With fresh memories of last year’s debacle in Coleraine still festering like open wounds in people’s minds, the choice of Derry as the venue for yesterday’s National cross country was not a very popular one. Most clubs would have preferred a central venue which would have required a day-trip of 2 to 2.5 hours rather than a venue at an extremity of the country which requires an overnight stay.
Still, the view was that it would be organised perfectly (and by all accounts it was!) and be a pleasant experience after last year’s problems. But the weather had other ideas with the country plunged into Artic conditions from Saturday morning onwards that got progressively worse as the weekend wore on.
In an ideal world, the event would have been cancelled on Saturday morning rather than lives being put at risk by the terrible travel conditions. In an ideal world, we’d have withdrawn our athletes on the day of the event when we’d have seen how bad the weather was. But unfortunately because of the venue, some had travelled Friday, some early Saturday, some late Saturday – so it was not possible to make a group decision. Anyway, the event went ahead and Galway’s teams were decimated by the weather conditions – particularly the senior teams.
Such was the severity of the weather on the way up, some cars had close shaves in the icy conditions with 2 cars leaving the road at one point, but luckily no one was injured as they crawled through frozen Donegal. The first race of the day got underway amidst heavy snowfall with Dearbhaile Walshe and Aoife Greene having fine runs to finish in 51st and 71st place in the U12 girls 2000m, both scoring on the Galway team which took 5th place overall. This was a tough race for the girls in terrible conditions but one which will stand to them as both are fine runners with great prospects ahead of them.
In the U12 boys 2000m, the club team was weakened due to the terrible weather conditions that morning which prevented James Cahalane from travelling. It was a difficult blow for James who had come 2nd in the Connacht U12s and 5th in the Connacht U13s – but for a runner of James’ standard, there will be plenty more exciting race occasions in the future. For Matthew Barrett who placed 3rd in the Connacht U13s, the race was a baptism of fire (or snow?) at National level and will be great experience for Matthew who also has a great future ahead of him. Matthew placed 32nd, the third Galwayman over the line and 4th Connacht runner. Also in outstanding form, Liam Moran placed 47th with Brian Loughane hot on his heals in 49th, Mikey Bourke 62nd and Gearoid Treacy 94th. These performances was good enough for 6th place in the team scoring – not far from the medal podium at all.
The U14 girls 3000m saw strong performances from Ciara Greene and Sinead Treacy to take 52nd and 72nd place where they were representing Galway but unfortunately only 5 of the team were able to take part. The top performance from a Craughwell athlete on the day came from Finn Stoneman in the U16 boys 4000m. This age group is one of the strongest in Connacht with 2 or 3 athletes regularly featuring in the National medals in middle-distance races. Finn put in a terrific run to place 19th amidst a high-quality field and take the 3rd scoring place for the Connacht team.
In the senior men’s race, Craughwell’s Gerry Ryan and Peter O’Sullivan were travelling as part of a strong Galway team with realistic medal ambitions. The Donegal hills had its own plan unfortunately where the Athenry and GCH contingents got stranded in Ballybofey and had to abandon their aspirations of getting to Derry. It was a bad weekend too for GCH’s Gary Thornton. Gary has been quietly recording some super performances on the road recently and despite him not being tipped for silverware by the National media, Galwegians were quietly confident that the Galway city athlete would be in the shake-up for the medals. However, Derry airspace was closed to traffic with the result that Gary was stranded in Dublin. At least its not as bad as being stuck in Ballybofey with the rest of the Galway team! (no offence intended to either Ballybofey or the rest of the Galway team!) Interestingly, the two counties in which our athletes got stranded came 1st and 3rd in the senior mens race. Coincidence or what!
In the end, the Craughwell duo of Gerry and Peter were the county’s only representatives in the race where they placed very strongly in 23rd and 62nd – performance which would surely have brought honours to the county if a full team had competed.