The first of two days of the Mr Oil Wexford Track & Field Championships took place at Enniscorthy Sports Hub last Wednesday evening. Featuring Wexford’s top seniors, masters and older juveniles (U18, U19), conditions for the meet were perfect with little wind, no rain and temperatures which, while not quite balmy, were not cold. The relaxed vibe of the evening saw athletes happy to step out of their comfort zones, occasionally with hilarious results. Like watching a greyhound-lean distance runner putting the shot, and the shot winning; or watching a shot putter trying, in vain, to shed an imaginary inertia jacket in the relay! The thing is, most of those competing at this event behave in a way that suggests they are genuinely having fun; they don’t care who they are up against, and they don’t care who is watching. Mind you, more than a few of the middle distance runners could not refrain from reaching for the stop-watch instead of putting heart and soul into getting across the finish line. Listen, you time fanatics: there is no better way to lose a race!
The most impressive of the younger athletes in action were Saidhbhe Byrne and the Menapians duo Eimear Halpin and Ailbhe White.
Saidhbhe, a talented multi-eventer, has been a strong contender in the throws events this year at regional and national level. Following on from her javelin pb the previous week at the National Senior Championships, she won the shot easily with a best effort of 9.61 metres ahead of Áine Cullen (United Striders) in second place. Saidhbhe also won U19 and senior 100m hurdles, was 2nd in U19 100m and was part of the winning 4x400m team.
Eimear won the U19 100m and 400m and was on the silver medal winning relay team. Ailbhe won U18 100m and shot.
Emma Hannon of United Striders looked silky smooth in taking the U18 1500m title.
Enniscorthy athlete Elizabeth Gahan is a joy to watch over both long and short distances. She tore around the bend in the senior 200 metres and, flying up the straight, looked to have the gold in the bag. Had she sensed that Menapians speedster Clodagh Dunbar was closing fast? Is that why she stumbled in the final ten metres and tumbled across the line just as her rival drew level? It is never a pleasant experience to hit the deck in a race, especially when the deck is made of an unforgiving rubber substance. It is no less pleasant to see gold snatched from your grasp at the death! Or to put it another way: Clodagh run the perfect race.
The experienced Kilmore coach, mentor and former national champion Fiona Kehoe ran away from the field in the 800 metres with just Ciara Wilson (DMP) and the aforementioned Elizabeth Gahan prepared to give chase, albeit at a distance. Fiona’s unrelenting pace meant that she was never going to be challenged. While Ciara and Elizabeth were still together at the bell, the former’s greater experience and deeper reserves came into play as she pulled away to take the silver, Elizabeth staying on to take bronze.
Ciara was under the weather at the recent national championships where she finished well off the pace in the 5000 metres. While the 800 metres run showed that the pep was back in her step, her performance, subsequently, in the 3000 metres left one in no doubt that her poor showing at the nationals represented a temporary deviation from the mean. Clubmate, and former Wexford Novice and Inter Cross Country champion, Clare Barrett stayed with her for the early part of the race. It is good to see Clare, whose form over the past year has been a little up and down, rediscovering her mojo. She could not be faulted for falling off the pace as Ciara’s metronomic stride pattern showed no sign of slackening. A strong Róisín O’Reilly (Menapians), just back from a long injury break and looking full of running, moved past Clare to take on the role of chief pursuer. And that is how it stayed, the three crossing the line in that order. Kate Reidy (United Striders) took the novice title.
United Striders master athlete Joe Lillis took the endurance theme to extremes as he won the 1500m and 5000m and placed second in 800m. He was also part of the winning 4x400m team, along with Dave Larkin, John McGrath and Tomás Harrington.
Adding a little celebrity gold dust to proceedings was national pole vault medalist and top decathlete Michael Bowler. The Enniscorthy man, the distinctive and knowledgeable online voice of Athletics Ireland, has endeared himself to the Irish athletics fraternity with his brilliant commentary. In the absence of DMP’s Padraig Hore and St. Killian’s star Jack Forde, it was left to Bowler and Menapians’ veteran Michael Halpin to do battle in the shot, albeit with that time-honoured sense of camaraderie for which throwers are renowned. Bowler, using the traditional glide technique, won easily with a throw of 12.07 metres. Halpin, coming from a fine family tradition of discus and shot putting, used a variety of techniques (standing, glide and rotation) to place second. In doing so, both Michaels gave the other competitors the opportunity to learn some of the finer aspects of shot putting. A contingent of Slaney Olympic’s strongmen took the opportunity to work on technique, including Jessie O’Connor who, showing he has shot putting skills to match his marathon running exploits, took the bronze. John O’Connor (Enniscorthy) was crowned O50 champion, while Michael Halpin added the O35 title to his senior silver.
Maggie O’Connor of Enniscorthy AC relishes meets such as this, especially when they are on home turf. She made the podium in both senior and O35 shot, in both cases finishing just behind experienced thrower Áine Cullen (United Striders); she was a 100 metres silver medalist behind clubmate Emily Waldren and, at the end of the evening, she, along with Emily, Saidhbhe Byrne and Elizabeth Gahan, helped Enniscorthy to relay gold.
With the much-coveted Brother Egan Cup going to the best overall club, expect a big turnout at the second and final day of the championships this Wednesday.