Lough Key Forest Park in Boyle was the venue for the 2nd day of the Connacht cross-country championships. As our athletes took to the road from Craughwell, Oranmore, Ardrahan, etc the weather seemed to get progressively worse as hail stones pelted down to some accompaniment blasts of thunder. Not ideal psychological preparation for the races! Luckily the bad weather had made its mark on Forest Park earlier in the day and other than one heavy shower before the races started, the weather was ok.
The club had a very successful day with 3 sets of team medals and 3 outstanding individual medals. The highlight of the day was shared by Linda Porter and Conor Gillen both of whom took Connacht titles in their age groups with a fantastic finish in each race.
We had a super U11 girls team who had finished 2nd in the Galway finals to a fine Athenry team. I was convinced both teams would finish 1st and 2nd in Connacht – but the strength of this age group in Connacht looks awesome where despite some super running, our team finished in 4th place, with Athenry 3rd and Swinford and North Sligo taking the top 2 places. The Craughwell U11 girls were led home by Tara McNally in 8th, Leanne Freaney 14th, Grainne McDaid 18th, Caoimhe Reidy 30th, Andrea Tobin 39th, Orlaith Maloney 40th and Hannah Rabbitte 43rd. Tara, Leanne and Grainne all medalled as part of the victorious Galway team in the inter-county event.
In the U11 boys, unfortunately the team were depleted by illness to some members and a wrong turn for one car on the way down, so only three runners took to the field. Liam Forde was the club’s leading runner when finishing in 14th place, with Matthew Molloy 29th and Ronan Nevin 44th.
The U13 girls had a weakened team due to an injury to their strongest runner Sarah Molloy. Sarah courageously took to the field but had to withdraw during the race. The team finished 6th and were led home by Sinead Treacy who put in a super display of running to take 25th place against older athletes. She was followed home by Derbhla Maloney 32nd, Gabrielle Tobin 37th and Ellen Fitzpatrick 47th.
Highlight of the team competition was the performance of the U13 boys’ team where the club took the Connacht title by a very convincing margin. Indeed any one of the 9 runners from the club could have completed the team scoring and the team would still have taken the Connacht title such was their strength. Conor Gillen took a magnificent title ahead of the current National cross-country Champion – Colm Hughes from GCH. Conor was in the top 3 for most of the race as the fast pace was pushed along the marshy ground. With about 200m to go and trailing the GCH athlete by 3 or 4 metres, Conor upped his pace to pull alongside the leader with 50m to go and edge into the lead. For a while it looked like the National Champion would just edge back into the lead but Conor held on for a magnificent victory. His dad Mark, a former 1500m runner, had probably a higher heart-rate than Conor as he crossed the finish line!
As this battle was taking place at the front, Conor’s team-mates were all putting in fantastic performances down through the field. Nicholas Sheehan took a tremendous 9th place, despite running in borrowed spikes for the day! Keelan Ryan is getting stronger and stronger with each race and finished in 11th, followed closely by Matthew Freaney in 14th (the favourite finishing position for the Freaney family today!), David Byrne 20th, Jamie Spellman 22nd, Oisin McNally 24th, Gavin O’Toole 31st and Ciaran Nevin 35th. The leading Craughwell four also picked up gold medals as part of the victorious Galway team.
Heart-rates didn’t get much of a chance to come down from this high as the U15 girls 1500m got underway where Laura O’Dowd from Ballinamore immediately set a strong pace trailed closely by Linda Porter. As they pulled away from the field, it was clear from an early stage that the title would be decided between the pair of them. As the race progressed into its latter half, the Ballinamore athlete opened a gap of 5 or 6 metres and it looked like the result was decided. But Linda stuck earnestly to her task and slowly closed the gap to about 3m as the finish line beckoned. With one final huge surge, Linda drew alongside on the line with an incredible finish. No one thought we’d need the photo-finish equipment today! A joint victory was declared as the athletes could not be separated – a fantastic performance by Linda!
Running another super race, Muireann Maloney finished in 10th place. Orla McDaid put in a tremendous finish to take 17th place, with Laura Porter and Maria McNamara closely behind in 22nd and 24th and Caoimhe Quill completing the team in 35th. This result was strong enough to take the bronze medal in the team event, narrowly behind Swinford and Sligo. Linda, Muireann and Orla also were awarded gold medals as part of the Galway team who took the inter-county Connacht title.
The next race got underway quickly with the U15 boys 2000m where again we had a good team taking part. David Concannon moved into 5th place early in the race as the metres were pounded out on the boggy ground. Ross Haverty had to withdraw during a race – a belt of a sliotar in a hurling match yesterday making running difficult for him today. Pádraic Tobin, Paul Fitzpatrick and Paul Joyce were all running strongly mid-pack. As the race progressed towards its final stages, David moved up into 3rd place and was closing all the time on the leaders – moving into 2nd place as the finish approached and holding on for a great silver medal. Pádraic took 17th place, with Paul Fitz 19th and Paul J 20th. The team scored a total of 58 pts, tying with North Sligo for silver but awarded bronze on count-back of 4th placed runners.
In the final race of the day involving athletes from the club, Maeve Curley ran the best cross-country race of her life when finishing in 6th place in the U17 girls 2000m, with Rachel Finnegan next in 14th place – both girls winning gold medals as part of the victorious Galway team.
So a very successful day for the club, full of highlights. If I had to single out one highlight though, it would be that we had two full teams in the boys and girls U15 races – possibly the first time that this has happened and a big indication of the progress that the club is making in appealing to and holding onto its athletes as they progress through their teenage years.