AN expert marksman from Rathkeale is making his name as one of the best clay pigeon shooters in the world after taking bronze at the European championships.
Nineteen-year-old Ian O’Sullivan equalled the Irish record in hitting 122 of a total of 125 targets at the competition in Slovenia recently.
It is just the latest success for a young man who is fast establishing himself as one to watch in his chosen sport.
Clay pigeon – or trap –shooting involves hitting a 3.8cm by 10cm target that can come flying out of any one of 15 hidden bunkers in front of the shooter.
While it is a minority sport in Ireland, Ian comes from a long line of shooters. His grandfather Willie and dad Brian have achieved success at international level, but Ian’s achievements to date surpass even these. Last September, he won the Junior Men’s Trap event at the World Championships and also has a host of other national and international titles to his name.
He now has his sights set on a place in the Olympics, if not in 2016, then certainly in 2020.
Whether he is selected for next year’s games in Rio will depend on whether he is granted a wildcard entry by the Olympic Council of Ireland.
“If there was a wildcard, I would like the opportunity to go,” said Ian, who is in his third year of a business and sport management degree in LIT.
“112 would be the minimum qualifying standards. I shot 122. That is the highest score that has been shot by an Irish person in the last 12 months,” he pointed out.
“If you shot 122 in any shoot anywhere in the world you would be guaranteed to make the final,” he added.
Ian’s growing reputation in the world of competitive shooting is underlined by the fact that Beretta - one of the world’s biggest gun makers - has agreed to sponsor his gun for two years. Previously, only two people in Ireland and England got this type of sponsorship from the company.
However, like any athlete competing in a minority sport, funding remains a constant problem. Aside from the cost of guns, cartridges and other equipment, Ian must also fund his own travel to competitions all over the world. “I would have seven or eight trips every years and a lot of the competitions would be held in Eastern Europe,” he explains.
While he receives some funding from the Sports Council, making ends meet is a constant challenge. As well as attending international events, Ian travels once a week to shooting ranges in Knocknagoshel or Mullingar to train, as well as taking part in competitions most weekends.
By contrast, many of the competitors he faces in international competitions are effectively full time athletes, being employed by their countries’ armed forces, police or other state agencies.
This weekend will see Ian compete in the Home International against the best shooters from throughout Britain and Ireland where he will be aiming to bring more silverware back to Rathkeale - and maybe move one step close to his dream of representing his country at the Olympics.