Cathriona Farrell Sets New National Record
Many of the recent reports posted on the club’s juvenile news lead with “the club enjoyed its best ever day at …”. This line was never more appropriate than last weekend at the National Juvenile Track & Field Championships for U14-U19 age groups in Tullamore where 5 athletes made the winners podium, claiming 8 medals between them – with the highlight being Cathriona Farrell's new record in the high jump.
It was a super weekend for the club with 3 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals coming home. There were many highlights to the 2-day event.
Saturday – the medals start flowing in!
The competition got underway early on Saturday with the Walks. Maeve Curley was competing in the U15 girls’ 2k Walk and put in a fantastic effort to claim the silver medal just 10 seconds off the National record set in 1997. Sarah Helebert meanwhile was getting some good jumps in the U14 girls’ long jump. Sarah jumped very consistently and got 4 good jumps in – with the longest been 4.63m and just 3cm off her personal best (PB). Unfortunately it was not good enough to get into the medals on this occasion, finishing 6th overall – but great jumping nonetheless.
Cathriona Farrell followed in the U15 girls’ long jump, leaping 5.14m on her 2nd jump to move into the lead. After 3 jumps, the top 8 were selected for the final round of 3 extra jumps. Cathriona went close to improving her jump but was outdone on this occasion by a Donegal girl who jumped 5.15m and 5.19m on her last 2 jumps to take the gold, with Cathriona taking the silver. Super jumping by both of these girls and less than a metre from the National Senior record for Women’s Long Jump. Sarah Finnegan claimed the final medal of the day for the club in the U19 girls 400m hurdles. Trailing the leader in 2nd place coming into the home straight, Sarah was well positioned when the leader made a mistake on the 2nd last hurdle, clattering into it and hitting the track. As Sarah cut the distance to a couple of metres, the other athlete jumped up and set off again but didn’t have the momentum to clear the final hurdle cleanly and Sarah raced to victory by 1 metre.
Others in action on day one included Sean Moran in the U15 boys’ discus, Shane O’Halloran in the U15 boys 1500m, Niall Rooney in the U14 boys’ long jump and Tomás Keehan in the U14 boys 80m sprint. All competed enthusiastically, with Tomás making the sprint final and taking 5th place.
Best performance of day 1 for the club came from Rachel Finnegan in the U15 girl’s 1500m when she claimed her first individual track and field medal. As the race unfolded, the top 3 built a commanding lead on the rest of the group – moving clear by perhaps 30 metres or so as the race entered its last lap. Rachel was in this 2nd group, lying 7th or 8th in the overall race. As bell sounded as she passed the finish line for the final lap, Rachel put in a burst of speed to move to the front of this 2nd group but still some 30m from the leading three. Driving forward, she slowly ate into the distance down the back straight catching the 3rd place runner before the final bend – super running! Was she going to be able to hold that position? The effort expended to close a 30m gap might have been too much and she’d be overtaken in the final straight? Drawing on all her reserves, Rachel held both her pace and her place to take the bronze medal in a PB time of 5.05. A real gutsy performance and probably her best ever on the National stage.
Overall a great start to the National finals for the club.
Sunday – medals continue and a 26-year national record is broken!
Day 2 got underway on Sunday with the U14 girls’ high jump where Sarah Helebert was competing. The windy conditions made jumping difficult and Sarah went out at the 1.35m height.
Tomás Keehan and Niall Rooney then took to the tartan for the U14 boys’ high jump. Both struggled when the bar went to 1.35m – with Niall going out at this height and Tomás clearing it on his 2nd attempt. Focussing well when the bar went up, Tomás cleared 1.40m and 1.45m on his first attempt to put him into the last three. The bar went up to 1.50m and it took 2 attempts for Tomás to clear it – great jumping as the other 2 athletes also struggled at this height. Up to 1.55m – now higher that his PB of 1.53m from the Galway Championships this year. Each of the 3 athletes failed on their first attempt. Every time Tomás was running into his jump, he had to carefully avoid a shoe belonging to one of the other athletes that was used as a starting mark – but unfortunately interfering with Tomás’ run-up. So Tomás requested it be removed and replaced with a tape mark. The officials acceded to the request and with renewed confidence Tomás cleared the 1.55m height! As we watched with bated breath and fingers crossed to see if his competitors could do the same, both knocked the bar on their final attempts to leave Tomás in gold position. He had 3 attempts at 1.58m just to round off his day and came close to clearing it. Super jumping for Tomás and the third athlete from the club to win a high jump gold at National level.
Staying at the high jump, Cathriona Farrell was in action in the U15 girls’ event – an event which she had dominated the last 2 years but not as much this year as other athletes made big advances.
Relaxed as ever, Cathriona passed on the lower heights and came into the competition when the bar went to 1.45m, clearing it easily. She stayed in from this height when the bar went to 1.50m and 1.55m, giving us a minor scare when she knocked one of these heights on her first attempt. The competition was down to only 4 or 5 at this point – all top jumpers and including Maria Harrington from Westport and Mary Kate Lanigan from Kilkenny both of whom had taken high jump titles from Cathriona earlier in the year. The bar went up to 1.58m and Cathriona cleared it with inches to spare at her first attempt. The other athletes struggled with only the Kilkenny girl clearing this height. Up again to 1.61m and again, a perfect jump from Cathriona – with the other girl knocking the bar on her 3 attempts. So gold medal secured and armed with the knowledge that she had cleared 1.66m in Connacht, Cathriona decided to have an attempt at the National record of 1.67m. A 6cm increase in the height of the bar is a big increase at this point of the competition but it proved no barrier to Cathriona who sailed over it at her first attempt to set a new PB and a new National record for her age group – breaking the existing 26-year old record of 1.66m. Full of confidence, Cathriona and officials had a brief discussion and the bar went to 1.70m. This is an incredible height and just 3 cm from the qualifying mark for the World Youth Championships – an event for which Cathriona is still too young! She had 3 attempts at this height, almost clearing it on her 2nd and 3rd attempts with the bar coming down only as a result of her hand clipping it as she travelled over it. So super jumping by Cathriona and certainly the highlight of the weekend. Signicantly also, Cathriona's jump would have won any of the U16, U17, U18 or U19 girls high jump competitions on the day!
The long hurdles competitions were taking place at the same time at our high jump golds were landing, with Sarah and Rachel Finnegan both competing. In the U19 400m hurdles, Sarah ran a great race to come from 4th to 2nd place down the final straight and take the silver medal. In the U15 girls 250m hurdles, boosted by her medal in the 1500m on Saturday, Rachel ran a super race to finish in 4th place and just miss out on a second medal. Also in action, David Porter competed ably in the javelin but finished outside the medals, while Tomás Keehan ran in the 200m heats but didn't progress to the finals. Final medal of the day for the club came in the U19 girls triple where Sarah Finnegan came 2nd with a PB of 9.36. A very good day out for Sarah, taking home 3 individual medals.
So a super weekend for the club, possibly putting us close to or at the top of the Connacht clubs in the medal table. The club now looks forward to next weekend’s National Championships in Cork for younger juvenile athletes (U9-13) and the relay finals for all age groups.