Craughwell AC's best day out in its short history at a Connacht cross-country took place on 1 November at the Connacht Cross-Country in Ballinamore (that is to say, its best day ever up until then – the club seems to surpass its best performance every time it takes to the field these days).
Ballinamore was the venue for day 1 of the Connacht cross-country on Sunday last. A bright clear sky opened the day as parents and athletes arrived at the hall in Craughwell at 9am for the bus. The day got off to a bad start with the bus arriving 10 minutes late, thankfully not an omen for the rest of the day! But the driver made amends on the journey up, reaching Ballinamore in good time for around 11.45am. Everyone alighted at the community hall in Ballinamore where race numbers, programs and more importantly toilets were available. Then a short miles walk back to the cross-country course, leaving athletes and coaches with plenty of time to prepare for the races.
The course was well marked out – but very soft and marshy in places, with plenty of fresh evidence that cattle had recently departed the field! Pat Hannon and Teresa Helebert took charge of the U14s and older athletes for their tour of the course and warm-up routine, while Michael Tobin took the U12 teams. The course was heavy going – we were probably the first teams to jog/walk the course and even then, it was mucky – with clean runners and tracksuits well-coated in mud by the time we finished the warm-up lap, and a nice pattern of black dots sprayed across some of the athletes white tops. Lesson one of the day was not to wear your Sunday best to cross-country events! The U12s stuck manfully to their warm-up lap on instruction to “plough through the muck as we’re up here to win medals!”
Super U12 Girls
The time was fast approaching 1pm now as the weather changed to dull and overcast at this point, with rain looking likely. The U12 girls were first up for their 1000m. The Craughwell team of Linda Porter, Eimear Geoghegan, Laura Porter, Orla McDaid and Orla Ryan were all fired up as 1pm neared. They knew that they faced stiff competition – with Swinford, GCH and Ballinamore having taken the top 3 team positions in Ireland in last year’s U11 cross-country. There were upwards of 50 athletes in the race as they lined up on the start line. Then they were off! And almost immediately misfortune struck the Craughwell team, with Laura taking a bad tumble in the congested start, rolling a few times and spiking team-mate Orla M as she rolled. With strong spirits and determination, both Laura and Orla recovered quickly from this bad start to slowly move up the field.
Linda took up a strong position in the top 4 from the start, with Eimear and Orla R further back. Lap one and two stretched out the field and as they approached the final 100m, Linda was neck and neck at the front with Sive Brassil from Ballinasloe. The Ballinasloe runner just edged it in the end by a small margin. Eimear had made great progress at this point of the race moving up into top 10 around the 100m mark and finishing strongly in 6th place to give the team a great chance of featuring in the medals. However, our fate was in the hands of the rest of the team at this stage and strong running from Laura, Orla M and Orla R saw them finish in 15th, 18th and 30th positions. This was fantastic running – 4 runners in the top twenty, and in addition a top-class race from Orla R to finish half-way up the field (by far her best cross-country race and an indication of more to come!). Naturally we had to endure the wait until the end of all the races to know the team result – but it was worth waiting for as we finished 2nd with 41 points, just 2 behind Ballinamore and 16 ahead of All-Ireland champions Swinford.
Domination by the U12 Boys
The action continued immediately after the girls’ race with the U12 boys 1000m. Craughwell had 2 good teams in this race and the 12 boys were in form for a good run. The starter lined up the teams to go. We hadn’t told the Craughwell boys who was on the A or B teams and when the starter told them to line up behind each other, there was a bit of confusion. There was a lot of congestion at the left-hand end of the start line where the Craughwell boys were lined up. The starter moved teams up towards the right, leaving plenty of space on the left for Craughwell – over compensated in fact with the result that Craughwell had plenty of space and the best position on the start line (to the dissatisfaction of some of the other spectators).
The starter struggled to get the race going, with at least 3 false starts by some overly zealous athletes before we got a clean start. Luke Cormican took an early lead, sprinting out of the blocks and taking a lead of 7 or 8 metres. It was a great start by Luke but a little too fast for the distance and this told on him later in the race – but more experience of the pace over this distance and he will be right up there with the best. David Concannon held 2nd place at this point, with Padraic Tobin, Jack Raftery and Padraic Hannon all in top 10 in the early stages of the race. As the race progressed, we fell back a little with just David remaining in the leading bunch. As the final 100m approached, the race for gold was between 3 athletes, with a Ballinamore athlete finishing strongly to take gold and David Concannon holding off the 3rd place athlete to claim silver with a fast finish. Eyes then turned to the rest of Craughwell team. Jack had maintained a good position and held onto 9th place. David Farrell and Padraic Tobin ran a great race to take 15th and 16th positions. That was four of the A team in the top 16, surely good enough for medals. Then the strength and depth of the Craughwell U12s came through – with 5 athletes finishing in positions 19 to 23 (Paul Joyce, Ross Haverty, Eoin O’Connor, Jason Kennedy and Paul McGill) followed by Padraig Hannon in 29th place and Patrick Prendergast in 32nd place. This was a quality performance, with 9 athletes of the first 23 athletes being Craughwell – opening the incredible possibility of the B team also taking a medal. And sure enough when the scores were counted, Craughwell A took silver medals with a score of 42 points and Craughwell B took bronze with a score of 89 points, ahead of Ballinamore and Westport in 4th and 5th place. Another highlight of the day!
U14 Girls Take Gold
Next on the agenda were the U14 girls in the 1200m, with the team coming mainly from the U13 age group. Craughwell had 9 athletes running – unfortunately only 6 can make up a team, so Noreen Murphy, Sophie Ralston and Maeve Curley ran as individuals with the team being Rachel Finnegan, Rebecca and Sarah Helebert, Laura Mitchell, Ashley McDonnell and Aoife Callanan. This team were bidding to hold onto the Connacht title for Craughwell AC, having won it each year U11, U12 and U13 so far. Over 50 runners took to the field for the 1200m distance, with Rachel Finnegan going into the leading group from an early stage in the race. The rest of the Craughwell athletes were tightly bunched further back in the field but in a strong position for the team. As the race progressed, Craughwell held their positions well and entering the final 100m, Rachel was battling it out with a GCH athlete for the leading position. As the race wound down into the final sprint, a Sligo and Westport athlete came from behind to take the top 2 positions with Rachel holding on strongly to take 3rd position, well clear of her regular rival and National 800m champion Rachel Shaw who took 13th place in what was a very strong field of runners.
The Craughwell pack finished strongly down the field, with Ashley coming home in 15th place, followed by Laura in 16th, Rebecca in 18th, Aoife in 19th and Sarah in 20th. Six runners in the top twenty was a remarkable performance. Noreen finished a little further back in 27th, a promising performance for her own age group in 2 weeks time, with Sophie in 36th and Maeve in 39th, a very good performance by all 3 athletes considering the poor conditions and the high standard of the competition. When the results were announced later, Craughwell held onto their position as top girls team in this age group in Connacht with a team score of 52 points versus 58 points for GCH in 2nd place – making it 4 titles in a row in this age group.
U14 Boys Surprise the Opposition
Craughwell’s fifth and last team to compete on the day were the boys U14 team who were tackling the 2000m. Even though they had taken a medal in the Galway competition, Craughwell would have been considered rank outsiders in this race as we never had a strong enough group of older boys to be serious contenders for medals. But the current crop of boys, comprising both U13 s and U14 s, reset everyone’s opinions with a top-class performance to take the team silver ahead of Athenry and Ballina. Very impressive considering that 3 members of the Athenry team featured in the top 8 in Ireland three years ago.
David Porter ran the best race of his career to take 4th position and is improving with every race these days. He was followed in by Paul Concannon in 11th place, Micheál Hannon in 15th, Shane O’Halloran in 20th, Aidan Jennings in 22nd and Niall Rooney in 23rd. Jeffrey Simpson, running his first cross-country race, had a very creditable finish in 27th place in this age group. It augurs well for the U13 team with 4 of these 7 being U13s. Craughwell’s team score was 50 points, 8 ahead of Athenry in 3rd place and just 9 behind GCH who took the gold medals.
It was down to the last 2 runners of the day for Craughwell now, with Shane Concannon contesting the U16 3000m and Sarah Finnegan competing in the U18 3500m. Shane ran very strongly in the early laps of the U16 race to stay with the leading bunch. As the race progressed, he drifted back a little but finished strongly to take 7th place overall and in the process, earn himself a place on the Connacht team for the Celtic International Cross-Country early next year. In the U18 3500m, Sarah competed strongly against top quality opposition to take 8th place overall. Well done Shane and Sarah!
Overall, it was a tremendous performance by Craughwell – taking a total of 5 team medals (1 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze) and 3 individual medals (2 silver and 1 bronze). The closest any other club got to this was GCH with 3 team medals (2 gold and 1 silver) and 2 individual medals (both bronze). We look forward eagerly to the next day of the cross-country which takes place on Saturday, November 12th in Sligo Racecourse. We will have strong teams competing in the U11, U13 and U15 age groups and individuals in the older age groups. If you are travelling, please confirm as quickly as possible whether you are interested in seats on the bus. The bus will be filled on a first come/first served basis.