“And They’re Off!” Craughwell’s Juveniles Perform Heroically in Kilbeggan

“And They’re Off!” Craughwell’s Juveniles Perform Heroically in Kilbeggan

With winds and rain battering the country and Craughwell in particular over the last week, one wondered how possibly the National cross-country could go ahead in Sunday in Kilbeggan. The weather was so severe that Craughwell was a no-go area for a while – Gardaí checkpoints all over the place. It was easier to get into Fort Knox last Thursday night than Craughwell.

As some of our teak tough juvenile cross country squad made their way to training that Thursday, the guard at the checkpoint demanded “where are you going?”


“To athletics training in Craughwell” came the reply. “Are you out of your mind?” said the guard. That’s what it takes to be a cross-country runner. We know – when we survived Ballinamore, we can survive anywhere! In fact, Kilbeggan was like a Mediterranean resort compared to recent excursions to Sligo and Ballinamore. Hats off to local club Mullingar Harriers who organised a very smooth event in the midst of a national crisis.


 (Credits to Tony Fitzpatrick for all pictures in this article)



 We had 3 teams in action from the juvenile club – U12 girls, U14 boys and U16 boys. The U12 girls 1000m were first to take to the Kilbeggan turf. Grainne McDaid put in a fantastic performance to take individual 15th place. Having suffered badly in the muddy hoof-holes of Ballinamore, this was an amazing turnaround by Grainne. Interviewed exclusively by craughwellac.com after the race, Grainne said that she got a really good start and was in the top 20 early on. “As I came around the first bend, there was this huge gust of wind that sort of knocked you backwards. I passed 1 or 2 and only 1 girl passed me as we came near the end. My legs were too tired to sprint at the end and the wind was right in my face.”

Grainne was 100% right about the wind – even the senior runners later in the race found it very difficult. Tara McNally also had an exceptional run, taking individual 39th place – probably her best performance ever in a cross country race. Unfortunately for Leanne Freaney, she got a sharp elbow into the ribs early in the race and was still feeling the pain on the finish line. Leanne did well to finish in 88th, followed closely by Dearbhaile Walsh 98th and Amy Hynes 132nd. The team finished in 7th place overall which was a super performance given that they had came 4th in Connacht. The final member of the team Rebecca Leahy had the misfortune of a bad fall and a twisted ankle about mid-way through the race. 


In the U14 boys 1500m, we had genuine hopes of a medal with a very strong team taking to the field. Unfortunately however there are other exceptional teams knocking around the country and we were unlucky to finish in 5th place only 26 points behind the bronze medal position. We have a lingering suspicion of a possible injustice with some athletes skipping ahead of us in the finish chute – but unfortunately I hadn’t placed anyone on the finish line to count our positions. Conor Gillen put in an outstanding effort to take individual 5th place. This was a superb performance by Conor and copper fastens his position as one of the leading middle-distance athletes in his age group.

Patience and perseverance will pay dividends for Conor and it is only a matter of time before he joins the top 3 in cross country and track. Nicholas Sheehan had a fine run to finish in 27th place, with runner after runner tightly packed behind him and the rest of our team only a short distance behind with Keelan Ryan 65th, Matthew Freaney 76th, Cathal Reidy 103rd and Matthew Moran 105th. Hopes were high of a top 3 place for the team but when the official arithmetic was announced, we were in 5th place with 173 points, only 26 behind 3rd place. A small bit of luck would have seen us in the medals as 26 points is nothing in a National cross country race.  


 The club fielded a team at National level for the first time in the U16 boys 3000m. This was a tough 2 laps over the same meandering course that the U14 boys had run. Our team were placed well back in the early stages, but as the race unwound we made strong progress. Entering the final stages, Finn Stoneman pulled up on David Concannon’s shoulder with about 200m to go. David is not used to been beaten by a club-mate as happened in the recent Connacht U16 final when Finn took the honours – so an incredible battle to the line ensued for both of them, with David just shading it to finish in individual 28th place and Finn in 30th.  

Further back, an equally tough battle took place between Pádraic Tobin and Paul Fitzpatrick. Pádraic was slowly closing the gap to Fitzie as the race entered its closing stages and had just enough in the tank to take it on the line, finishing in 103rd place with Fitzie 104th (although there was a slight debate between the two of them as to where exactly was the finish line and who had crossed it first!). The team was completed by Jack Leahy who put in a heroic effort in his first National cross-country race to finish in 116th place. The team finished 10th overall. With such healthy competition between the lads on the team, they will make great progress in the years ahead. It was great for the club to be able to field a team in this age group and personally I’d prefer to see our athletes continue to participate in their older teens like this rather than burn-out and achieve National success in younger ages. Of course, not burning out and achieving National success would be nice too! 


Congratulations also to the club’s representatives on the senior inter-county teams. Reena Deely made history being the first senior woman from the club to be selected for a Co. Galway senior cross-country team. She had a baptism of fire in cross-country, making her debut in what is arguably the race with the highest standard of running in Ireland and finishing in 57th place. Well done Reena! 

The men’s race is also probably the highest standard of racing in the country. You are up against the top 15 runners from each county – no place for the faint-hearted. When you get elite runners returning from altitude training in America, it’s hard to mix it up with them. If you live in the vicinity of Craughwell and are reading this, the club are looking for a site 3000 metre high within a mile or two of the school. We’d be happy to rent it or buy it on hire-purchase! 

Martin Corcoran ran a stormer in the senior race to come in 69th place overall. This is a truly remarkable performance by Martin – beating many guys many years younger than himself and finishing as 4th scorer on the Galway team behind the legendary Gerry Ryan (36th) and Irish internationals Paul McNamara (22nd) and Gary Thornton (7th). Peter O’Sullivan marked another memorable performance by finishing in 82nd place as Galway’s 6th scorer – helping the Galway team to All-Ireland gold in the B category. This was only Peter’s second ever cross country race and it’s an indication his extraordinary talent that he has made so much progress so quickly. It’s onwards and upwards for the senior team! Our senior squad was completed by Johnny Lane who finished strongly in 110th place and Tony Nevin who had an outstanding race to finish only 36 seconds behind Johnny in 116th place. These performances bode well for our senior team in the novice cross country in two weeks time in Coleraine. 

Just a final comment on the junior and senior races, it was fantastic to witness athletes of the calibre of the 4 individual winners in action – Mary Cullen (3rd place in the European Indoor 3000m this year), Ciara Mageean (2nd place in the World Youth 800m this year), Andrew Ledwith (3rd place in the US Colleges/NCAA cross country 2008) and Michael McKillop (World Paralympic 800m Champion 2008). I would highly recommend to any member of the club to hang around for these races whenever you get the opportunity.  

In particular, the performance of Michael McKillop is amazing. The athlete has a mild form of cerebral palsy. To win a National Junior cross country title is an amazing achievement. For an athlete with a disability to do so is inspirational. We all moan about our aches and pains, training in the cold, training in the wet – let Michael McKillop be an inspiration to us and get out there and do some training (me included!).

Full results are at http://www.athleticsireland.ie/content/?page_id=160.

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