The club journeyed north today to Beleek, Ballina for day 1 of the Connacht cross country championships with the juvenile even age groups in action along with the junior and senior cross country.
Congratulations to Ballina AC on a very well run event over a tough course.
One of the highlights of the day was Paul Joyce's exceptional run to take the bronze medal in the U18 boys 6000m and also lead the Craughwell team to victory in the Junior Men's race.
The day kicked off with a fine performance by the Hughes sisters in the U12 age group to lead the Craughwell team to 4th place and qualify for the All-Irelands. Stepping up from the U11 age group, the younger Jennifer had an outstanding run to be the leading Craughwell team member as they entered the home straight, only for older sister Rachael to overtake with a strong finish – with Rachael taking 8th place overall and Jennifer taking 11th and both scoring as the 3rd and 4th runners on the Galway county team who took the silver medals. This was a fantastic performance from both girls in their first Conancht club championships. Catherine Noonan continued her fine run of cross country performances to take 27th place and also the 6th scoring place the Galway team. Catherine was followed by strong running from Éabha Leech in 43rd place, Clare Treacy in 51st and Leigha O’Boyle in 52nd.
The U12 boys followed this up with a great team result to take 3rd place, with Patrick Noonan leading the team home with individual 5th place and also scoring as the 2nd runner on the Galway team who took gold by a distance. Patrick was followed by a superb run by Sean Cannon who stepped up an age and finished 14th. Fine runs also from Sean Noonan in 21st, Darragh O’Connor 23rd, Cathal Walshe 29th and Kyle Moorhead 30th to seal the bronze medals for the Craughwell team.
In the U14 boys, the reigning All-Ireland champions demonstrated their strength when easily taking the gold medals despite the withdrawal of Brian Loughnane who developed a bad stitch during the race. Liam Moran led the 3000m race for long periods but had to settle for 4th place as the race ebbed and flowed in the closing 1500m.
James Cahalane came through strongly in the 2nd half of the race to take the individual silver medal as did Oisin Lyons who stepped up from the U13s and had a fantastic race in his first time at this distance to take 6th place. Matthew Barrett continued his return to form with a strong 8th place finish as did Ben Sharkey with 12th place finish and Brian McKermitt in 29th. The team won the gold easily with a score of 20 points and repeated this in the county event with James, Liam, Oisin and Matthew all scoring for the county.
Aoife Greene was the club’s sole representative in the U14 girls where she had perhaps her best race of the last 2 years. Running a well paced first half of the 3000m race, Aoife developed a stitch midway through but recovered to finish strongly in a fine 15th position. Older sister Ciara was the only representative from the club in the U16 4000m. Having attended the National Quadrathlon training squad session (horse riding, running, shooting and fencing) for the last 3 days, Ciara’s prerace strategy was to aim for a top twelve place to make the Connacht team. However that strategy went out the window early in the race as Ciara settled into 3rd place. As the race went on, fatigue from the 3 intensive days of quadrathlon crept in and Ciara slipped to 5th place, a position she held to the finish.
Next into the fray, the U16 boys team over the 4000m distance. The race got off to a speedy start with Jamie Spellman going straight to the front with North Sligo’s Cian McBride and leading a breakaway group which included Damien O’Boyle. As the race went on, Jamie and Cian pulled away and had a real ding-dong battle at the front as they pounded out the laps. Then disaster struck for Jamie around 2500m when he slipped and fell. The Sligo athlete used the opportunity to accelerate and as Jamie picked himself up a gap of 20m or more had opened. But Jamie put in a Trojan effort to slowly narrow the gap, so much so that in the closing 200m Jamie chased down the Sligo man to within 3 metres with McBride holding on for victory.
Damien O’Boyle had an outstanding run to finish in 6th place followed by GCH’s Pádraic Creaven. Oisin Doyle was next in for Craughwell with a strong run in spite of limited training to take 13th place, with Diarmuid Harvey having one of his best runs to date in 16th and Andrew O’Boyle taking 18th, another man who could pick up a lot of places by doing a little more training . The team took silver medals in the club competition, with North Sligo taking gold – but went one better when taking the gold medals in the inter-county competition.
Last team into action for the club, the U18 boys took the field along with the Junior Men. Our team were essentially competing in 2 races as the same time as both were over the 6k distance and we had entered in both. A strong start from Ballina’s Hugh Armstrong saw an early breakaway group comprising Armstrong, Sligo’s David Harper (formerly of Westport), Ballina’s Cian Mulrooney and Craughwell’s Conor Gillen and Paul Joyce. Keelan Ryan led the next group running a well-paced race.
As the race unwound, Conor and Paul stuck with the leaders and around the halfway mark, the group started to split a little with Paul really upping his game to move into 4th overall and 3rd U18. Paul held this position to the end, with Conor taking the next place in 5th place overall – both beating the highly regarded Westport athlete Con Doherty who finished close behind Conor.
Keelan was next in for Craughwell, taking 7th place with a fantastic performance particularly in the 2nd half of the race in spite of having to contend with stomach cramps early on in the race. Paul Fitzpatrick completed the scoring with a strong 11th place finish. Spare a thought for John Cormican who had to withdraw with a bad stitch or possible reoccurrence of the muscle tear which affected him in the Galway championships.
The team scored 27 points, tying with Sligo AC but losing out on gold by virtue of Sligo having a lower placed 4th scorer. But due to the vagaries of the entry system, Sligo hadn’t entered the junior men’s team event, so Craughwell claimed the team victory there.
It was the first time that the club have fielded a Junior Men’s team and it was particularly pleasing to come away with the Connacht title. An added bonus was that Paul took the individual silver and Conor the individual bronze in the junior race. If you trace the history of our Junior Men’s squad, you’ll see these men’s names featuring on many occasions in the juvenile age groups with Paul Joyce first competing in the Connacht’s as an U11 in 2005, Keelan as an U12 in 2007, Paul Fitzpatrick as an U13 in 2007 and Conor Gillen as an U13 in 2008. It’s a proud time for the club to see them still together and still challenging for major honours as they enter adulthood. Check out our historical performances here.
Full results of Sunday in Ballina are here.