Aidan Conneely delivered another all-conquering sprint performance in the National finals of the Community Games at the weekend in Athlone IT. Easily winning his heat on Saturday and then his semi-final on Sunday, Aidan strolled to victory in the U12 100m final on Sunday afternoon. This was Aidan’s 3rd time taking a National medal in the Community Games 100m having won silver in the U12 100m last year and gold in the U10m 100m the previous year.
Aidan has an extremely bright future ahead of him, particularly when you consider that our World Championship and Olympic semi-finalist Paul Hession never medalled in the Community Games while Aidan is doing it routinely. If everything goes well for him, who knows what the future holds! Later on, Aidan anchored the Ardrahan 4x100m team to 4th place in their final – the team included club members Eddie Madden and Liam Forde, and to come 4th in the final was a fantastic achievement. Eddie’s leg speed is probably only a fraction slower than that of Aidan’s so when he develops an extra bit of power in his stride, he might be up there on National podiums too!
Niall Rooney added a bronze medal in the U16 boys’ high jump, leaping to a new PB of 1.70m and unlucky not to clear 1.75m – the height at which it was won. Niall’s competition took place Sunday morning – a nice and dry morning. Unfortunately that was not to be the case in the afternoon for the U16 girls’ high jump where Maria McNamara stepped up from U14 to compete in her favourite event. There was a lot of heavy rain during the lunchtime break but it clearly shortly before the 2pm start. Maria joined the competition at 1.30m, clearing it easily, had a slight mishap at 1.35m when she cleared it well but her legs came down on top of it, then cleared 1.40m and 1.45m on her first attempt to place her in 5th position. On her first attempt at 1.50m, the bar came down; 3 other jumpers cleared it on their first attempt.
Then the heavens opened. Or more like the heavens burst and every drop of rain that was ever up there came down on the 400m of Athlone tartan. Katie Hyland from Westport was in the midst of lining up her jump and had to abandon it as high jump officials and competitors, relay teams, spectators all raced for shelter. But shelter where, for there was none to be had on the open spaces of the track. So people just shivered under their sodden hoodies or waterproof raincoats as the rain pelted down and the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled. And people discovered that their bargain waterproof jackets were not so waterproof after all. The high jump mats were abandoned to soak up bucketfuls of rain – making it doubly uncomfortable for competitors when the competition later resumed.
After possibly a 45 minute break during the heaviest rain we’ve seen in a long time, the competition resumed. The relays were interfered with to a similar degree – with the U12 Ardrahan team the main victims of the downpour. While the rain had easier to a slight drizzle, the track was soaked at this stage – something which made the high jump bar 5 or 6cm more difficult! The 3 jumpers who had cleared it before the rain were at a double advantage. Katie Hyland had just 1 crack at 1.50m and knocked it before disappearing from the competition without taking her remaining attempts. Both Maria and a girl from Kilkenny City Harriers knocked 1.50m on their 2nd and 3rd attempts. Maria made a very good effort on her final attempt but just nicked the bar – finishing in a very creditable 5th place in atrocious weather conditions.
Others in action from the club included Brian Loughnane from Loughrea who made the semi-finals of the U10 boys 200m and Ruairi Finnegan who featured on the Ardrahan relay team who finished 8th in the final of the U16 boys 4x100m – unlucky not to make the top 4 due to a few delayed baton exchanges in the final.
The hotbed of athletics talent in Craughwell moved down the road to the townland of Ballywinna on this occasion – with no less than 5 athletes from Ballywinna featuring in the National finals. Maireád McCan took a splendid 5th place with a leap of 4.44m in the U14 girls’ long jump. Maireád had a very bad ankle injury in June while practising long jump, spraining her right ankle on takeoff and also tearing a ligament slightly. Having only just returned to light training this week Maireád put in a remarkable performance to take 5th place, despite feeling a pang of pain in her upper leg on each jump – finding the Athlone sand a little hard on the landing. Only for the injury, Maireád would have strolled to a gold medal as the competition was won at 4.65m and Maireád had jumped 4.85m to win the Galway Community Games. In fact, such is the club’s strength in long jump that either Claire Ryder or Maria McNamara would also have won gold based on their PBs from earlier in the summer!
Continuing Ireland’s best represented townland, Emma Byrne took 7th place in the U12 girls’ ball throw – with doubts expressed by watching fans that she should actually have been higher up with the possibility of a mistake on the measuring. And from further down the Ballywinna highstreet, Dylan Finn made the semi-final of the U10 boys’ hurdles with some fine sprinting amidst tough competition.
Completing the Ballywinna Brigade were the McDaid sisters Orla and Grainne from way over on the east side. Grainne was out of her age in the U12 girls 600m where she ran strongly in a very difficult heat which featured 3 of the girls who ultimately finished in the top 4 in the final. A savage first 200m which was ran in 35.8 by the pack of runners took its toll on Grainne with her pace falling to 40.9 and 48.9 for the remaining 200s. Grainne didn’t make the final – but it was great experience for next year for her. Orla ran the toughest race of them all to help Galway take 4th place in the U16 girls 7k marathon. Training had gone well for this race but we hadn’t quite reached the 7k distance – having moved up as far as 5k in recent weeks. 7k is probably a little long for this age group but it was a good challenge nonetheless. Regrettably, I didn’t time the race – but Orla ran superbly to finish in 20th place amongst the girls and helped her Galway team mates Kate Burke (7th) and Ruth O’Sullivan (14th) to 4th place overall in the team event.
So that wraps up another year of Community Games – plenty of excitement and the usual mix of highs and lows. As a coach, I always find it a competition of conflicts – my loyalty is to the club’s athletes and the Community Games pits them in opposition to each other, particularly in the jumping events. It’s a great event but a pity in a way that the top three don’t progress to All-Irelands.