Wexford athletes impress at Leinster Cross Country

With athletes still embracing the return to competitive cross country running and the new season still in its early stages, spectators were treated to a fantastic feast athletics at the Leinster Juvenile (even ages), Junior & Novice Cross Country Championships. The meet, hosted by St Senan’s AC, took place in a well tucked away spot just outside the hurling stronghold of Ballyhale in Co Kilkenny. The rain which wasn’t supposed to blow in from the west until after the event was over came early. And it was very wet rain! Thankfully, the undulating and well-drained course, which was until relatively recently a golf course, did not cut up. While the weather may have tested the resilience of both competitors and spectators, this did not take from the delight and excitement, especially among younger athletes, of simply experiencing live competitive action.

Athletics Wexford Chairman Paddy Morgan, always first to arrive and last to depart, had the Wexford tent up and open for athletes seeking shelter from the elements. Those who donned wellies and overalls were entitled to feel smug; and those in dry robes married fashion with smug! 

The girls under 14 3000 metres race provided the first big excitement of the day for the large Wexford contingent. Emma Hickey of United Striders pulled away from the field early on in very dramatic fashion and she very quickly built up a sizeable lead. She looked majestic and full of confidence as she powered ahead. With the race consisting of one short and one long lap, the girls had to negotiate a short, sharp hill at the start of each lap, followed by a long gradual incline up to the top of the course, then a down hill stretch before a rather cruel and punishing drag about 500m from the finish. Front-load your effort too much and that sucker would be waiting for you next time around. As Emma found out. She could do nothing to withstand the strong late rally from Tullamore’s Niamh Garvey and, despite her best efforts, she was overhauled. Emma finished strongly to take the silver. Given her determination and self-belief she can look forward to the Nationals with confidence. She was backed up well by Emma McCarthy of St Killian’s in 21st,  Éabha Keane (DMP) 26th and Rayna Thompson and Ava Barry, both Kilmore, 27th and 32nd respectively. Ruby Gallagher O’Reilly (Croghan) placed 43rd, Grace Goggin (DMP) 48th and Ava Wolohan (Croghan) 50th. Emma Barrett (DMP) was 55th, Heather Costello (United Striders) 70th and Erin Byrne (Croghan) 78th. The Wexford girls finished 6th County overall. Lots of potential for this team going forward.

Max Murphy of United Striders is tall for his age. He recently won both under 14 and under 15 county titles at the county championships. He was in the vanguard from the start in the under 14 boys race. However, he faced stiffer competition here than he did in Wexford and the up and down course saw him losing contact with the leaders. He rallied well, however, especially in the run for home. He was rewarded with a fine 8th place finish and a place at the All Irelands. Enda Byrne of SBR had a very good run to finish 15th. Clubmate Aidan Bowe was 27th, Eanna Grennan (United Striders) 49th, Jack Browne (Enniscorthy) 61st, brothers Clint and Jack Johnson, both SBR, were 81st and 85th respectively. The County team finished 6th and SBR were 9th club.

There was keen interest in the under 16 girls 4000 metres race. Aoife Walsh of DMP, another county champion, set out with the leaders at a pretty hot pace. Eimear Cooney of Ace AC, however, was hot-squared and she blasted away from the field leaving the others to battle among themselves, Aoife included. The DMP girl, battling wind and rain, dug deep and drove on. Despite losing contact with a few of her fellow pursuers, she maintained her rhythm to cross the line in 6th place. Good result. Not too far behind her were clubmates Maria Coone and Lucia Goggins, both finishing very strongly – Maria 10th and Lucia 13th. There was some fine running from the rest of the Wexford girls with Abbey Wolohan (Croghan) finishing in 21st, then a trio of DMP athletes, Cara Kelly 45th, Nicole Lageu 54th, Rachel Cullen 66th and Libby Brownrigg SBR in 82nd. The DMP girls were thrilled to discover that the club had finished in the silver medal position in the team event and, as a result, had qualified for the All Irelands. That strong performance also put the county team in the silver medal position so the girls were well rewarded with silverware.

Sean Lennon of United Striders knows only one way to run: hard and fast. So it was no surprise to see him taking off like a scalded cat in the boys under 16 race. His early blistering pace had a few lads looking distinctly uncomfortable. It looked a tad over-ambitious, and that is exactly how it transpired to be. The 4km course led the boys three times up a long energy-sapping hill and this was always going to test the reserves. Breathing down his neck, Sean was pursued by a pack working together which reeled him in and overtook him. The young Striders athlete, however, is a true warrior who runs with no fear, one for whom giving up is not an option. He bravely fought his way back to 5th place to book his berth at the All Ireland’s.

So onto another exciting race with a strong Wexford presence, the combined Junior and under 18 for girls, 4000 metres in length. Junior athlete Róisín O’Reilly of Menapians and DMP’s Claragh Keane (under 18) were part of an early break-away group of six or seven athletes. This was whittled down to five, with Róisín and Claragh still involved, and, late in the final lap, to three with the Menapians girl still looking strong. Claragh was just off the pace of this trio but not losing ground. Then with about 600m to go the shake-up happened with Bray’s Anna Watson going for broke. Róisín and Dunleer’s Maebh Eakin lost contact with her on a deceptively tricky uphill section. Claragh, meanwhile, had found her rhythm and was motoring. She drew up to Róisín and Maebh, then pushed on to take a brilliant second place with Maebh third and a weary Róisín 4th. Expect all four of these girls to be in the hunt for glory at the All-Irelands. Emma Hannon of United Striders was 47th and Sophie Tkacheva of Croghan 51st.

The excitement of that race was still in the air when the starter’s pistol sent the Junior and under 18 boys on their way. Wexford spectators, coaches and athletes flocked to the course to cheer on one of the pre-race favourites, Joe Byrne of SBR. Taking a leaf from young Sean Lennon’s book, Joe took to the front in a massive solo effort. He quickly established a lead which, at one point, stretched to 80 yards or more. Problem was that there was a bunch of ten chasing him and on a windy day, out-front is a lonely and vulnerable place to be. On the second lap Cathal O’Reilly of KCH decided it was time to leave the comfort of the pack and to chase down Joe. It looked like a big ask but, as we have seen in many a Tour de France break-away, its all about timing and patience. The gap diminished in size and, on the final lap, Joe gave up his lead. He kept his head, however, and stayed on for a good second place finish. Joe knows that on the right day, fortune favours the brave. He knows that he is in good shape and that on another day his gamble could just as easily have paid off. He can look forward to the Nationals with confidence. Myles Hewlett of United striders ran a strong and well-balanced race to finish in 14th place overall and 5th under 18. Myles has been bothered with injuries so he will be pleased to have a strong run under his belt. Another Striders athlete Will Park is very much on an upwards trajectory as he proved with his 19th place overall and 6th under 18. Clubmates followed close behind: Adam O’Connor in 23rd, Darragh Flannelly 30th (14th u18) and Aidan Shannon 33rd (16th u18). Alex Gregg (DMP) had a solid run to finish in 47th (24th u18) with Daniel Byrne of Croghan 57th (33rd in u18), Eoin Shannon United Striders 63rd (39th u18).

   

It was another great day for the young men of United Striders as they enjoyed their 6th Leinster Cross Country team title in a row. To crown this remarkable achievement, the club’s athletes played a vital role in County Wexford securing the runner-up spot in the inter-county category, the scoring sextet being the Striders quartet of Hewlett, Park, Flannelly and Shannon along with Alex Gregg and Daniel Byrne. This ensures that both the New Ross-based club and the county will be represented at the Nationals.

Earlier in the day Wexford had a good squad of athletes in the girls under 12 race. First Wexford girl home was Saoirse Flanagan of DMP in 23rd position followed by Kayleigh Butler of Taghmon in 35th and Faye Barry of Kilmore in 37th. Izzy Aspel of Taghmon was 47th. Completing the Wexford team were Maria Kilbane (DMP) 72nd, Kate Fortune (Kilmore) 77th, Justina Tkacheva (Croghan) 97th, Jaden Ryan (Kilmore) 115th. The Wexford team finished a very credible 8th.

Aaron Hancock of Kilmore had an excellent run in the boys under 12 race, finishing 18th. Sean Power of DMP was 47th and Oisin Tyrell (Enniscorthy) 55th followed closely by Fionn MacEoghaidh of United Striders in 58th. Charlie Fogarty of DMP was 88th with Maitiu Wall of United Striders 95th. The Wexford team finished well up in the county event in 6th place.

The novice ladies race was won convincingly by Bronagh Kearns of host club, St Senan’s AC. Kearns, who excelled as a juvenile athlete before taking a few years away from competitive racing, is proving herself to be one of the top female talents in the country. The main interest from a Wexford point of view was Croghan’s Clodagh Kelly. She ran a very strong race, never very far from the front and picking off athletes as the race progressed. She crossed the line in an excellent 14th place. Clare Barrett of DMP followed up on her win in the Wexford Novice Championships with a brave and hard-fought run to place 44th. SBR stalwart Belinda Kehoe was 63rd.

DCH athlete Pierre Murchan was 4th in last weekend’s Autumn International in Dublin. He wasted little time in making his intentions clear in the Novice Men’s 6km race as he opened an unassailable lead on the field. The line of athletes trailing directly in his wake included Slaney Olympic duo Enda Cloake and the ever-improving David Mahon. The two lads spent much of the race side by side and stride for stride. Enda eventually broke clear on the last lap and set his sights on those ahead. A very strong finish brought him up to 5th place at the finish line with David just behind in 7th. Mark Poole of Croghan placed 22nd, Alan O’Connor (United Striders) 39th, Scott James (U.S.) 59th, John Byrne (U.S.) 60th, Kevin Morris (Croghan) 74th, Pat Foley (Croghan) 75th, John McGrath (U.S.) 80th, Tomas Harrington (U.S.) 83rd, David Kehoe (U.S.) 84th, John Hickey (U.S.) 97th, Kenneth Rothwell (SBR) 99th, James Cullen (U.S.) 103rd. Wexford were 4th county team. 

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