Athlone IT was the venue for the Connacht Secondary Schools Track and Field on Wednesday. It was my first visit to the impressive new track there – it’s great to have another track on our doorstep (well almost on our doorstep, if it were this side of Loughrea it would be handier :-)). It’s a fantastic facility and a huge credit to Ciarán Ó Catháin and his colleagues at Athlone IT for their achievement in providing such a fine athletics facility. Time-wise, on a busy day it’s possibly faster to get from Craughwell to Athlone than to get to Dangan … unless like me, you miss the Athlone exit off the new stretch of M6 and end up in Moate :-(.
The only drawback to the new track was that for a spectator, it was difficult to get around the outside of the track – with a fence blocking off progress beyond the start of the 100m races and a very steep grassy hill making it very difficult to wander down the far side of the track where the long jumps are situated. But I am sure in time the folks at Athlone IT will address that too and the most important thing is that they have a top quality track.
After a sun-drenched Craughwell 5k the evening before, it was probably wistful thinking that we’d get two days in a row like that in the month of May – and so it turned out with a cloudy windy day sprinkled with the odd few drops of rain. Nothing too bad thankfully but not the best conditions for PB performances.
Craughwell AC had many qualifiers for these finals after a highly successful schools track and field in Dangan 2 weeks ago. The long jumpers were first into action with the minor girls up first. Claire Ryder and Sineád Gaffney (both representing the Pres Athenry) and Maireád McCan (Athenry VS) were in action in this grade. Claire struggled with her mark on her first two jumps – with two breaks, the 2nd one possibly a competition winning jump but a tiny break of 2cm. On her third attempt however Claire moved her start back a little and got a safe jump in from perhaps 30 or 40cm behind the break-line jumping 4.48m to take the silver medal. Maireád also struggled with her mark on the day, unusual for her in recent competitions. Perhaps it was the gusting windy conditions that affected our jumpers but it seemed to be a common theme for all of them on the day. Maireád jumped a strong 4.36m on her first jump and followed up with 4.41m on her 3rd attempt to take the bronze medal. Sineád jumped 4.02m on her first jump and had a huge jump of maybe 4.30 on her 3rd attempt but broke by about 5cm. Her 4.02m effort was good enough to take 4th place – so 3 out of 4 for the club in this grade!
In the junior girls’ long jump, Debi Kenny (Pres Athenry) was attempting to improve on her recently obtained PB but unfortunately the conditions mitigated against it today. On her first two jumps, Debi was a good distance behind the break line when she jumped, with 4.11 her best from those 2 efforts. Moving forwards for her final jump, she leapt into 4th place with a jump of 4.38m – a strong performance given the conditions and even more commendable given that two of the top three are National medal winners in long jump – Katie Hyland and Laura O’Dowd.
In the boys’ long jumps, Cormac Dillon (St Raphael’s Loughrea) was the only athlete from the club to record a long jump PB on the day – leaping 4.88m on his first attempt in the junior boys’ grade. PJ Kelly (Gort CS) had trouble with his starting mark in the windy conditions but jumped 4.06m on his 2nd and 3rd attempts.
In the triple jumps, I don’t have full details to hand on the results. Debi Kenny was in the junior girls’ event, Rachel Finnegan (Loughrea VS) in the intermediate girls and Kelly O’Donoghue (Pres Athenry) in the senior girls. The girls were jumping into the wind so performances were going to be down on their PBs. Debi jumped in the 8.80’s which was good given the conditions and qualified in 1st or 2nd place. I’m not sure of Rachel’s jump but think she qualified in the intermediate girls. Kelly jumped in the 8.80’s in the senior girls’ event to take the gold medal. Earlier in the day, Kelly was the club’s only shot putt competitor where she came in 4th place. We had 1 other triple jumper in action – Niall Rooney in the intermediate boys, but I don’t have the details and will update this article later.
In the 100m sprints, Tomás Keehan (Gort CS) and Maireád McCan were competing but I don’t have the results yet. Claire Ryder was in action in the 200m and ran strongly to take the gold medal, equalling her PB in an unofficial time of 28.6. I will add details later of any other sprinters and hurdlers in action.
The middle-distance races saw a strong performance from the club with Peadar Harvey (Col. an Eachreidh) racing to a new PB in the intermediate boys 800m an unofficial time of 2.05.2 to take the silver medal. Finn Stoneman (St. Enda’s) claimed the bronze medal in the junior boys 800m in a fast finish, while Katie O’Donoghue (Pres Athenry) did the same in the junior girls 800m in a possible PB – growing in confidence in every race. Ashley McDonnell (Pres Athenry) ran a fantastic race in the intermediate girls 800m to take the silver medal while Sophie Ralston (St Raphael’s) also finished strongly in the same race. Both Ashley and Katie are making tremendous strides in their 800m’s and both were feeling ill after recent races over this distance – hopefully something that will go away as their fitness increases.
Later in the day in the 1500m’s, Sineád Gaffney was in action in the minor girls, Paul Fitzpatrick (Pres Athenry) in the minor boys, Muireann Maloney (St Raphael’s) in the junior girls, Shannen Freaney (Pres Athenry) in the intermediate girls and David Concannon (Pres Athenry) in the intermediate boys. David put in a blistering finish to take 4th in his race, while Sineád ran a super race (knocking about 20 seconds off her PB) to take 4th in the minor girls and looking likely for a podium finish for a long time. Muireann finished in 5th or 6th place in a blanket finish in the junior girls in a time of 5.37.2, while Shannen knocked possibly more than 20 seconds off her PB in the intermediate girls 1500m. Star of the 1500’s however was Paul Fitzpatrick. Fitzie led the race in the early stages and then got pushed into the grass on one of the bends where he went over on his ankle badly – but soldiered on in the race, sticking with the leaders even though he had to be in intense pain and taking 4th place. By my watch, his time was 5.03.7 – a new PB in very difficult circumstances. After the race, he hobbled in a dazed condition back towards his school-mates – carrying his right foot as though it were broken. So straight into first aid for him where they bandaged it up. Hopefully it looked worse than it is.
When all of the above drama was unfolding, the high jump competitions were underway since noon and gave the most value for money as they lasted the whole day!!! Niall Rooney (Athenry VS) and Tomás Keehan (Gort CS) were first on the mats, with Tomás claiming the gold with a jump of 1.70m, coming incredibly close to a new PB of 1.75 and Niall settling for bronze having cleared 1.65 but just clipped 1.70 with his heels. In the intermediate girls’ event, Orla Ryan (Gort CS) leaped 1.40m to claim the bronze medal, unlucky not to get 1.45m. Sarah Helebert (Gort CS) was in the same event where I think she jumped 1.35m but it clashed with her long jump which made it difficult for her to do either of them with full focus.
In the junior girls’ high jump, Caoimhe Quill (Pres Athenry) took joint bronze along with Siobhan Gardiner (Pres Athenry) with jumps of 1.35m. Caoimhe almost got 1.40m which would have equalled her PB. The conditions were particularly difficult for high jumping due to the strong gusting winds, so Caoimhe can be pleased with her performance. A small consolation was that the wind was at the athletes back rather than in their faces. In the minor girls’ event, Maria McNamara (Pres Athenry) took the gold with a good jump of 1.45m but went out at the next height, not helped perhaps by having to run the 4x100m relay in the middle of the competition.
The most significant high jump performance of the day went to Cathriona Farrell (Athenry VS) who opened at 1.60m with a first-time clearance followed by 1.68m with a first-time clearance. Up to 1.73m then which is the standard for the European Youth Olympics – a standard which Cathriona already has from her indoor season in 2008 and 2009, but pressure on to achieve it again in the outdoor season as selectors will look at recent form when picking the team for the European Youths. Cathriona had a real good attempt at 1.73 on her first effort – but a particularly strong wind didn’t help matters and she clipped the bar on the way down. But she made no mistake on her 2nd attempt – soaring way over the bar to set a new Connacht record for this age group and also reset the qualification mark for the European Youths.
With a PB of 1.75 from the indoors last year, Cathriona elected to go to 1.76 for her next jump. Scattered rain drops started to fall, which didn't make things any easier! With two real good attempts, she actually got well above this height on both attempts but came down on the bar each time. On her third and final attempt, Cathriona put in tremendous power and speed to sail over the bar and … and … and … as she sailed past the bar, caught it with her heels to whip it off its support and onto the mat. So agonisingly close to a new PB – but it will come pretty soon as Cathriona was well over this height if her timing was slightly better. It was particularly impressive as the day was quite cold and as already mentioned very blustery.
Final events of the day were the relays and there were several teams in action with members of the club involved. Foremost was the Pres Athenry where a strong minor girls’ team featured 3 members of the club – Anna Lane, Maria McNamara and Claire Ryder. Having won the schools qualifier by a mile two weeks ago, the team didn’t disappoint and ran out easy winners by 15 or 20m – very impressive at this level of competition. The Pres repeated this victory in the junior girls 4x100m where Orla McDaid, Debi Kenny, Katie O’Donoghue and Siobhán Gardiner powered their way to victory by a tighter margin of 2m. And the Pres demonstrated that they have one of the best squads of athletes in the country when they took 4th place in the same age group with Caoimhe Quill leading the team. There were two other relays in action but I don’t have results to hand – Finn Stoneman with St Enda’s in the junior boys and Tomás Keehan and Ruairi Finnegan with Gort CS in the intermediate boys.
Final word for the Pres Athenry and their teacher Kathryn Casserly on a super performance on the day across a whole range of events and age groups. Their minor girls’ squad looked like they have won the Connacht Shield for their age group while the junior girls’ squad will be very close to winning the Shield in their age group also. We will have to wait for the official results later in the week to know this.