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Cheltenham-winning jockey Lisa O’Neill backed herself as a winner when she graduated on Wednesday from South East Technological University (SETU).

In a change of pace, Lisa O’Neill crossed the line with an MSc in Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology from SETU’s campus in Waterford – just miles from where she called time on her racing career at Tramore Racecourse in 2022.  

During what Lisa calls a “10-year break from education”, the Dubliner embarked on a fairytale journey as an amateur jockey. Away from the track, the rider became a household figure as a pundit on RTÉ and Racing TV, all while utilising her stature as an advocate for opening sporting opportunities for women. 

Ending an illustrious career

Like many other athletes, one of Lisa’s most daunting challenges was knowing when to call time on her sporting career. Lisa was no exception. At just 34, the Dubliner had decided to end an illustrious racing career that had brought 101 race victories, 142 rides in a single season, and most notably, a 2017 Cheltenham Festival win on crowd favourite Tiger Roll. With that chapter now closed, Lisa was eager to plot her next move. 

“I had experienced all the ups and downs of competition, the toll that the demands and expectations of being an athlete can take. That’s where I wanted to go”, says Lisa. Already equipped with a practical foundation in sports psychology, the former jockey attended Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art Design + Technology (IADT) where she completed a certificate in Applied Sports and Performance Psychology.

A place to gain a stronger understanding

On completion, Lisa moved on to SETU – a university she says was “extremely helpful” in every aspect of her studies. “It was a place that enabled me to achieve a stronger understanding of the knowledge, skills, and competencies required for a role in sports and exercise psychology.” 

SETU’s MSc in Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology programme provides students with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to work in enhancing sports performance, sports participation, and best practice at a variety of age and performance levels. Graduates, like Lisa, will carry with them the ability to further the psychological development of athletes, coaches, teachers, and other specialists. 

The former rider says that it was fascinating to build on her practical knowledge and learn the theories behind those seemingly instinctive moments in sport. “While having a practical understanding helped, it was great to be able to relate these theories to what I had experienced on the track in a competitive environment,” she said. 

With her proudest academic moment behind her – completing her thesis at SETU – Lisa’s next step is to become a fully accredited sports psychologist where she can work with individuals and teams to help achieve their optimal performance.