focus is on one thing — 10,000 more meters and a date with history that’s more than four decades in the

making.