There was plenty of competition for the medals in the women’s race at the county intermediate cross-country championships in Graignamanagh
There was another call of international duty for Kilkenny City Harriers (KCH) athlete Cathal O’Reilly when he donned the Irish jersey for the second time in a month last weekend.
O’Reilly, a member of Ireland’s European under-20 silver medal-winning team, competed in the junior men’s 8,000m race at the Celtic International in Belfast.
Set in Dundonald, the tough and challenging course has been the scene for international cross-country running for several years now. The race was won by Sam Mills of England with Ireland’s Dean Casey second place and Scott Fagan third.
Team Ireland won the Celtic event by a large margin. Cathal finished in 23rd place, staying ahead of the final scorers for Scotland and Wales.
It has been a long but successful cross-country season for O’Reilly, who started his challenge to make the Irish team at the Autumn Open in Dublin in October. Winning the Leinster Novice at Mountain View a week later demonstrated his form, while the national championships in Dublin in November sealed his selection for both the European Cross Country and the Celtic International.
Meanwhile Eoin Everard (KCH), who finished 11th in the National Seniors in December, was selected for the senior event. The senior race was awarded silver status as part of the World Cross-Country Tour race series, attracting athletes from across the world.
The overall race was won by Zak Mohammad of England with Italy’s Illias Ouani second and Scotland’s Stuart McCallum third. First of the Irish home was Ryan Creech in sixth place, leading Team Ireland to second place in the Celtic International team event. Eoin finished in 11th place, just one place behind his Irish team-mate Emmet Jennings. Eoin will now switch seasons as he plans to race over the shorter track races in the coming months.
Graignamanagh was the scene for the county B juvenile and intermediate cross-country last Sunday. A cold still day with a deep grey blanket covering the sky, it was a welcome contrast to the frozen terrain that greeted athletes when this event was last held here in 2019.
Local club Barrow Harriers had a well laid out course, with the mild winter weather ensuring that underfoot conditions were excellent. Perched high on the hills overlooking the Barrow Valley, there were a few steep hills that all athletes remember and some downhills that no athlete seems to recall.
The first race of the 2022 season saw good numbers in both the intermediate men’s and women’s events. There was every reason to have a large turnout as any one of four clubs had amassed enough points to enable them to win the county cross-country shield.
Not everyone is eligible for the intermediate race. Any athlete who has been in the top three of a county senior cross country or on a winning team will be deemed ineligible. Thus clubs like KCH and St Senan’s, who have won the individual and team titles for the past few years, had many of their athletes sidelined from this event. This left the contest more open for other athletes and clubs to compete for that elusive county shield.
In the women’s race Thomastown had a strong team of eight ready to clock up those valuable shield points. Hannah Kehoe led the field after 100m and looked at ease as she charged over the first hill. As the athletes turned left at the top of the hill and descended, the field of over 20 athletes had already begun to string out.
Kehoe and team-mate Caoilte Malone were at the front of a pack that included Gowran’s Anne O’Brien and Anne Watkins of St Joseph’s. With Ellen Ryan (Thomastown) leading the chasing pack, which included more Thomastown athletes, it was clear from the early stages of the race that Thomastown were going to be hard to beat.
With three-quarters of the race over and St Joseph’s Caroline Murphy passing out Thomastown’s Sinead O’Keeffe, it was clear that this extra gain was not going to deplete Thomastown’s dominance - their depth was too much for the Tullogher-Rosbercon team.
With the 3,000m completed, it was Hannah Kehoe who led her Thomastown team-mates to victory over St Joseph’s. Thomastown also managed to pip Gowran for third place.
With just two points now separating Thomastown and St Joseph’s the destination of the shield was down to the results of the men’s race.
Padraig Ruane, who was just one place outside being on the KCH winning senior team in the county championships a few months ago, was intent on making this race his own.
Fresh from a Christmas trip home to his native Mayo, the sharp air and steep mountain inclines of the West had served as his yuletide training ground. It worked well, as he moved through the hilly course in a spritely fashion.
Behind him James Morrissey (Castlecomer) and Sean Connery (Kings River) were in a duel. Morrissey, who finished second in the Greenland marathon in October, had the slight edge on Connery after the first lap.
But the Kings River man, like the secret agent of the same name, had a few tricks up his sleeve. Moving fast down the hill, Connery got to the narrow gap first and controlled the pace through the narrow top part of the field.
However, this was not enough to shake off the Castlecomer man, who was once more on his shoulder. Back in the main body of the field, it was still a toss-up as to whether it would be Thomastown or St Joseph’s that would claim the shield.
At the half-way stage it was almost certain that KCH would take the team title. Behind them the second place could go to either Thomastown or St Joseph’s. Gowran, however, had not enough points to challenge for the overall shield.
Joey Duggan was the leading St Joseph’s man in sixth place, with Thomastown’s Denis O’Sullivan one place behind in seventh.
This placing had not changed for over a lap now. It was down to the third and fourth-placed athletes on both teams to determine the overall outcome.
After 8,000m it was Padraig Ruane (KCH) who led his team to victory with Gowran in second and St Joseph’s in third. St Joseph’s had won the overall senior shield.
“I thought we had it halfway through the race,” said Thomastown’s Michael O’Keeffe. “I knew we had it on the last lap,” confirmed Bob Saunders of St Joseph’s.
There was a great turn out in the juvenile races, with the medals going to a variety of clubs.
With the top three individuals and winning teams for the initial county championships eliminated, this still left a large number of athletes in many events.
Barrow Harriers had a large turnout, as did Thomastown and St Joseph’s. All clubs managed to take home medals on the day, an honest distribution of talent for the start of the new year.
Amy O’Shea (Thomastown) was an impressive winner of the girls’ under-13 race as was Kyle Bolger of St Joseph’s in the boys’ event. John Kennedy (Castlecomer) had a great win in the boys’ under-15 race with Gowran AC taking the under-13 double.
There is still one more race left for the cross country season – the All-Ireland B Championships in Castlelyons on February 13. Not forgetting the schools cross-country season for the older juveniles, which will kick off in less than a fortnight’s time. All will present some development opportunities for the county’s young athletes.
There was some more success for the county at the weekend. At the national indoor combined events in Athlone Louis Raggett (KCH) was second with new personal bests (PBs) in the under-16 800m and high jump. In the boys’ under-14 events Thomas Carroll (Gowran) was third. The combined events, with their multiple disciplines, test the athletes physically and also demand more of them in terms of time management of their training routines.
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