Unprecedented success at Galway Community Games

Unprecedented success at Galway Community Games

If you dive into the archives on this Web site, this time last year I speculated that 2006 was the club’s most successful ever at Galway Community Games winning 8 gold, 3 silver and 5 bronze medals including 1 cycling, 4 middle-distance, 3 sprints, 3 jumps, 3 throws and 2 relay teams.

Well wait for it, this year’s performance was even more incredible with club athletes coming home with a massive haul of 11 gold, 8 silver and 4 bronze medals which includes 5 middle-distance, 7 sprints, 5 jumps, 1 throws and 5 relay teams.

This year, the organising committee of Galway Community Games decided to hold both the high jump and long jump competitions in Craughwell on the Friday of the holiday weekend. It was the 2nd year the high jump was held there, but the first for the long jump – with the new long jump pit been the reason for that choice. Frantic work on the long jump run-up on Thursday night was required however to get it into a reasonable state for the Friday competition. Thanks to the crew of John Haverty, Mick Gallagher, Tony Fitzpatrick (and Ellen and Erin!), Bill Doran, Eamonn Cummins, Martin Freaney and Fergus McDonnell, we had the run-up ready in time.

The jumping got underway around 6.30pm with the girls long jump where Sarah Helebert was in action. Sarah was carrying a hip injury and not at her best, struggling to get consistency with her run-up and mark. Nevertheless, she jumped well to take the silver medal with 4.13m. The boys competition got underway next with Cormac Dillon jumping well in the top three. David Farrell arrived late to the competiion and didn’t have the benefit of a warm-up or trial run, having only 2 jump remaining in the competition. But super jumping put him into the silver medal with Cormac taking the bronze medal and both athletes only about 20cm behind the gold-winning jump.

The high jump competition was also ongoing at the same time where Cathriona Farrell was competing despite been under the weather with a bad dose of tonsillitis. Cathriona was going for three-in-a-row in this competition, having won the high jump in Galway in 2006 and in 2005 (also taking silver in Mosney in 2005 and gold in 2006). And despite the tonsillitis, Cathriona rose to the occasion and took the gold ahead of Rebecca Helebert who took bronze. It was a good day’s jumping for Rebecca, only recently returned to the sport of athletics.

Saturday got off to a wet miserable start as the incessant drizzle made the day more difficult to enjoy. There were many fine performances in the heats throughout the day with many athletes qualifying for Sunday’s finals. Thankfully Sunday’s weather conditions were much more pleasant as 2 days of Ballinderrin rain would have been hard to take.

Sunday got off to a good start in the hurdles where 3 athletes each were unlucky to be pipped for the medals and took 4th place – Emma Byrne in the U10 girls 60m hurdles, Brendan Gallagher in the U14 boys 80m hurdles and Katie O’Donoghue in the U14 girls 80m hurdles. Straight into the sprint finals with Jack Lally in action in the U8 80m and very unlucky not to get a medal after the finishing officials had a quick meeting to try to separate 3rd and 4th place with the 4th place been given to Jack. Onto the 100m and some unprecedented success for the club taking 4 gold and 2 silver in the 100m sprints with gold medallists Tara McNally in the U10 girls, Aidan Conneely in the U10 boys, PJ Kelly in the U12 boys and Ruairi Finnegan in the U14 boys.

This success was strengthened further with silver medals for Claire Ryder in the U12 100m and Rachel Kenny in the U16 100m. For both Claire and Rachel, it was a marvellous performance – in Claire’s case, she attended physio that morning for a hamstring injury and was only just pipped for gold by one of the best sprinters in Connacht (Orlaith McGrath from Bullaun). In Rachel’s case, it was a super performance having just returned to the sport about 4 weeks ago. Rachel finished 3rd in the 100m in Craughwell and took the silver in Galway! An illustration of the depth of competition locally!

The longer distance races were up next, with Liam Forde taking a great gold medal in the final of the 200m, ahead of club relay teammate Oisin Coppinger. Onto the U12 girls 600m where both Laura Porter and Sinead Gaffney were taking part. Laura quickly adopted a position in the leading group of three with Sinead a few places behind. As the race unfolded, Laura ran strongly to take the bronze medal in a time of approx 2.02 while Sinead had a great race also to come home in 5th place in a time of 2.05. Shaun Gallagher, another athlete recently returned to the sport, put in a great race in the final of the U14 boys 800m to finish in 5th place – a fantastic performance off a minimal training base for middle-distance.

Top-notch middle-distance performances continued in the U14 girls 800m. Tactical racing the day before saw Linda Porter and Ashley McDonnell win their heats in times of 2.50 and 3.00. Linda’s heat was a tight affair with Linda leading a group of 4 bunched closely at the finish while Ashley’s was less strenuous with her taking 2nd place in her heat. The final promised some fireworks as many of these athletes were holding back in the heat. As the final unfolded, a group of four pulled away from the rest led by Ashley and Linda, with Ruth O’Sullivan and Hayley Sommers making up the remainder of the group. All of these athletes had finished in the medals in Mosney a few weekends earlier when representing Galway on cross-country teams.

On this occasion however, friendships were temporarily set aside for the duration of the race. The group were still together with about 200m remaining, when Ashley started to pull away. Linda was not going to let the race slip that easily and followed closely, with Ruth and Hayley next. As the end line approached, Ashley maintained a healthy distance from Linda and took the gold in a time of 2.32.81 with Linda following closely behind in 2.35.59 and Ruth and Hayley 3rd and 4th. These were top-class times on the grass track and probably the fastest both Ashley and Linda have run an 800m considering that a track surface is quicker than grass.

The 1500m races produced further rich dividends for the club where David Porter made it a remarkable day for the Porter family by taking the gold in the 1500m, joining sisters Laura and Linda in the medals. He was joined in the medals by Rachel Finnegan who took the bronze medal in the girls 1500m behind Rachel Shaw of Castlegar and Claire Burke of Ballinasloe.

With the individual events out of the way, all that remained were the relays. Actually not quite true – there was one field event left, the u16 girls javelin where Kelly O’Donoghue was competing (yet another athlete returning to the sport!). The javelin competition took place at the same time as the relays. Kelly threw very well into a strong wind to finish in 2nd place, missing out on the gold medal by the tiny margin of 10cm. Unlucky, but super to take the silver medal with hardly any javelin practise since last year.

Back to the relays and generally the part of the day when tensions and feelings run the highest as everyone prays for a race without mishaps for their team such as a dropped baton or zone fault.  

The relays kicked off with the U15 mixed relay final where Ardrahan were represented by 3 current club members and one former club member – Tomás Keehan, Ruairi Finnegan, Maeve Curley and Aoife Callanan. The team had a great run to finish easy winners as Tomás stormed down the home straight to take the gold.

The U10 mixed relay final was next, where Craughwell were represented by Emma Byrne, Cillian Dolan, Oisin Coppinger, Ian Connolly, Grainne McDaid, Caoimhe Reidy. We had the 5th fastest time from the heats and semi-finals so had an outside chance of a medal. Caoimhe got the team off to a good start, passing to Oisin, to Ian and to Grainne who finished strongly to take what looked like joint 4th place. A good result in the first time this particular event was run in Community Games.

Next the final of the U12 girls relay, comprising Ailbhe Greaney, Sarah Molloy, Sineád Gaffney, Maireád McCann and Maria McNamara. We had a strong chance of a medal going into the final as we had run the 3rd fastest time in the heats of 1.02.77 and were marginally faster in the semi-final. Some superb baton passing from Sineád to Maria to Sarah to Maireád saw Maireád neck-and-neck with Bullaun athlete Orlaith McGrath down the final straight. The Bullaun athlete proved too strong on this occasion and Craughwell came home in a time of 1.01.92 to take the silver medal to rapturous applause, with Claregalway in 3rd place. This was the 2nd silver medal in a row for Sineád, Maireád and Maria as they finished 2nd in the same race last year along with Debi Kenny and Orla McDaid.

No time to catch our breath as the U14 boys final got underway immediately with the team of Pádraic Tobin, Shaun Gallagher, Jack Raftery, Brendan Gallagher, David Farrell. We had the fastest time from the heats in 56.43s, over 2 seconds clear of the winner of the other heat, Ballinasloe. Cautioning the team beforehand not to take anything for granted as other teams may have been holding back a runner, this proved to be true as the final was a much closer affair. Shaun got us off to a strong start, passing to Jack to Brendan to David. As David entered the final straight, we had a slight lead that David wasn’t going to relinquish easily. As he raced for the line, crossing it in a time of 55.71, the team were about 2m clear of 2nd placed Salthill with Ballinasloe taking the bronze position. For Jack and Pádraic, this is their 2nd gold relay medal in a row, having been victorious with the U12 team last year. And the previous year, many of this same team took the silver medals in the U12 relay finals.

Straight into the U14 girls relay where Orla McDaid, Debi Kenny, Katie O’Donoghue, Ashley McDonnell and Caoimhe Quill were representing Craughwell. We knew we were up against a very strong Claregalway team in this age group but also knew we had a very good team. As U12s in 2005, this same team were very unlucky to drop the baton and miss out on a semi-final place. Claregalway won that year and went on to finish 2nd in the National finals in Mosney. The final got underway with Orla sprinting strongly to pass to Debi. Debi made up lots of ground to get a good handover to Katie who sprinted hard on the bend to give the baton to Ashley.

We were neck-and-neck with Claregalway at this point, perhaps just a metre behind them. Amy Rohan was Claregalway’s final runner and possibly the strongest runner in Connacht in this age group – there was no catching her as we raced to the silver medal in an excellent time of 56.14, almost a second faster than our heat time. Special credit to Ashley in this race as up to about 20 minutes before the race she was still feeling quite ill from her exhausting 800m race a short while previously and spent 30 minutes on the ground recovering from it.

A slight break when the U16 boys relay took place where we had no representation (but hopefully will next year for the first time!). And then onto the final race of the day – the U16 girls relay. Craughwell had a super team in this race – Cathriona Farrell, Rachel Kenny, Leah Creaven, Sophie Ralston, and Rachel Finnegan. For all except Sophie, this was their last year in Community Games. Down through the years, this age group had mixed fortunes in the relay. In 2006, the team were unable to take part in Galway as it clashed with the Schools track and field finals. In 2005, we won the U14 relay in Galway with much the same team (Yasmine Tobin replacing Sophie on the team). Despite dropping a baton in the semi-final, we made it into the final and won gold, following that by making it through the Mosney heats and semi-final to finish 6th in the final.

In 2004, we finished 2nd to Oranmore as far as I recall while in 2003, we were odds-on favourites to win the relay but were disqualified for a zone-fault. In 2002, the team won the gold in the U12 girls relay (with Sacha Haverty and Jane Healy on the team) and made the final in Mosney. So after quite a successful history in Community Games relay, this was the girls’ last opportunity of a weekend away in the legendary Mosney! Unfortunately due to Junior Certificate commitments, the team had very limited practise at baton passing (in fact there were never more than 3 of the team at the same training session!). And baton passing very nearly done us in the final! Rachel F was sub on this occasion as she was feeling ill after a tough 1500m shortly before the relay finals.

So the line-up was Rachel K to Leah to Sophie to Cathriona. Rachel got off to a powerful start, eating up the ground as she sprinted towards Leah. Nerves or over-anxious thoughts of Mosney saw Leah start too early and Rachel struggled to catch her, stretching and almost making the baton pass but not quite reaching Leah's outstretched hand. As the zone-end approached Leah ground to a screeching halt (well not quite – but almost) in order to get the baton before the end of the zone and took off at speed to recover lost ground. A further mishap befell Leah as she was thrown off-stride by some uneven ground on the bend, but recovered very well to pass to Sophie. We were in third place at this point and the future looked dim.

Sophie ran strongly on the inside lane to keep us in the race and executed an excellent baton pass to Cathriona who took off like a demon chasing down the leading teams. Opinions varied as to whether it was 2 metres or 20 metres that Cathriona had separating her from the leading teams, but suffice to say that she put in an incredible run to bring us right back into contention with about 20m to go. Edging just in front at that point, Craughwell followers relaxed as we thought we’d never lose it now with Cathriona in front. But the anticipated increasing gap didn’t materialise as Cathriona had zapped all her energy in recovering the lost ground. Digging deep, she held a 2-foot advantage all the way to the line and as she crossed the line, collapsed with exhaustion onto the Ballinderrin turf. Hoping that the officials were on their toes as all 3 teams had finished within the same metre, we waited briefly for the result. The gold was confirmed by bright smiles across the Craughwell team’s faces and a piggyback from Rachel to Leah down to the winner’s podium!

An exciting end to a brilliant day!

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