Fresh from 800m PBs in the Connacht finals in June, Linda Porter and Orla McDaid were showing fantastic form in training these past 2 weeks and both were confident of new PBs in the National finals of the 800m. The standard of 800m at National level is exceptionally high in both of these age groups U14 and U15 so the girls’ races were guaranteed to be tough.
In the U14 girls, Elizabeth Carr from Mullingar and Laura O’Dowd from Leitrim were the pre-race favourites. Orla’s target was to make the top 8 and get a PB – something which was well within her capability having made fantastic improvements over the distance this year.
In the U15 girls, Amy O’Donoghue from Clare was the strong favourite having run under 2.20 in the Irish Schools 800m, with Ulster champion Iona Macey-Lillie also hotly tipped for success.
And in action in the U16 boys 800m, Ruairi Finnegan was hoping to build on his outstanding PB from the Irish Schools 800m against a very high quality field.
The U14 girls 800m kicked off on time and Orla ran very strongly in the first lap to be hanging just a few metres off the leading group at the 300m mark and less than 8m behind Carr who led from gun to tape. There was a fair amount of shoving and elbowing in this race as the athletes rounded the 2nd bend – a new experience for Orla as this was her first National final. As the bell went for the final lap and the pace accelerated a little, disaster struck Orla as her leg went from under her on the bend and she had to withdraw from the race.
She limped slowly back towards the finish, with a knee injury from 2007 having flared up again. Three hours and a few ice-packs later, Orla was a little better but still limping significantly. Hopefully the injury is not as bad as that in 2007 which put Orla out for 6 months. She was all on for a PB in this race and possibly a club record in this age group which is held by Linda Porter with 2.31.16. There was disappointment also for Ruairi Finnegan in his race where the early pace took its toll and Ruairi finished in a time of 2.21.98.
The U15 girls’ race turned out to be an extraordinary race. We all knew it was going to take a superhuman effort to take a medal such was the quality of the field. In an inside lane at the gun, Linda reached the break-line towards the back of the group. Making some progress up the 2 straights, Linda was placed 8th or 9th as the bell went for the final lap. Not looking good. The pace accelerated and Linda hung on. Up the back straight and final bend. Still lying 6th or 7th and with the leaders accelerating all the time, it didn’t look good for Linda.
Passing the 6th place runner on the final bend, Linda was possibly 15m off the pace of the leaders. Amy O’Donoghue was leading, with Claire Brennan from Dublin in 2nd and local athlete Iona Macey-Lillie in 3rd. Passing Ashling Darcy from Ennis as she motored up the home straight, Linda was flying now – but was it too late. Passing another athlete, Linda moved up into 4th place but was still 2 or 3m behind 3rd and rapidly running out of track. Summoning every once of energy, she pushed on with the gap closing, closing, closing, line approaching, approaching, approaching, closing, closing …. right on the line it looked like Linda had caught her.
Quick conference with Thomas Porter and with Nadine Rainey’s dad from Swinford (who was also in this race and who also ran a fantastic PB), we assured ourselves of Linda’s medal. Quick dash around to the finish line to congratulate Linda, the athletes were already been invited up onto the medal podium … but no Linda amongst them. A distraught Linda was standing near the finish line. Everyone except the finishing judges seemed to think she had got the bronze medal. We had to wait for the photo-finish to confirm the result. After a long wait, the photo-finish confirmed what we prayed and hoped for … that Linda had got the bronze medal by a foot. In fairness to the finishing judges, Linda was partially obscured from their view by the 4th placed athlete dipping for the line. Linda’s time of 2.22.60 is yet another club record for women’s 800m following on from her previous record of 2.25.03 in the Connachts.
We had 3 other athletes in action on the track – Kelly Harte and Rachel Finnegan in the U13 girls sprint hurdles and U17 girls 300m hurdles. Both ran well but didn’t progress beyond the heats on this occasion.
Last medal to mention, but by no means the least, was Maeve Curley’s outstanding performance in the U17 girls 3000m walk. Maeve put in a powerful display of race walking to claim the bronze medal and knocking over 23 seconds off her PB with a time of 15.42.0.