Big things in store for Kilkenny’s talented athletes as 2018 beckons

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Kilkenny athletes Cliodhna Manning, Ciara Deely, Jack Manning, Sophie Becker and David Murphy represented their county in European competition during 2017 PICTURE: PAT MOORE

Trying to squeeze all of Kilkenny’s athletic achievements from 2017 into one column is almost an impossible task.
Such was the number of fine performances from Kilkenny athletes, not to mention national and Leinster medals won along with international appearances, writing down all accolades would be the equivalent of starting a book!
As with each year the cross country season continues into January while February mixes both cross-country and indoors.
March is confused and confusing – the fizzling out of cross-country, the national indoors, interjected with international performances; to this you add rest periods and the beginning of track and field training.
From April to August, it’s track and field with cross-country setting in again from September to December. It’s no wonder so many feel tired, exhausted and worn out at this time of year as they follow the continuous athletic calendar that has become the pattern of many lives across the county.
The early cross-country season in January and February saw Niall Sheehan (Gowran AC) crowned the intermediate national champion with Thos Hayes (Kilkenny City Harriers - KCH) finishing in fifth place. Meanwhile, over in Cardiff, Shay and Annie McEvoy (KCH) had top 20 placings in the Celtic Games.
The national junior indoors delivered magnificent wins for Annie O’Connor (KCH) in the 800m and Ciara Deeley in the 400m while Sophie Becker (St Joseph’s) won the under-23 60m and 200m double. In a nice round-off to the Arctic days of January Kilkenny was presented with the cup for the best juvenile cross-country county in Leinster.
Masters
February heralded the National B All-Irelands and Masters cross-country in Waterford. Those big hills may have taken the wind out of many athletic sails on the day, but it did no harm in the end.
The results from a Kilkenny perspective were nothing short of excellent. Among the highlights were a fifth place finish for Adele Walsh (St Senan’s) in the Masters over-40.
David O’Carroll (Gowran) was third under-17 while David Williams (St Senan’s) was fourth in the under-13.
There were good performances also from Billy Power (Thomastown) and Billy Coogan (Gowran) while Sophie Jackman (St Senan’s) was sixth at under-15 level and Eoin Aylward (St Senan’s) 11th under-11.
The county secured silver at under-13 and under-11 bronze, with St Senan’s swooping for silver club medals at under-11 and under13 levels.
Indoors
Mixing cross-country and the indoors is pretty much a February norm but Kilkenny’s athletes did so with distinction, scoring a fine haul of medals.
Among the highlights of the Leinster Indoors was the performance of David Murphy (Gowran), who won the under-18 200m with a new championship best performance..
The medals rained down on the county’s athletes - long jump, high jump, walks, pole vault, weight throw, shot-put, hurdles, sprints and distance - and all the clubs got a share of them too.
At the National Senior Indoors Eoin Everard (KCH) won gold in the 3,000m with Cliodhna Manning (KCH) taking a bronze in the 200m.
Once again the sports star awards in Langtons brought all the Kilkenny athletes together in a different guise.
Tracksuits were cast aside for glam and glitter as they all showed another side of their personalities. It is a great event, with much enjoyment to be had from all who attended.
March staged the National Juvenile Indoors. Highlights were gold for David Murphy in the under-18 60m and 200m, silver for Saoirse Allen (St Senan’s) in the under-14 high jump, Tomás Mullally (St Joseph’s) in the walk, Nicky Connolly (Castlecomer) in the walk, Ciara Deeley (KCH) in the 200m, Annie O’Connor under-19 800m and 400m and Patrick Darcy (Brow Rangers) in the shot-put.
Track and Field
The county track and field was held over three Sundays in May. With many fine individual performances from many athletes, KCH emerged as the winners of the juvenile shield for the best club in the county.
The senior 1,500m and 3,000m races engaged a lot of runners, with the competition proving intense. It is probably the most competitive and highly supported race of all the senior programme.
The National Combined Events was the first National Track championships of the new season. Verena Lee (St Joseph’s) won the over-40s event while Jordan Knight (Thomastown) earned silver in the boys’ under-15 category.
There was more good fortune at the Leinster championships. Gowran and KCH amassed medals in the pairs, while in the under-12s and upwards, Ciara Deeley and Annie McEvoy (KCH), Mark Wallis, Peter McDonald and Tara Ramsawmy (St Senan’s), Jordan Knight (Thomastown), Patrick Darcy (Brow Rangers), Evan O’Toole (St Joseph’s) and James O’Neill (Gowran) were outstanding in their given fields.
Impress
The national track and field championships for all age categories were held in July. Starting with the juniors David Murphy of Gowran continued to impress when he took gold in the 100m. Ciara Deeley did well with silver in the 400m. James O’Neill (Gowran) was second in the discus while Shane Power (St Joseph’s) won silver in the pole vault. Jack Manning (KCH) was third in the 200m.
Kilkenny scored four gold medals in the under-23 nationals - Cliodhna Manning (KCH) was first in the 200m while Sophie Becker (St Joseph’s) won the 400m title. Nicholas Dunphy (KCH) was first home in the 5k walk while Lauren Dermody (Castlecomer) clinched the 3k steeplechase.
The National Masters saw gold medal performances from Verena Fenlon (St Joseph’s) in the high jump and shot-put, Pat Mahon (St Joseph’s) in the long jump, Brid Lawlor (St Joseph’s) in the 3k walk) and John Joe Lawlor (St Joseph’s) in the 5k walk.
The attention turned to the juvenile section after that, with many locals securing national medals and many more who were privileged enough to qualify for this prestigious event.
Euro-bound Ciara Deely had a Championship Best in the 400m while the McEvoy twins, Annie and Shay, took gold in their respective 3,000m events.
St Senan’s of Kilmacow had stellar performances by their athletes taking home a silver and two bronze medals. Gowran, Castlecomer, St Joseph’s, Brow Rangers and Thomastown won medals while the KCH suite of medals was completed by James Kearney in the steeplechase and Rory MacGabhann in the high jump.
Some exceptional multiple event performances were achieved by numerous athletes, perhaps most significantly by Jordan Knight (Thomastown), Evan O’Toole (St Joseph’s), Mark Wallis (St Senan’s) and the KCH trio of Abbie O’Brien, Annie O’Connor and Jennifer Leahy.
The highlight of the National Senior Championships was Cliodhna Manning (KCH) winning the silver medal in the 200m. There were two further medals for KCH in the form of Nicholas Dunphy and Eoin Everard, who picked up bronze in the 10km walk and 1,500m respectively. Lauren Dermody (Castlecomer) just missed out on a medal, coming home fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase.
Kilkenny also had a number of European track and field participants. KCH sent Cliodhna and Jack Manning and Ciara Deely into international action, while Gowran’s David Murphy and St Joseph’s runner Sophie Becker also donned the green of Ireland when participating in major competitions over the coming weeks.
There is a bright crop of county athletes emerging at the moment. It is hoped that they transition successfully to the senior ranks and perhaps in the coming years we will be reading more of their international accolades.
Willie McTiernan
At the end of the Track and Field season Willie McTiernan retired as county PRO. The county athletics board and indeed the entire Kilkenny readership is much indebted to Willie for his countless reports and wonderful photos over the last number of years.
Whether you travelled to Donegal, Kerry, Athlone or Dublin, Willie was always there. The friendly smile and banter as entertaining as the races themselves. Thank you Willie for your enduring service to Kilkenny athletics.
Cross-Country
Cross-country has always been successful in Kilkenny. One of the athletics highlights of the year is the incredible numbers that competed in the county championships this year – especially in Castlecomer, when several juvenile races saw participation in excess of 70 athletes.
New club Barrow Harriers featured on county teams alongside the older clubs. St Senan’s AC retained the juvenile cross country shield, with much jubilation. It was a closely contested shield between themselves and Gowran AC. There was some consolation for Gowran, as they went on to win the senior shield.
The performances of juvenile cross-country runner Hannah Kehoe (Gowran) stood out above all.
She stormed both Leinster Championships and finished second in the nationals, both in and out of her age group. Her unyielding determination and strong focus was an example to all.
Tadgh Connolly (St Senan’s) surprised many this season by his meritorious rise to the national cross-country ranks. It showed the nation that shot-putters can indeed run!
KCH continue to impress at the older age groups, with twins Annie and Shay McEvoy leading the brigade. Several athletes will have a busy end to their 2017 season as they will be competing in the Celtic cross-country championships in Antrim in January.
Kilkenny retained the best juvenile cross country county in Leinster after a close encounter with Westmeath.
Kilkenny gained several county team prizes at the juvenile All-Irelands with the Thomastown girls’ under-15 and KCH boys’ under-17 grades impressing the most with their gold medal winning teams, while St Senan’s picked up several of the minor team medals.
KCH proved to be a strong senior men’s force this season, winning the Leinster seniors and finishing second in the nationals. Tom O’Keeffe won the under-23 nationals, earning a place on the Irish team who competed at the European cross-country championships in Slovakia.
Lauren Dermody (Castlecomer) transitioned well from the junior ranks, finishing second in the national under-23 championships and third in the national novice.
Brian Maher (KCH) and Adele Walsh (St Senan’s) qualified for the Masters Home cross-country international in Derry, with Brian winning the over 40s race. Still a major contender at senior races, he is proving formidable at Masters level.
One of the most heartening signs amid all the glory was the rise in participation in senior ladies cross-country. This year saw Kilkenny field a team at national level for the first time in decades.
Places on the teams were hard fought for, with 15 Kilkenny participants at the national novice cross-country. Added to this were three teams from the county: KCH, St Senan’s and Castlecomer.
Led home by Lauren Dermody in third place, the county scored a long overdue reward with a second place finish.
If there is one message that Kilkenny athletics can take into 2018 it’s that the local scene is not only alive but thriving!