The Irish Life Health National Senior Track and Field Championships took place last weekend at Morton Stadium, Santry. The majority of Ireland’s top athletes were out in force for the annual two day Championships including the likes of Ciara Mageean (City of Lisburn AC), Mark English (U.C.D AC) and Phil Healy (Bandon AC), all of whom have their eyes set on the World Championships in Doha in late September.
Several athletes from Wexford clubs were also in contention for medals going into the weekend. Leon Reid, Michael Bowler, Marco Pons, Elizabeth Egan and Fiona Kehoe, have all won National Senior medals before and would’ve all had aspirations of making it back onto the podium.
Michael Bowler (Enniscorthy AC), recently competed in the European Combined Events team championships where he moved 7th on the Irish all-time list in the decathlon. The Caim man is undoubtedly a phenomenal athlete, who continues to perform so well at the top level, with no funding or support from the likes of Sport Ireland. Michael doesn’t use this an excuse however and he continues to drive on. On Sunday in Santry Michael competed in both the Pole Vault and 110m Hurdles. The Pole Vault is arguably Michael’s strongest event. Earlier in the year he won the National Indoor Pole Vault title, clearing 4.60m. He was hoping to do the double on Sunday.
Michael entered the competition with the bar at 4m. At this stage, several other athletes had been eliminated. He soared over the bar with ease to get off the mark. Subsequent clearances followed at 4.30m, 4.45m and 4.55m. The competition started to heat up at 4.60m. Michael cleared the height, while the only other athlete left in the competition Matthew Callinan Keenan got into difficulty, failing to clear the height with his three attempts. Despite having the gold medal in the bag, Michael was hungry for more. A first time clearance of 4.75m, equalled his PB. With the entire crowd behind him, the bar went to 4.90m. Unfortunately Michael was unable to clear the height, which would’ve been a massive PB. He did however have 3 very good attempts, where he was within a whisker of getting over the bar.
Speaking after to RTE Sport, Michael said; “I’m absolutely delighted. The atmosphere was unbelievable today, it pushed all of us to really good jumps. I’d like to thank everybody that was here, it’s a fantastic crowd this year.”
Michael also competed in the 110m hurdles where he was joined by Aaron Tierney Smith of Menapians AC. Michael put in a very strong performance, finishing an agonising 4th, just two hundredths of a second behind fellow multi-eventer and training partner Shane Aston, Trim AC, in a time of 14.95s. Aaron finished in 7th, clocking a time of 15.70s.
Michael has now got his eyes set on the possibility of doing another decathlon abroad before the end of the season, where he will be hoping for an even stronger performance than Madeira.
Another man who had his eyes set on the top of the podium was Leon Reid (Menapians AC) in the Men’s 200m. Leon made the European final in the 200m last year and has made a couple of appearances on the Diamond League circuit this season. With a PB of 20.27 from the British Championships in 2017, Leon had the strongest PB of anyone in the field, going into the weekend. In 2018, Reid won both the 100m and 200m at the Championships but decided to focus on just the 200m in 2019.
He knew he would not have it his own way however. With both Marcus Lawler (SLOT AC) and Stephen Gaffney (Rathfarnham WSAF AC) also in the field it would be tough. Lawler recently won bronze at the World University games, while Gaffney clocked a time of 20.39s in Belgium recently, to move 3rd on the Irish all-time list and top of the Irish list this season.
The heats were on Saturday. Reid clocked a time of 20.63s, to win heat 3 comfortably. Lawler and Gaffney both won their heats. Lawler’s heat featured Adam Fitzhenry of Adamstown AC, who finished 4th in a time of 23.57s. Conor Wilson of Menapians AC competed in heat 4, finishing 4th also in a time of 22.76s.
The final took place on Sunday evening. Reid was the favourite after his performance in the heat but not by much. He ran a really strong bend, closing down Lawler but Lawler started to pull away again. Leon always tends to finish strongly and he did exactly that, taking the title after a strong last 50m, in a time of 20.62s. Lawler finished 2nd, clocking 20.68s, while Gaffney came 3rd with 21.18s.
Speaking to RTE Sport after winning yet another National title, Reid said; “It was so windy, so when I got around the bend, everyone else pushed on and I was like oh no! I had to chase them down but it was good in the end! I had Stephen on the inside and Marcus on the outside so I had to chase them down and then he (Lawler) went a little bit so I had to get him again and I got him on the line.”
Speaking about the ‘rivalry’ between himself, Gaffney and Lawler, Reid commented; “I wouldn’t call it a rivalry at all, we’re all in the same group chats, we’re always talking so it’s not a rivalry it’s just good friendly sportsmanship, everyone wants to win.”
Leon has now been selected to represent Ireland at the European Team Championships in Norway that take place between the 9th and 11th of August. He will compete in the 100m and 4x100m relay.
The Men’s Discus had two athletes from D.M.P AC competing, Marco Pons, who won the title last year and Padraig Hore who is throwing the 2kg discus for the first time this year. Pons, who is based in Portugal, was considered as one of the main contenders going into the competition, having thrown a PB of 55.26m back in June. He faced stiff competition to retain his national title however from both Colin Quirke (Crusaders AC) and Eoin Sheridan (North Westmeath AC).
While not winning this year, Pons had a consistent series of throws to ensure he won the bronze medal. His best throw was 50.53m in the 5th round. Quirke threw 60.40m, while Sheridan had a best of 55.14m.
Padraig Hore had a fantastic performance. He finished in 5th position with a best throw of 42.85m. This has been a really strong season for Padraig and we look forward to seeing him back in action next year.
Elizabeth Egan of Bree AC was in action in the Women’s 3000m Steeplechase final on Sunday. Egan faced strong athletes in the form of Michelle Finn (Leevale AC) and Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle AC). Finn, had ran a time of 9.41 mins, in Finland in the previous week, which was only a second outside the World Championships qualifying mark. From the beginning Finn showed her class, with O’Flaherty in 2nd and Egan in 3rd.
Elizabeth continued to work hard throughout the race and finished 3rd in a time of 12.29 mins. Finn broke her own Championship record to win gold in a time of 9.45 mins. Kerry O’Flaherty finished 2nd.
Emma Owens of St. Paul’s AC had a very busy weekend in Santry. On Saturday she competed in the Discus and on Sunday she competed in the Hammer Throw. In the Discus, Emma didn’t have the competition she would’ve hoped for having 4 fouls in her 6 throws. She still finished 5th throwing a best of 32.46m. European U23 Discus finalist Niamh Fogarty of Raheny Shamrocks AC won the title with a massive PB of 52.96m.
In the Hammer Throw Emma also placed 5th. In this competition she saved her best throw until last, throwing a best of 44.15m. Amy Forde of St. Killian’s AC also competed in this event, finishing 8th, with a best throw of 33.90m.
Fiona Kehoe was expected to be in the mix for a medal in the Women’s 1500m. Fiona who recently ran a new PB of 4.24.90 mins, won the National Indoor 800m title in 2017. The 1500m featured some top class athletes including Sarah Healy (Blackrock AC), European U20 silver medallist, Siofra Cleirigh-Buttner (Dundrum South Dublin AC), who has a PB of 4.10 mins, Amy O’Donoghue (Emerald AC) and Claire Tarplee (St. Coca’s AC). The likes of Ciara Mageean (City of Lisburn AC) and Maisy O’Sullivan (St. Abbans AC) opted for the 800m instead.
On Saturday, Fiona competed in the heats, where the target was to simply finish in the top 4, to secure automatic qualification. Fiona did exactly that cruising over the line, without have to waste too much energy. Sunday’s final was very much a tactical race. With the athletes passing through 800m in 2.40 mins, it would mean that it was going to be a fast finish. With 600m to go, Sarah Healy moved to the front and made her move.
With a lap to go, a group of four containing Healy, Cleirigh-Buttner, O’Donoghue and Tarplee began to move away, while Fiona battled with Rachel Gibson (North Down AC), Niamh Allen (Crusaders AC) and Ellie Hartnett (UCD AC). Fiona was in 5th up to last 100m, when Gibson went passed her. Fiona hung on in to finish 6th in a time of 4.37.08 mins, hitting her pre-race target meaning she walked away from Santry feeling pleased with her performance.
Peter O’Shea of D.M.P AC competed in the Mens javelin. This has been a good season for Peter however coming into this weekend he had been suffering from a bit of an arm injury which didn’t help his chances of winning a medal. He finished 5th, throwing a best of 54.13m, a little off his best but nonetheless given the circumstances a solid performance.
Chris St. Claire Johnson of Adamstown AC competed in the Mens 400m heats on Saturday. Qualifying for the final was going to be a big ask given that only the winner and a couple of fastest losers would make it. In his heat that featured eventual silver medallist Harry Purcell (Trim AC) and 4th placed finished Andrew Mellon (Crusaders AC), Chris finished 5th, clocking a time of 51.68s.
Michael Deady and Conor Wilson both of Menapians AC competed in the Men’s 100m heats. Both men were in heat 6, which featured Paralympic champion Jason Smyth. In the heat Conor came 5th, clocking 11.35s, while Deady came 6th, in a time of 11.65s.
Conor also competed in the 100m B final on Sunday, finishing 9th from lane 10 in a time of 11.53s.
Ger Forde of Slaney Olympic AC competed in the heats of the 5000m, qualifying for the final as a fastest loser in a time of 15.06 mins. Unfortunately Ger was not present to compete in the final.
For a number of senior athletes the National Championships bring the curtain down on their season. They will return to either Cross Country in autumn or indoors next spring with renewed optimism for the season ahead. Others will continue to race and compete in August and no doubt Leon Reid will have his eyes set on making the Irish team for the World Championships in Doha in late September.