Athlete of the Week: Siofra Cleirigh; Women’s Track


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Villanova’s Siofra Cleirigh Buttner has dominated on the track. 

Mike Keeley

On Saturday, Jan. 28, senior Siofra Cleirigh Buttner finished first among collegiate runners in the Columbia Challenge women’s 800 meters at the Armory in New York, beating out runners from many of the nation’s top programs.

“It was a good season opener,” she said. “It was nice, I got into a pretty highly competitive 800 with a lot of professionals. It was a good experience. I really like the Armory for indoors. It’s quite intimate, so the energy and the atmosphere is contained and you can use that in your racing.”

In addition to earning the top finish among collegiate athletes, Buttner also finished an impressive seventh overall out of 53 runners, with only professional runners ahead of her. However, her focus on her competition is mainly focused on how it helps her improve as a runner.

“It was good to compete against those girls because obviously they’re quite fast,” she explained. “I’d raced a few of them back when they were still in college, and a few of them on the international level. But for me it was just more about running my race in terms of getting a good time for nationals and getting experience as well.”

As impressive as her achievements as a Wildcat are, Buttner stands out as much if not more on the international level and in her home country of Ireland. In 2016, Buttner won in the 800 meters at the 2016 Irish National Championships and was named the Athletics Ireland U23 Athlete of the Year.

“It’s always nice to go home and run,” she said, downplaying the achievement. “I was pretty confidant going into that race that that would be a good race to just run hard and get a national championship under my belt. It was a good way to start the summer in 2016.”

A year later in the summer of 2017 Buttner earned the opportunity to represent Ireland at the 2017 IAAF World Championships, also in the 800 meters. She emphasized how the more intense atmosphere of the international game will prepare her for her college races.

“I think that will really stand out to me this year as I move forward into indoors and outdoors, just how it’s kind of like a different ballgame,” she said. “In terms of the quality of athletes and learning to compete a few days after each other straight away. And I think that will really give me the confidence in my college races this year, just knowing that I’ve competed against a lot of professionals and on the international stage.”

Despite having competed on some of the biggest international stages in track & field, Buttner pointed a collegiate competition as one of her most meaningful.

Penn Relays is always big for Villanova, and I think that’s kind of transitioned into being very special for me,” she explained. “I’ve been on six winning teams at Penn Relays over three years, and the culture and tradition of that is really important for being successful at Villanova, collegiately, and probably internationally in the future.

Buttner also pointed out Penn Relays her sophomore year as a vital moment for her and for the Wildcats as a whole.

“My sophomore year winning the 4×1500 when I don’t think anyone outside our team thought that we would win,” she said. “That was a turning point because we were such a young team, and it definitely gave me the confidence that we were on the up.” 

As the Wildcats move into the heart of the track & field season, Buttner is focusing on implementing improvements in the mental side of her game.

“I’ve worked a lot on being confidant and knowing I can run with the best,” she said. “For me now it’s just about putting that into action in the race.”

Comparing the athletic culture in Ireland compared to the United States as it pertains to track & field, Buttner stressed the disparity in resources allocated to the sport in the two countries.

“Every high school in the states has a track,” she said. “There are maybe four tracks in County Dublin alone, and you have to pay into them. It’s a lot of running in fields and on the roads.”

This disparity in resources, along with the University’s history of Irish track athletes, was a big part of Buttner’s decision to choose Villanova. 

“That was definitely part of it, the more opportunities here,” she explained. “The tradition is also huge with the Irish Pipeline of Marcus O’Sullivan [’84], Eamonn Coghlan [’76], Ron Delaney [‘58], all those great Irish athletes, seeing them succeed was definitely a bit of inspiration for me to come here.”

Despite the difference in size, Buttner sees some similarities between Dublin and Philadelphia.

“It’s obviously a lot smaller,” she laughed. “I love Dublin, it’s a nice compact city where you can walk everywhere. Philly, I’m not too familiar with, but it’s similar in terms of a lot of historical buildings. It’s a nice city.”

Despite her self-proclaimed lack of familiarity, Buttner highlighted Reading Terminal Market and the Rocky Steps as a couple of her favorite spots in the city.

About Villanova, Buttner highlighted the school’s sense of community as the thing she loves most about the school.

“I think it’s a very tight-knit community,” she emphasized. “I have a lot of friends not on sports teams, so I like how close and familiar I’d be with a lot of people. Just kind of seeing someone you know and just stopping to talk to them.”

On campus academically, Buttner is a communications major with a criminology minor, however her two favorite classes she has taken are both outside those departments.

“I actually took a calligraphy class last semester, probably my favorite class since I was here,” she said. And then this semester I’m in Sports and Spirituality, which is very interesting and I’m enjoying that so far.”

Outside of class and track on campus, Buttner is co-president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, charged with helping forge a sense of community between all the University’s athletic teams.

“We go over team updates and keep other teams in the loop about what the student-athlete community is doing,” she explained.