Aaron Sexton: Dual-sport star ready to focus on rugby after leaving athletics
Ulster Academy prospect Aaron Sexton admits he was "gutted" to miss out on a medal in his final athletics race.
The 18-year-old came fourth in the 200m final at the European Under-20 Championships in Sweden last Saturday.
The race signalled the end of Sexton's glittering junior athletics career as the Bangor native opted to pursue a full-time rugby career.
Sexton, who plays across the back three, signed an Academy contract with Ulster in June.
Going into the Championships in Boras much was expected of Sexton, the fastest schoolboy in Irish athletics, who clocked the best qualifying time for the final but agonisingly missed out on a podium finish.
"Going in as favourite and coming out fourth in my last ever race, I was gutted," he said.
"It was a tough one to swallow but coming into pre-season means I haven't had too much time to dwell on it."
Last season Sexton scored seven tries in six games on his way to collecting the Ulster A player of the year award.
As his stock rose on both the track and the pitch, Sexton began to sense that he was reaching an impasse that would force him to give up one of the sports.
It was only when signing his first full-time contract with the province that he was forced to make the final decision.
"Athletics was such a big part of my life, my dad was my coach," he said.
"It was massive, it would be the only thing I would think about sometimes which is kind of sad when you think about it.
"But I've known for the guts of two years now that it was going to be rugby, it was just a question of for how long I could keep doing athletics."
'Do as much as you can for as long as you can'
In June Sexton broke the Irish Under-20 200m record at the All-Ireland Schools Championships with a time of 20.69 seconds, the seventh fastest of any Irishman over the distance.
Pace, unsurprisingly, is by Sexton's own admission his biggest weapon, and it is something that he has learned to channel effectively in both sports.
"I would recommend to any young kids to do as many sports as you can for as long as you can, the rewards you get from it are amazing," he said.
"Rugby and athletics are similar in that you've got to go to some dark places, but knowing the rewards that come from it make it all worth it.
"You've just got to be psychologically strong enough to get through it".
Ulster begin their campaign against Ospreys on 27 September, with several key players expected to be on international duty at the World Cup in Japan.
Sexton will be among a number of Academy players hoping that the absences will provide an opportunity to showcase their ability in the senior squad.