Back again on the 2 hour journey to Sligo for the first day of the National Cross-Country Championships – with the uneven age groups taking part along with seniors and juniors. Thankfully the predictions of snow for the weekend had melted away by the time Sunday arrived and the normal scattered Sligo showers didn’t dampen the occasion.


The main block of Craughwell athletes travelling on the bus were running slightly late and we arrived at 11am with an hour to go to race starts. The course was more or less the same as the one most of our athletes had run 2 weeks earlier in Sligo. It was an extremely tough course layout for the 150 or so athletes in each race – with a 15 to 20 metre wide race start making it very congested and the funnelling of the course down to a 5 metre path after less than 80 metres making it almost impossible for any athlete lined up at the back of the starting groups.

Hopes were high of a good Craughwell performance with a number of strong teams taking part – but anything can happen at National events, particularly with the course layout on this occasion.


U11 Girls Unlucky Not to Take a Club Medal
After the usual panic of sorting out numbers, pins, warm-ups, the U11 girls were called to the starting line. The team of Laura Porter, Orla McDaid, Sineád Gaffney, Sarah Molloy, Ailbhe Greaney and Claire Ryder were nervous but well focussed and eager to get going. Race officials were in top voice, giving strong verbal instruction to parents and coaches to GET OUT of the starting area!

Initial plans to take 2 athletes out of the team starting line and move them to the outside of the group where individuals start, were abandoned when race officials called groups of athletes to line up by province. The start line was extremely congested with 150 athletes squeezing into a small area.

Officials did their best given the tight confines of the area and the race got off. Craughwell athletes didn’t get off to the greatest start with only Laura looking in a good position in the top 30. Everyone else was well back in the large group. It was always going to be difficult for our 3 u10’s who started at the back of our team and as the course quickly narrowed to its 5 metre width, it made it almost impossible for runners outside the top 40 to make reasonable progress. Claire had the misfortune of losing her shoe in the earlier stages and wisely recovered it given the treacherous underfoot conditions and the countless number of steel spikes that were pounding into the ground all around her.

As the race progressed, the field started to stretch out a little. Laura was in the top 10 going into the hill but earlier exertions hit her hard going up the hill as other athletes started to gain ground – yet she still finished in an exceptionally high position of 24th and the 2nd Galway athlete home. Sineád and Orla were running together at this point, gobbling up the ground and other clubs’ athletes as they made their way up the placings, eventually putting in a sprint finish to outrun each other – with Orla narrowly shading it to finish in 34th position and Sineád claiming 35th.

This was a classy performance with three runners in the top 35 and being 2nd, 3rd and 4th Galway athletes to finish. The U10 runners had a lot of work to do to work up from the back of the field and on this course, it was too difficult to make progress from the back. On a different course, it would have been a very different result as Sarah, Ailbhe and Claire are all fine runners and most certainly will be competing for national honours in the U11s next year. Their finishing positions were Sarah 96th, Ailbhe 99th and Claire 135th.

The team has a fantastic finishing position as 4th club in Ireland, ahead of many city and town teams and missing out on the bronze medals by the small margin of 15 points – only 4 places per runner. The Connacht team took bronze medals with Laura and Orla featuring on the scorers, with the Galway team also taking bronze medals and Sineád joining Laura and Orla amongst the scorers.


U11 Boys Plough through the Opposition
No time was wasted by the officials in getting the U11 boys going next – starting immediately after the girls finished. We had our 2 brilliant teams from the Connacht finals in action here – but a different team mix this time to reflect the strongest six runners from the Connacht competition. Again, the funnel-like course was going to make it very difficult for the Craughwell runners starting at the rear of the amassed athletes.

The Craughwell athletes were Jack Raftery, Brendan Gallagher, James Greaney, PJ Kelly, Peter Treacy, Padraig Hannon, Patrick Prendergast, Cathal Coppinger, Nigel Kennedy, Conor Lally, Paul Fitzpatrick and Brendan Forde, with Conor Farrell as a substitute as we could only run 12 runners.

Craughwell’s front runners got off to a good start in this race, with Jack and Brendan G getting out early into the top 40 and James and PJ not far behind. As in the girls race, if you didn’t get off quickly it was very hard to make progress later and many of our athletes ran into this problem. But with 4 or 5 athletes well up there, we were running strongly. Going up the hill and into the finish, Jack and Brendan made great progress as the finish line neared, with Jack claiming 21st position and Brendan immediately behind him.

Eyes turned to where our next runners were coming in – James and PJ were running strongly up the hill, holding good positions. In the run in to the finish, PJ had enough left in the tank to outpace James and finish in 45th followed by James in 47th. Further down the line, Patrick put in a fantastic effort to finish in 58th position – having started towards the back of the field. The rough and tumble of the tight course suited him! Padraig came in next for Craughwell in 80th place, followed by Conor 93rd, Peter 100th, Cathal 111th, Paul 122nd, Brendan 126th and Nigel 128th.

These lads can be just as proud as those nearer the front – their starting position at the back of the field and the nature of this course easily cost them 30 or 40 places in the race. The experience of running at the top level will stand to them when they race again. As we waited for the race results, we were hopeful of a medal position and after about 45 minutes our hopes were fulfilled with the club taking the silver medals, the county taking bronze medals and Connacht taking gold medals in the provincial competition! A fantastic achievement and only the 2nd set of team cross-country medals that the club has ever won! Jack was a scorer on both the county and provincial teams while Brendan and James scored for the county team.


U13 Girls Get Difficult Start
Race officials didn’t do us any favours in the U13 girls’ race when lining up the teams. The Craughwell team and some other Connacht teams were not given a starting slot on the line at all. Normally, each team gets a position on the line and line up behind each other. Our team of Ashley McDonnell, Sarah Helebert, Laura Mitchell, Aoife Callanan, Noreen Murphy and Linda Porter were forced to line up at the back of the other runners.

Given the poor start, our girls had a fantastic race coming so so close to the medal positions that you could almost feel the set of club medals in your hands. The gods definitely seemed to be against us in this race, with Sarah getting knocked twice in the race and Aoife having her shoe almost knocked off in the early stages of the race.

Enthusiastically cheered on by sub Eimear Geoghegan, the team ran an outstanding race – coming within 4 tiny places of bronze medals.  Ashley put in an incredible position to take 16th place, in the process claiming a gold medal on the Connacht team and a bronze medal on the Galway team. Laura and Aoife were in next, finishing very strongly in 23rd and 47th and also helping the county team to bronze medals. Linda was the club team’s 4th scorer in 54th place with Noreen 77th and Sarah 98th.

Claiming 4th position in Ireland is a big achievement for the girls and undoubtedly with a fairer start and no mishaps, this team would definitely have medalled – possibly even have taken gold medals. It’s the second year in a row that the club have taken 4th position in these girls’ age group and very positive that we could come so close when we had no luck on the day. This team will certainly go places in the future.


U13 Boys Get Impossible Start
As bad and all as was the race start for the girls, the U13 boys race start was an officials nightmare and incredibly unfair to half the teams in the race. As the start time neared and adrenalin flowed, the starter could not get the teams to line up on the line, with some teams edging continually forwards.

On instructions from the starter, half the field moved backwards and as they did, he blow the whistle – allowing the other half a ten metre advantage. Extremely unfair to several teams – including all 3 Connacht teams who as a result all finished well down the team rankings.

Nevertheless, our team made the best of the situation with strong running from all 6 teams members, cheered on by subs Aidan Jennings and Ross Haverty. The team of Micheál Hannon, David Concannon, Tomás Keehan, Niall Rooney, David Farrell and Pádraic Tobin battled it out in the difficult conditions – having to contend with both the bad start and the narrow course making it very difficult to progress.

Niall put in a fantastic run to work himself up to 64th place overall – his first time leading the Craughwell team home and offering much promise for the future if the team had been allowed to compete on an equal footing. 

Niall was followed home by Micheál in 73rd, David C 74th, David  F 94th, Pádraic 102nd and Tomás 121st. You could easily knock off 40 places per runner when you look at where comparable athletes finished – that would have moved our team from 12th position up to 3rd – so these boys can be pleased with what they achieved in most difficult conditions.


Onto the Older Age Groups
Onto the older age groups, where Rachel Finnegan had a great race in the U15 girls 1500m to come home as the 2nd Connacht runner in 22nd position – an excellent position particularly as she was running out of her own age group. Her sister Sarah ran well in the U19 girls 3500m to finish in 51st place. The Senior Women’s race was up next and while Craughwell did not have a competitor, we had the next best thing with coach Josephine Gardiner competing with Co. Mayo.  Josephine ran an exceptional race, boosted by all those circuit training sessions in Craughwell (!), to finish as Mayo’s second scorer in 29th place and helping her county to silver medals in the B category.

Mark Davis was the final competitor for the club on the day in the Senior Men’s Inter-County race. This was Mark’s first time representing the county and he put in a fine performance, beating some county colleagues who he had never beaten before and finishing in 73rd position, with the county team finishing in 5th place overall.


We’re in the Top Three in Ireland!
To summarise the day’s performance - 1 silver team medal and 2 fourth places; the only Galway club to take a top 4 position; the only Connacht club to have more than 1 team in the top 4!

And when you break the results up across all of Ireland, only 2 other clubs managed to get 3 teams in the top 4 – Ferrybank (Waterford) with 4 teams and Dundrum South Dublin with 3 teams.

Both of these clubs are commonly regarded as the top juvenile clubs in the country – so Craughwell has joined an elite group based on these results. A fantastic achievement by everyone involved with Craughwell AC!

We look forward now to the Sunday 11th December where the even age groups are in action in Athlone. Again we will have strong teams in action and may make the top 5 in some age groups. And after that, we’ll be onto indoor competition with the Galway Indoor track and field taking place on Saturday 7th January in Nenagh.

 

Tuesday the 2nd. .