Wexford athletes star at National XC Championships!

Photo of Claragh Keane (DMP) at the start of her race (thanks to Tullamore Harriers for the pic).

The Irish Life Health National Juvenile Even Ages, Junior, U23 and Senior Cross Country Championships took place in the stunning surroundings of the National Cross Country Course on the fantastic National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, Dublin. The course is so good that it has been selected to host the European Cross Country Championships next December. However, while pretty to look at last Sunday it wasn’t so pretty to run on. Following a couple of weeks of nonstop rain, conditions underfoot were not good and got progressively worse as the day continued making it very difficult for athletes. The recipe for success was the 12mm or 15mm spikes, which were very much needed.

Emma McCarthy (St. Killians AC) with her medal after finishing 4th in the Girls U12 race. Photo: Senan O’Reilly

The action got underway at 11.30am with the Girls U12 2000m. Emma McCarthy of St. Killians AC was the sole Wexford athlete in action in this race. Emma has had some epic performances in the past 12 months; including a bronze medal at the National Indoors over 600m and a bronze medal in the Leinster Cross Country Championships. Emma was hoping to replicate that success in Abbotstown. For an athlete so young, Emma has a fantastic racing brain. She never goes off too hard and always has a good kick to finish. She showed her tactical astuteness again, with a brave run. Emma didn’t over commit at the start and heading out on the 2nd of the 1000m loops was well in contention. From here, she gradually moved up the field, picking athletes off. As she entered the finishing straight, she had climbed to 4th place; however, a group of five athletes were hot on her heels and appeared to gaining on her. With the crowd, roaring on, Emma found another gear and held her position. The determination she displayed to do this was admirable and she thoroughly deserves her National medal for finishing 4th. Emma even took time out afterwards to sign autographs!

Sean ‘The Rocket’ Lennon of United Striders was the next Wexford athlete in action in the Boys U14 3000m. This saw the introduction of the 1500m loops, where the majority of the difficult running was, notwithstanding the hill that has broken many a cross-country runners’ morale since the course was first used. Sean had a very strong run, all the way around, finishing well inside the top half of the field in 60th place. 

Claragh Keane was the next Wexford athlete in action, in the Girls U16 4000m. The D.M.P AC athlete is arguably having her best season yet having finished 2nd in both the Leinster U16 and U17 Championship races. Claragh was aiming to finish in the top 12 and make the team for the Celtic International, which will take place in Scotland this year. Despite the leaders getting away from her in the early stages, Claragh continued to plug away, making light work of the tougher parts of the course. As the race, progressed Claragh was running as fast if not faster than the leaders and began to close. She maintained her position throughout and finished a very credible 8th. Claragh was delighted afterwards as it ensured that she qualified for the Irish team and once again gets the opportunity to pull on the green singlet. Claragh will have another busy month in December. 

The Boys U16 race was next up, also 4000m. There was a strong Wexford entry in this race, with both a Wexford County team and a United Striders AC, club team entered. It was anticipated that both of these teams would be in the mix for medals. Myles Hewlett was the standout performer on both teams, finishing 3rd. This was after a great battle throughout the race with arch rival Tadgh Connolly of St. Senan’s AC. Waterford AC’s Aidan Burke, was in the top 3 all throughout the race until his legs gave in with metres to go, leaving Myles and Tadgh battling for bronze. Myles just edged him out by the narrowest of margins. Myles roared with delight and celebrated before falling to the floor in what was a great outpouring of emotion. Myles now joins Claragh Keane on the Irish team for the Celtic International. 

Myles Hewlett after emptying the tank to finish 3rd in the U16 Boys race. Photo: Rory Cassidy

Behind Myles, the other Wexford athletes were scrapping for positions, knowing that every place would count. Eoin Shannon crossed the line in 35th, with Aidan Shannon following just behind in 36th. William Park also made the top 50 coming 47th. This ensured that for yet another year United Striders were crowned national inter-club champions. Ben Wall and Darragh Flannelly of United Striders AC finished 54th and 56th. Robert, brother of Ben, crossed the line in 75th. Alex Gregg of D.M.P AC finished in 92nd. Owen Lennon of the Striders was 108th, while James Hegarty of D.M.P AC was 111th. The Wexford County team just missed out on a medal, finishing 5th

At this stage, the action was coming thick and fast and conditions were beginning to get even stickier. Roisin O’Reilly was next up in the Girls U18 and Junior race. The Menapians AC athlete has had a fantastic 2019, representing Ireland in Cross Country and on the track in the Steeplechase. From the outset of the 4000m race, Roisin was in a prominent position. She was working hard and was holding her own with the best Junior (U20) athletes despite being two years younger than some of them. With a lap to go, Roisin did fade slightly but continued to battle hard. Despite not having her best day, Roisin still managed to finish in 9th place in the U18 category and earn herself a medal. She also came 16th in the junior race, a very solid showing considering Roisin still has two more years in this category.

Fiona Kehoe, Ciara Wilson and Elizabeth Egan, of Kilmore AC, D.M.P AC and Bree AC were all in action in the Senior Women’s 8000m race. Just the week before Fiona had finished 4th at the Home Country’s Masters International Meet in Aintree, Liverpool and 2nd in her category meaning she was in good form going into the race. Ciara recently won the Leinster Senior Cross Country title in Ferbane.

There was a strong field in the race, with the standout entrant, being Fionnuala McCormack (nee Britton) of Kilcoole AC. McCormack recently ran a 2.26 hrs marathon and is the a two time European Cross Country champion. She was the clear winner of the National title finishing nearly 2 minutes clear of 2nd place, Mary Mulhare of Portlaoise AC and her younger sister Una in 3rd

In the early stages, Fiona was in 20th position, with Ciara in around 30th. As the race, progressed Wilson began to gradually close the gap on a tiring Kehoe. The athletes battled with each other for some time, before Wilson made her move in the last lap. Unfortunately, for Fiona, she couldn’t close the gap, as her exploits the weekend before showed. The fresher legs of Wilson prevailed. Ciara finished in 23rd place, while Fiona was 25th. Elizabeth Egan was 72nd

Ger Forde of Slaney Olympic AC was the only Wexford man to take on the Senior Men’s race. With the distance 10000m, it was always going to prove a challenge. It was also quite the mental challenge, with athletes normally running 5 of the 2000m laps having to run one 1000m loop and six 1500m loops. Ger ran a strong race to finish in 40th position. This is noteworthy as there was nearly 200 in the race.

Liam Brady of Tullamore Harriers AC was a very popular, 1st time winner, followed by Brian Fay of Raheny Shamrocks, in 2nd position and Sean Tobin of Clonmel AC in 3rd.

Full results at the Athletics Ireland website.

The Irish Life Health National Juvenile Uneven Ages and Novice Cross Country Championships take place in Cow Park, Dunboyne, Co. Meath on Sunday the 15th of December. The Mr Oil County Intermediate Cross Country Championships, hosted by Kilmore AC, takes place next Sunday, the 8th of December. 

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