The first weekend of the National Juvenile Track & Field finals took place in Nenagh on Saturday and Sunday. As usual, it provided plenty of thrills and heartbreak as our athletes battled it out with the best in the country.
Aidan Conneely was the club’s star performer at the weekend with gold and silver medals in the long jump and 60m – but it was not the expected combination of medals based on provincial performances. We knew Aidan was up against it in the long jump with 5 or 6 outstanding long jumpers who had jumped further than Aidan in each region’s provincial finals. And we knew Aidan had the fastest time in all of the provincial finals in the 60m sprint.
The heats of the sprint took place Saturday morning and Aidan’s rocket-powered legs motored to a comfortable victory in the heats with Aidan even easing off in a Bolt-like manner in the final 10m. The long jump competition was scheduled next, before the sprint finals. Aidan’s first jump hit the right note, registering a PB of 4.42m. He increased this further on his 2nd attempt to 4.53m to lead going into the final round. Jumping last on his 6th attempt, Aidan already had the competition won but rounded off with a big PB of 4.61m on his final jump to claim the gold. It was a result we weren’t expecting due to the high standard of the other jumpers.
The sprint finals arrived about 90 minutes later and Aidan got off to a flying start in his sprint, motoring up the track 40m before an official finally managed to stop him as a false start had been sounded. Such was the speed of Aidan’s take-off, he was gone from the bunch of runners as officials successfully stopped them earlier. So unfortunately Aidan had to return to the start line and rerun the race with no recovery … something that definitely took its toll on his strength. Flying again as the starter sounded, Aidan raced to the line in breathtaking speed but so too did Paul Manning from Leinster. As Craughwell waited anxiously for the result of the photo-finish, it was awarded to the Leinster athlete by one-hundredth of a second. Aidan’s time of 8.26 was just 0.03s away from breaking the National record for this age group and he can be very proud of it. It’s a measure of his talent and ambition that he was disappointed with the result!
The U14 girls’ long jump provided another highly-charged event where Claire Ryder was seeking to win her 3rd individual long jump medal at National level and perhaps go 1 better than the 2 bronze medals she had from 2006 and 2007. On her first jump, Claire tore down the runway and took off just before the board to leap an incredible 4.43m – which if it had been on the board would have been 4.70+. Adjusting her mark forward by a few inches, Claire’s 2nd jump registered 4.21 and her takeoff was still behind the board. A further adjustment forward for her 3rd attempt, Claire had another big leap of 4.52m but again was marginally behind the board. All of these attempts were in fact PBs if they were measured from the take-off point. In 3rd place as the competition entered the final 3 jumps, Claire hit 4.52m again on her 4th jump – and again from behind the board.
A further few inches forward with the mark and Claire had a big 5th attempt but pulled up mid-air as something hurt in her leg. No injury thankfully but now in 4th place as one of the other jumpers jumped 4.56m on her 5th attempt. So with one final attempt at a big jump, we moved the mark forward again 2 inches to try to get onto the board and add that elusive few cm to regain 3rd place. Claire raced down the runway at full speed, hit the board for the first time, drove high up into the air and stretched to land. It was a truly outstanding jump – 5m in the opinion of several onlookers and one of the officials, but unfortunately an official announced BREAK loudly as Claire came back down to earth and into the sand!. This was heartbreaking for Claire (and all of her watching fans!) as she is one of the most hard-working and dedicated athletes in the club. 4.92m won the competition and 4.88m took 2nd with 4.56m 3rd. Her final jump would certainly have taken the gold medal – so desperately unlucky for Claire on this occasion but the outdoor track and field will give this super athlete another crack at a national medal.
I’m trying to figure out how to not write as long an article on our performances, but can’t I’m afraid!! Just too much to report on. So if you’re getting tired reading, just take a quick break and pretend when you come back that you are reading a different report :-).
Getting back to the sprint finals, Tara McNally had run 9.41 in the Connacht finals to finish in 3rd place. In the heats of the National finals, Tara ran 9.24 to qualify for the final as the 8th fastest finisher. So with a new PB achieved and nothing to be lost in the final, Tara got a lightening fast start in the final only to be yellow-carded for a false start. Never mind, as cool as a breeze Tara returned to the start line and when the signal sounded again, Tara exploded like a demon out of the starting position and tore up the track. No false start this time and Tara powered the whole way to the line to finish in what appeared to be a dead-heat for 1st place in a time of 8.95 – an incredible improvement. When the photo-finish was consulted Tara was awarded the bronze medal, only 0.06 from 1st place and 0.03 from 2nd place and 0.04 ahead of 4th place – an unbelievable incredible wonderful … add your own adjectives … performance!
In another break-taking performance in the sprints, Sinead Treacy knocked a huge chuck off her PB from the Connacht finals, almost dipping under 9 seconds for the first time in a time of 9.04. That’s almost a half-second faster than Sinead’s time a year and very encouraging, edging ever closer to Claire Ryder’s age group records. Claire recorded a time of 8.71 in her 60m which was just outside the qualifiers for the final. And in the long jumps, we had one other competitor at the weekend – Maireád McCann in the U15 girls. Unfortunately Maireád’s training was disrupted by illness since her huge PB of 4.63 in the Connachts. On her first two jumps, she was a little off her mark and was disappointed with the jumps. But her 3rd jump was on the board and a big one – hitting 4.55m. It was probably bigger than her Connacht jump if both had been measured from the take-off point. So no PB on this occasion but a good performance nevertheless.
In the high jump events, Ella Bryan was the first competitor for the club in the U14 girls and jumped exceptionally well to equal her PB of 1.45m and claim the silver medal. Ella only missed out on gold on count-back and has great potential in this event. At 1.40m, she got a bad knock off the bar and had 3 attempts to clear that height. She cleared 1.45m on her second attempt and make three huge efforts to go over 1.48m, with one in particular looking like it was clear but an ever so slight graze of the bar caused it to edge off its resting place and drop after Ella had landed. So elation at winning a silver medal and disappointment at having the gold in her hands if that 1.48 bar had stayed up. It was a great achievement for Ella as she has had to deal with a few injuries in the past year that meant having to take a break from training at different times. With an injury free summer, hopefully we will see Ella soaring to new heights!
Also in the jumps, Ellen Tracy despite been sick on the day put in a huge effort to leap 1.30m and claim the bronze medal. Ellen had first-time clearances all the way up to 1.30 but 1.35 proved a height too far on this occasion. Her excellent earlier jumping earned her the bronze as 3 other jumpers also cleared 1.30 but had a number of knocked bars. Ellen Fitzpatrick cleared 1.20 in the same event, just short of her Connacht PB of 1.25. Oisin McNally was unlucky in the U14 boys event to go out at 1.35m. After a fantastic clearance of 1.41m in the Connachts, it wasn’t his day on this occasion. On Sunday, Orla Ryan and Ross Haverty competed in the U16 high jump. Both jumped well but were unlucky to go out of the competition just below their PBs – clearing 1.40 and 1.50 respectively.
Back on the track, Linda Porter and David Concannon qualified from Saturday’s 1500m heats for Sunday’s finals. Linda ran comfortably to finish in 2nd place and automatically qualify for the final in a time of 5.29.40. David had a more difficult qualification route, coming through 4th in his heat but qualifying on fastest times with a real good time of 4.37.47. Peadar Harvey had the toughest 1500m heats, running a PB of 4.36.86 but finishing in 9th place overall just missing qualification for the final. In the finals on Sunday, Linda ran a strong opening lap to position herself nicely in the leading group. Amy O’Donoghue from Limerick was in the lead and slowly opened a widening gap on the field so the battle became one for silver and bronze in the chasing pack. GCH’s Michelle Maher was running an outstanding race at the front of the chasing pack, with Linda placed next. When the bell went for the final lap, Linda make her decisive move and overtook Michelle, as did Emily Milner from Kildare. Down the back straight, the Kildare runner put in a big spurt and managed to squeeze past Linda before the bend and held that gap to the line, with Linda crossing for a marvellous 3rd place in an indoor PB of 5.07.56. GCH’s Michelle Maher finished in 4th place in her best ever performance at National level in a time of 5.13.77. For Linda, this was a super achievement as a combination of circumstances and injury has restricted her training in the last few months.
Meanwhile David Concannon lined up for his 1500m final. As the starting signal sounded, a frantic pace was set in the first lap with David at the back of the pack but yet running a 32 second 200m. The pace slowed ever so slightly on the second lap with a 33 second lap … still an incredible pace and bordering on a 4 minute mile pace. The pace had to ease and so it did in subsequent laps, dropping to between 35 and 40 second laps. David was sticking to the pace at the back of the pack as the leaders started to pull away and open a gap. In 7th place as the bell sounded, David moved into 6th on the bend, sprinted hard to close a 10m gap and move into 5th place on the back-straight and somewhere found an extra Duracell battery on the home straight to put in an incredible sprint and take 4th place on the line in a club record of 4.26.18. To put this into perspective, this is a club senior record … not just a juvenile record … set at the age of 14 … by an athlete who does possibly 7 or 8 miles per week running … who is also an outstanding hurler … and is balancing hurling and athletics very successfully (that’s hurling, not hurdling!).
And onto the hurdles where Conor Duggan had squeezed through to the U13 finals in a time of 11.24. In the final, Conor raced to a very impressive PB of 10.85 to take a fantastic 6th place and also set a new club record in this age group. Great progress for this fine sprinter! Also in the hurdles, Rachel Finnegan just missed out on making the final, recorded a time of 10.08 in the U18 girls’ event. Rachel was also competing in the 300m which she completed in a fast 46.4 seconds and in the triple jump where she set a new PB and club record for the U18 age group of 9.43 to take 6th place.
And last but not least, our shot putters. Paul McGill set his customary high standards in the U16 boys event to throw it 12.14 on his first attempt. Paul came close to improving this on subsequent attempts but it remained as his best and took the silver medal. His brother Craig competed strongly in the U14 boys event to throw it 8.47m on his 2nd attempt to finish in 7th place. In the boy’s U12 event, Cathal O’Brien threw a new PB of 7.05m to make the last 8 and take 6th place overall – a fine performance. If there was a prize for the most improved athlete in the last 2 weeks, it would most certainly have gone to Siobhan Connolly in the U13 girls shot putt. Having qualified in 3rd place in the Connachts two weeks ago with a throw of 6.73m, Siobhan bettered this on each of her throws in the National finals, make the last 8 and threw it a huge 8.31m on her best attempt to take 7th place overall and in the process set a new club record in this age group.
So all in all, it was a super two days of sport. Every year, as the club gets stronger, we have more athletes competing in National track and field finals. And as a consequence every year brings a bigger slice of both elation and heartbreak as our athletes try to hit new personal bests and maybe a medal. The difference between a PB or not is miniscule and you're not going to hit one every day. As Shakespeare would say "PB or not PB, that is the question" :-). Even though we as coaches are not the ones out there competing and even though our athletes might feel on their own if they don't do as well as they hoped, believe me they're not on their own – our coaches are probably as nervous and emotional as our athletes but don't like to let on that they are!
Full results of the weekend are on Athletics Ireland website.