The National Juvenile Indoor Track & Field 2006 may well prove to be a watershed in the club's history. Never before had the club so many athletes taking part in the National Indoor finals and never before did we enjoy such success. This success is not just about medals won, but also the many fine performances by several of our athletes in making finals or finishing in top 5 or 6 in their event.
For once, our outstanding jumper Cathriona Farrell was overshadowed by another athlete from the club. Cathriona performed exceptionally well despite suffering from a heavy flu – winning double silver in the U15 high jump and long jump. She was narrowly beaten in the high jump by her serial rival Maria Harrington from Westport. It was possibly Maria's first time beating Cathriona – jumping 2 personal bests to win with a jump of 1.61m against Cathriona's 1.58m. On another day, with no flu leading into the competition, Cathriona will be back I'm sure. She showed exceptional toughness to make the return trip to Nenagh on Sunday to compete in the long jump, where she recorded her best jump since early June 2005 by jumping 5.05m to take the silver medal – despite feeling so bad the night before that she almost decided not to make the trip on Sunday. Only for a bad start in the 60m hurdles earlier on Sunday, it could have been a hat-trick of medals for Cathriona as she was very impressive in this event in Connacht, almost beating Rachel Shaw from Athenry who finished in 4th place in the National finals on this occasion.
The highlight of the weekend though has to be Paul McGill's National Record of 11 metres in the U13 Boys Shot Putt. Paul joined the club towards the end of the summer 2005. He threw the shot for the first time in December and immediately his potential was obvious. In the Galway Indoors in early January, he threw it 8.62m to take the gold medal and in the process beating last summer's National Outdoor Champion Peadar Gill from Inis Mór. Onto the Connacht finals in early February where again Paul took the gold with a throw of 9.77m. Fortune favours the brave and so it was with Paul one evening when his grand-dad was collecting him at the hall in Craughwell after athletics. I mentioned to his grand-dad that Paul had huge potential in the shot putt and that maybe if there was someone at home who could watch him when he practised, that I'd give him a shot to bring home. To which his grand-dad retorted "Well, I'm a former Ulster Schools shot putt champion myself so I can give him a hand!". You could not have asked for a better answer. The only drawback was that Paul's grand-dad was only around for 6 weeks, leaving 2 weeks before the National finals to go back up north. But that was plenty of time to help Paul with technique etc and it certainly paid off.
His main competition in the shot were 3 Leevale athletes who took 1, 2, 3 in this event in last year's indoor finals. The Leevale athletes probably had better technique than Paul given that they were much longer at this event – more than a year's head-start. But Paul's power and also the strength developed from throwing the shot 10 times every night for the last 8 weeks, told as the competition progressed – with 5 of his 6 throws all hitting above 10.31m. After the initial 3 throws, the top 8 were called out for an extra 3 throws. Paul was leading at this point with his 2nd throw of 10.81m. His next throw was his championship winning performance, a mighty 11 metres and smashing the national record by half a metre. On their final throws, 2 of the Leevale athletes executed almost perfect technique to throw 10.97m and 10.88m for 2nd and 3rd place.
Another highlight of the weekend was our sprinters, with 3 boys progressing from the heats to the sprint finals – a fine achievement. Brendan Gallagher made his long-awaited return to the fastest group of sprinters in the country with a fantastic 9.03 seconds in the U12 Boys 60m, taking 6th place in the final and only 0.07 seconds off 4th place. David Farrell and Tomás Keehan also made the final with fine performances, finishing 8th in times of 8.80 (David in U13 Boys) and 8.60 (Tomás in U14 Boys). David's top-class sprinting continued the following day, finished 6th (?) in the U13 Boys 60m Hurdles. Also progressing from the heats to the hurdles finals for the first time was Rachel Finnegan, who put in a top-notch performance in the heat to qualify in 2nd place and finishing in 8th place in the final. Older sister Sarah competed strongly in the U19 Girls 60m hurdles to take the silver medal in a time of 11.16. It was a brave performance by Sarah as there were only 2 competitors in the event with the other being the international athlete from Waterford, Kelly Proper who holds a number of national records.
On Sunday, it was our high jumpers turn to steal the limelight with some fantastic performances from several jumpers. With Cathriona having led the way on the previous day, Jack Raftery jumped to gold in the U12 Boys event with a jump of 1.25m. Jack was jumping with an injured knee – an injury which he picked up during the Connacht High Jump weeks earlier – this held him back a little as his PB was 1.36m in the Galway finals. No athlete cleared the next height of 1.30m and there was a brief anxious wait as the officials scanned the results page for the countback of knocked bars, before declaring Jack the winner! Moments earlier, Siobhán Gardiner was busy setting a new PB for herself of 1.27m in the U12 Girls high jump. It was down to 2 jumpers at that height and the bar went up to 1.30m. Siobhán made a big effort to clear it but it proved to be bridge too far and she had to settle for silver – a fantastic performance and Siobhán first individual medal at National level.
While that was our haul of medals from the high jump, we had some other fine high jump performances with both Tomás Keehan and Ashley McDonnell finishing 5th in the U14 events with jumps of 1.45m and 1.40m, David Farrell and Padraic Tobin finishing 6th and 8th in the U13 high jump with jumps of 1.30m and 1.25m, and Sarah Helebert finishing x in the U14 girls event with a jump of 1.30m. Ashley and Sarah also contested the hurdles earlier in the day, an event which is new to both of them. While they didn't progress beyond the heats on this occasion, it is an event in which they both have a natural aptitude and will be strong medal contenders with more practise.
In the U16 girls long jump, Leah Creaven was unlucky not to finished in the medals, taking 4th place with a jump of 4.74m, only 5 cm off bronze position. Leah's jumps were remarkably consistant, recording 6 jumps between 4.61m and 4.74m. It proved a little nerve-wracking for younger clubmate Sinead Gaffney on the day, with initial difficulty in hitting the jump board – but improving to record a good jump of 3.44m and taking 11th place in the U12 girls competition. Rachel Finnegan also made her mark in the U15 girls long jump, taking 8th place with a jump of 4.15m, with Sarah jumping well in the U19 girls long jump.
Final competitors of the weekend for Craughwell were Linda Porter in the U13 Girls 600m and the Hannon brothers, Sean and Micheál, competing in the U15 and U14 boys shot putt. Both boys were up against stiff competition and finished in 9th place, but a small improvement will take either brother well up the leadership board towards the medals. Linda hadn't the best of preparation for her 600m event, struggling with a heavy cold over the last few weeks and it told on her on the day. Regularly featuring in the top five at National level in her age group, it was not to be this time as a fast pace in the heat resulted in a stitch for Linda and she had to make do with a time of 1.58.65 outside the qualifying positions for the final. The positive side of things for Linda is that only a small improvement would see her take a medal in this event later in the year – with 1.52.1 taking the bronze medal in the indoor final. Clubmate and National 600m Champion, Ashley McDonnell ran a slower time than Linda in the same event in the indoors last year and went on to win the National Outdoor 600m in an incredible time of 1.44.50.
All in all, it was a fantastic weekend for the club in Nenagh and hopefully a building block towards continued success in the future.