Craughwell had the unique distinction of having had a team qualify in each age group from Connacht for the National finals – and we repeated this unique achievement in the heats in Tullamore by having each team qualify for the final. The relays generally provide the most tense competition of the day for both athletes and parents alike – with fingers crossed that all goes well and no mistakes and possibly a medal chance for some teams. And as it turned out, the club had its most successful National finals ever for these age groups with 1 silver medal, 1 bronze and 3 fourth place finishes.
The finals started with the U12 boys. We had a super team in action here. They took silver medals as U11s in last years finals and were unlucky not to qualify for the Indoor finals this year due to a dropped baton. The team ran strongly against very tough opposition. Gavin O’Toole took the first leg, handing over to Conor Duggan for the 2nd, to Jamie Spelman for the 3rd and to Aidan Conneely for the final leg. Aidan was behind by a good distance at the baton change but gobbled up the ground in front of him to close the gap to less than a metre on the third place runner but ran out of track before the finish line and the team had to settle for 4th place.
A good performance though and they will certainly be back in the medals again as they are a great team with fierce competition for places amongst 6 or 7 athletes. Conor O’Donoghue was sub for the team on this occasion. The U12 girls team did very well to make their final and finished 8th in the final with their team of Aisling Connolly, Katie Donohue, Ellen Fitzpatrick and Dandy Murray. Ellen Treacy was sub on this occasion – having had a tough high jump competition after a week of illness.
The U11 boys team had an exceptional run with their team of Eddie Madden, Niall Broderick, Ian Connolly, Gary Clay and sub Oisin Coppinger. They had won their heat comfortably so confidence was high of a medal. With excellent baton passes, the team were very much in contention as Gary Clay powered down the home straight. A real close finish – was it 2nd, or was it 3rd, or was it 4th? The Craughwell parents in the stand were going wild with delight. Mike Connolly looked like he had won another All-Ireland hurling title! News filtered through from the unofficial Craughwell finishing judges that we had won the silver. A fantastic achievement! If any team deserved this medal, the U11 boys did – having finished 4th and 5th the last 2 years.
Next up the U11 girls team. They had won bronze last year and could they repeat this success this year. Hannah Rabbitte led the team off in the heats and swapped with Jean Waters for the final. In the final, Jean was passing to Caoimhe Reidy, to Grainne McDaid and to Tara McNally. When Tara got the baton, the team were in 4th place and Tara started to chase down her competitor. It looked like she had caught her with about 30m to go but what seemed like an eternity then commenced when the two athletes were neck and neck as time stood still as the athletes appeared locked together in battle. As the finish line approached, Tara edged ahead and crossed the line about a half metre in front to claim a super bronze medal.
The U10 teams were out next. The boys did very well to make the final, with a nasty cut/foot injury to their fastest runner Cillian Dolan during the week not helping the team’s confidence. But they ran a super heat to qualify for the final with Dylan Finn leading out, followed by Jack Lally, Hugh Lane and Cillian. Liam Moran swapped with Hugh for the final and the team ran very well to take 7th place in the final. The U10 girls also made their final with their team of Michelle Duggan, Emma Gaffney, Shonagh Gilligan, Aisling Keady and sub Erin Fitzpatrick. The girls finished 5th or 6th in the final with a strong run – I need to confirm the finishing place when the results are available.
In the U9 boys, the team of Cian Waters, Conor Callaghan, Micheál McFadden and Alan Callanan ran very well in their heat to make the final in 3rd place. In the final, Peter Martyn swapped in for Cian The boys ran out of their skins in the final, with superb baton passing for athletes of their age and an incredible finish by Alan Callanan to finish just 2 metres behind the bronze medal winners. You could see the disappointment etched on their faces at not taking a medal – but it was a super run and they should look at the older teams who finished 4th as U9s and later went onto win medals – this years U11s boys were 4th as U9s and won silver as U11s, while this years U14 boys were 4th as U9s and have gone on to win 6 sets of National medals in U11, 12, 13 and 14 grades.
The U9 girls race threw up the only controversy of the day. The heats ran off smoothly. We were in the 2nd heat and qualified in 3rd place – but our time was very competitive with the winners of the other heat so we knew we had a chance. However, before the finals were called, the officials announced that they were rerunning heat 1 of the U9s because of an objection. It seems an athlete had crossed lanes after she had passed her baton and impeded another team. So that heat was going to be run again. Then 2 teams in that heat objected to it been rerun because their teams would then have had 3 races while the teams in heat 2 only had 2 races. Heated arguments ensued between those teams and the officials. One official proposed a compromise of having 10 teams in the final, with 2 teams in lane 1 and 2 in lane 8. Other teams objected to that on safety grounds. For a finish, they decided to rerun both heats and decide it all on times.
So off went the first heat – by my watch the leading 2 teams were 70.4 and 70.9 seconds. Then our heat. The team lined up with Rachel Hannify, Ciana Reidy, Aoife Raftery and Laura Cunningham, watched by sub Shauna Tobin. Rachel got a great start and motored down the tartan passing to Ciana. At the baton pass to Aoife, it looked like we were in the lead – amazing stuff as we were 2 seconds behind the leading 2 teams in this heat earlier. Then lots of waving flags and officials – the heat was been called back when it was almost three-quarters run. What was going on? It turned out that there was a problem with starting the official timing – so since the result was going to be decided on times, it had to be rerun. Very unfair on all the teams in our heat as running 3 times was precisely the reason other teams objected to heat 1 been rerun earlier.
So 10 minutes later, the heat got going again. Rachel to Ciana and as we progressed up the back straight, it was clear we weren’t having as good a race as the aborted heat. Ciana to Aoife and Aoife to Laura and Laura raced for the line. The leading 2 teams were about 10m clear and Laura gave it everything, crossing the line in 3rd place in 1.10.6 by my watch. So clearly the gold and silver medallists were in our heat – so would we get bronze or 4th. The results were slow in been announced. They were handed into the presentation area, so a quick look at the U9 sheet confirmed the unlucky news that we came 4th by 0.16 seconds. A fantastic performance by the team to be so close to medals and as with the U9 boys team, very promising for next year.