Sky-high standards at Leinster Schools Cross Country

Santry Demesne has, in recent years, become home to the Leinster Schools Cross Country Championships. Last Wednesday, the top athletes from schools throughout Leinster came together in this beautiful park that backs onto famous Morton Stadium. The sun was shining out a cold blue sky and what wind there was carried with it a hint of warmer days ahead. The course itself was in tip-top shape.

The main aim at provincial level schools cross country is to qualify for the All-Ireland Championships, with top 15, plus top three teams, in each race, going through. Making it onto the podium is a bonus.

Claragh Keane of Presentation Wexford was the county’s top performer. Having missed the South Leinsters due to illness she looked like a girl on a mission as she led out the 3,000 metres race on the first of two 1.5km laps. Coming up the hill by the walled garden towards the end of the lap she was still in front with a group of 12-14 on her heels. Then as they moved along the flat and fast top section, Loreto Kilkenny’s Hannah Kehoe and Aimee Wallace of St Finian’s broke away. By the time they got to the mid-lap lower section for the second time, Hannah was 10 metres clear of Aimee with a slightly bigger gap between her and Emma McEvoy (Loreto St Stephen’s Green) and a similar gap back to Claragh and Maebh Eakin (Ballymakenny College). Top three finished in that order with Hannah stretching her lead. Claragh rallied in the final quarter and finished strongly in 4th place. Caoimhe Byrne (FCJ Bunclody) was 47th, Aoife Lyng (St Mary’s New Ross) 54th.

Myles Hewlett (New Ross CBS) was to the fore in the early stages of the senior boy’s 6,000 metres. Getting around that tough 1500 metres lap once might not be a daunting prospect; doing it four times is a significantly bigger challenge. Myles sensibly chose to stay off the front and settle in with a chasing group of four. This still left the group well inside the qualifying top 15 if they could hold the gap on the main field. The race finished with a monumental sprint for the line between the under 17 national champion Cormac Dixon and national under 20 bronze medalist Jonas Stafford. The line judges had to go back to hundredths of a second to separate the two, with Dixon coming out ahead. Myles maintained his steady pace and crossed the line in 10th. A little further back, Seán Lennon of Kennedy College New Ross ran a strong race as he worked his way through to 23rd.

The junior girls started the first of their two 1km laps at a ferocious pace. Sholah Lawrence (Our Lady’s College) moved to the front and, with no one prepared to try sticking with her pace, she had a lead of 20 metres with a lap to go. At that point, Emma Hickey (St Mary’s New Ross) was part of a chasing group of nine with Lily Ryan (Holy Faith Rosbercon) just behind them. Sholah continued to run her own race and had 13 seconds to spare at the finish with a big scramble for places going on in her wake. Emma rounded the corner into the short finish straight in joint 4th.

With the legs tiring she looked good for 5th only for Clodagh O’Callaghan of Presentation Kilkenny to sneak past her at the line. Nothing wrong with 6th in Leinster. Lily produced a fab sprint finish to place 13th. Both girls progress to the All-Irelands. Other Wexford placings: 22 Lucy McCormack (Loreto), 35 Rayna Thompson (Presentation), 52 Lucy Minihan, 74 Molly Hennessy-Murphy, 89 Laura Phelan, Eva O’Gorman, 92 Róisín Kehoe (all St Mary’s). Ruby Gallagher O’Reilly (Gorey CS), who would have been hoping for a good run, pulled up with an injury.

Eoin McGlanaghey of Good Counsel placed 18th in junior boys, just missing out on qualification.

Loreto Wexford had a team competing in the inter girls 3,000 metres. It was interesting to note that, for whatever reason, there was a year-on-year drop of 25% in the number competing. This did not, however, take from the quality of the race. Following the initial rush to get ahead of the mob, the pace settled down leaving all the main players in the vanguard.

By the end of the first lap, Emily Bolton (Mount Sackville Chapelizod) and Eimear Cooney (Sacred Heart) were well clear. Loreto’s Maria Coone and Aoife Walsh were at the head of the large chasing group, Éabha Keane (Presentation Wexford) a little further back. While Aoife looked below par on the final lap and drifted off the pace, Maria stuck to the task and followed every move of those around her. In the end, Emily Bolton pulled a massive 25 seconds out of Eimear Cooney to win with ease, Eimear taking the silver and Leia Ryan (Castleknock CS) the bronze. The next five athletes finished in a 4 second rush, with Maria among them in 7th place. Aoife placed 22nd while a strong finishing Éabha Keane was 26th. Other Wexford placings (both Loreto): 47 Cora Finn, 54 Cara Kelly.

Good Counsel’s Max Murphy started the inter boys’ race in his usual laconic style only this time he never got to engage the after-burners. That said, and putting to one side the what-might-have-beens, even without sparking to life he still managed to place 18th. He has another year at this level so time is on his side.

Wexford’s youngest qualifier to the All-Irelands was Kyle Bolger of Good Counsel with his brilliant 6th place finish in minor boys. Alex Miller of Wexford CBS placed 30th. The county’s top performer in minor girls was 42nd place Laragh Walsh (Loreto). Kate Hayden (St Mary’s) was 59th.

The All-Ireland Schools Cross Country Championships take place March 11th at the WIT grounds, Carriganore, Waterford.

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