Sligo Racecourse was the venue for the 2nd day of the Connacht Cross-Country Championships recently where 46 Craughwell AC athletes took part on a tough, hilly course. Weather conditions were the poorest yet for a cross-country event this year, with several showers dampening the high spirits and making for difficult running conditions. Craughwell athletes had a hard act to follow having taken 5 team medals and 3 individual medals at the first day of the Connacht cross-country 2 weeks ago. But confidence was high amongst the club with some of the best athletes in Connacht on our teams!

We arrived at the course about an hour before the start of the first race – to be met by the first shower of the day as we tried to sort out the athletes’ numbers. This task was made more difficult for our club because of the large number of athletes taking part and because the names were not written on the numbers, leaving coaches to consult the single program made available to the club to match names to numbers. Before we realised it, we were only 25 minutes away from the start of the U11 race and still had to jog/walk the course and stretch. Off we set on this task, with poor reading of the course map leading Michael Tobin to jog the wrong course with the U11s and misadvise Pat Hannon to do the same thing with the U13 boys. Thankfully our athletes are smart enough not to let a coach’s eyesight prevent them from running top class races!


U11s Run the Toughest Course of the Day
First race up was the U11 girls 800m. Given the shortness of time, we hadn’t even done proper stretching before the race and the girls had to continue stretching in the line-up while they waited for the race to start. The U11s had the toughest course of all the races to run. Sligo racecourse is on the side of a long sloping hill and the finish for all races was pitched at the top of the hill. Unfortunately the race start for the U11s was at the bottom of the hill! For the older age groups, they had longer distances and thus got some downhill as well as uphill – but not so for the U11s.

 

Our A and B teams lined up and ‘Bang’, the race was off. Our team got a good start, with Laura Porter, Sinead Gaffney and Orla McDaid all getting out well in the early stages of the race. Strong running also from some of the younger members of the team put Ailbhe Greaney and Claire Ryder well up as the race progressed. As can often happen in congested race starts, a runner can take a tumble - and this race was no different with Sarah Molloy tumbling but bouncing up to put in an excellent race afterwards. The course narrowed, the runners spread out and the hill got      steeper as the finish approached. Laura tucked into the hill and ran strongly to finish in 5th position, followed by Sinead in 11th and Orla in 20th. That was 3 of the A team home, as eyes moved frantically through the steady stream of runners to pick out the next Craughwell runner.

Coming in strongly was Ailbhe and Claire in 25th and 30th positions – both on the B team on the day bringing the B team well up the team rankings. Sarah took the next position 31st to complete the A team’s score, followed by team-mates Caoimhe Quill in 40th and Siobhan Gardiner 41st – giving a team score of 67 points. Would it be good enough to qualify? We had to wait patiently (and painfully) for 2 hours to find out – with a loud cheer when we were called out at the bronze medal winners, easily clear of Ballinamore who finished with 97 points.

The B team, which was mainly an U10 team, put in a super performance to finish with 136 points ahead of 2 Sligo teams, with Ailbhe and Claire first in followed by Ella Bryan in 33rd, Eimear Kelly 48th and Gabrielle Tobin 57th. The high standard of this race was evidenced by the fact that Ballinamore, fielding 3 members of their 2004 U11 team who took All-Ireland bronze in cross-country, only finished in 4th place.


U11 Boys Raise Eyebrows
The U11 boys’ 800m was the next race off, with 2 teams again taking part for Craughwell. There was an incredibly high standard in this race, with 2 of the top 3 600m runners in Ireland in the summer track and field taking part – from Swinford and Ballinamore. Craughwell athletes got off to a strong start on the soft ground, which was getting softer as the day worsened! There was some super running from many of the Craughwell athletes – with 3 or 4 getting into the leading group from an early stage. Jack Raftery and Brendan Gallagher ran very strongly to head the Craughwell A team and going up the hill and into the chute, Jack took 5th spot followed by Brendan in 8th.

Next in was James Greaney who ran a great race to finish in 10th – his first cross-country run this year and giving a big lift to the Craughwell B team on the day. Next in, both confounding the team selection (which had been based on Galway finishing positions) and worrying us as to A team placings, was another runner from the B team – Peter Treacy, who ran probably his best ever cross-country race to finish in 14th position. Next Padraic Hannon for the A team in 18th place and PJ Kelly for the B team in 20th place, followed by Paul Joyce for the A team in 22nd and Patrick Prendergast for the B team in 23rd – a right mixture of the 2 teams! Craughwell AC’s fine performance in this race was completed by Nigel Kennedy 32nd, Cathal Coppinger 34th and Brendan Forde 44th. So 8 runners in the top 23 in the race, but A and B teams totally intermingled – normally good enough for gold, but would it take even a bronze in this top quality field.

We held our breaths when the results were been announced later – and then to the stunned silence of all other clubs, the announcement came 1st Craughwell A 53 points, 2nd Craughwell B 67 points. An incredible result, possibly never achieved by any club before but hopefully to be achieved again!


U13 Girls Take Bronze in Toughest Competition
The U13 girls were next up with the team of Ashley McDonnell, Aoife Callanan, Laura Mitchell, Noreen Murphy and Linda Porter. Eimear Geoghegan couldn’t travel due to a virus and Sarah Helebert was missing on foreign tours. This race was always going to be tough and the team would have to be in top form to take a medal – with strong competition from Mayo, Leitrim and Galway clubs. The 1000m race got off and our runners got into good positions in the early stages of the race. As the downhill stretch was navigated, the going got tougher up the hill and towards the finishing line. Ashley and Aoife finished strongly to take 8th and 9th position, followed by Laura in 13th, Linda in 19th and Noreen in 24th. 

 

A very strong team performance and surely good enough for a medal. Normally 4 runners in the top 20 would be good enough for gold or silver, but we weren’t taking account of very strong Castlebar and Ballinasloe teams. Castlebar took gold with an exceptionally low score of 27 points, with Ballinasloe in silver on 41 points and Craughwell in bronze on 49 points.  Well done to the Craughwell girls who are still in with an excellent chance of medalling in the All-Irelands.


U13 Boys Finish Strongly
The U13 boys’ race over 1200m was up next. Craughwell had 2 teams taking part. Again, the boys had the benefit of an early downhill section to get into their stride before they hit the difficult uphill. Going up the hill towards the finish, Micheál Hannon and David Concannon were well-positioned finishing strongly and taking 7th and 8th place. Niall Rooney put in his best performance yet, taking 10th place followed by Tomas Keehan who out-sprinted 10 or 15 athletes in the final 100m to take 17th position. Definitely more good things to come from both Niall and Tomas as their confidence grows over this distance. The A team placings were completed by U12 runners David Farrell in 23rd and Padraic Tobin in 24th – sealing a strong A team performance which saw them take the silver medals with a score of 42 points, only 8 places behind the winners GCH on 34 pts. The Craughwell B team also performed strongly, with Aidan Jennings 26th, Jeffery Simpson 30th, Jason Kennedy 33rd, Ross Haverty 34th, Eoin O’Connor 36th, Paul McGill 45th and Daniel Casserly 49th. Well done to all!


Good Individual Performances in Older Age Groups
In the older age groups, we didn’t have teams taking part but had some strong individual performances. In the U15 girls 1500m, Rachel Finnegan took 9th position, qualifying as a member of the Co. Galway team for the All-Irelands, while Sophie Ralston ran well to finish in 26th place. In the U15 boys 2000m, we were 1 short of having a team, with 3 athletes taking part. David Porter was running very well to the half-way stage but unfortunately developed a stitch and had to pull out of the race. Christopher Casserly and Shane O’Halloran both ran well to finish in 22nd and 25th positions. In the U19 girls’ race, Sarah Finnegan ran well to finish in 4th place.

Final competitor of the day was Mark Davis in the Novice Men’s 6k, deserted by his team-mates who choose not to run because of a 10k road race the following day. Mark ran extremely well to take the bronze medal in this event. Special mention also to Craughwell coach but Loughrea athlete Pat Hannon who competed strongly also in this race – putting the other absent Craughwell seniors to shame!

All in all, it was an extremely successful Connacht championship for Craughwell – with 10 teams qualifying for the All-Irelands, more than any other Connacht club. We eagerly look forward to the national finals in Sligo and Athlone on the 27th November and 11th December. To all our runners, well done and stay focussed and stay training! Some day soon we’re going to repeat our Connacht success on the All-Ireland stage!

 

Tuesday the 2nd. .