The AAI Autumn Open Cross Country festival is the first major National Cross Country event of the year. Though national medals are not awarded, this popular event is an opportunity for top-class racing against the best in Ireland and abroad for significant prize-money and to see where people stand for the National Cross country a month later. In addition, the Masters race is a selection race for the prestigious five-nations British and Irish Masters Cross country in early November.
In a top-quality 7.5km Senior race, Craughwell AC’s William Fitzgerald was first Craughwell man home in a stunning 17th place overall. This was an outstanding performance from the Galway Cross Country Champion as he put his injury-riddled 2022 season well and truly behind him.
Next home for Craughwell was Patrick Nooonan in 28th place, followed by Jack Miskella in 40th. These were fantastic performances from both men and personal bests on the course.
Juniors on fire!
The Junior Men’s 6km was perhaps the highest quality race of the day. The Under 20 category is the strongest in Irish sport at the moment and competition will be fierce for one of the coveted six European Cross Country team slots at the Nationals in November. Seán Cotter led the Craughwell youths home in a stunning 4th place. Seán ran off the back of the race leaders all the way but had to ease up at one point as he felt he might blow up. He learned a lot from the race that he can bring to the rest of the season.
Seán was followed home by Oisín Davis in 18th place in his first race in a long time. Oisin worked well with good friend Patrick Noonan for the first three laps before forging home (Patrick had an extra lap to run). U17 Mathys Bocquet who has many more years to run in this category showed the future is bright with a stunning 25th place finish.
Masters International Qualifier
The masters cross country is a qualifier for the British and Irish Masters Cross country and thus is one of the main target races for veteran runners all over Ireland. I wasn’t too optimistic coming into this having had almost no training other than jogging in months with niggles and injuries. However I was contesting the M50 category for the first time so had relative youth on my side!! I wasn’t sure I could make the finish so I paced it conservatively. Myself and M45 Ger Hartnett from Tuam ran most of the race together and it felt very comfortable till about half way when the lack of fitness showed and I started to doubt if I could see it out! About that point I caught and latched on to my good friend and former international teammate Donal Leahy and we had a proper tactical battle to the end, with him pulling away on the uphills and me closing the gap on the flats.
In the end, I just pipped Donal on the sprint finish to come in 5th place, putting myself in a strong position for selection for the Irish team to compete against England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in Santry on 12th November. Selections to be announced in the coming days and hopefully we will both make the team but sure it was a good day out in either case!
Several of the pictures in this article came from Conor Gleeson Photography – head on over to his flickr to see them in full quality.