Tara Ramsawmy (St Senan's) holds on for victory
It was a golden day for Kilkenny athletes at Tullamore on the final day of the 2018 National juvenile track and field championships.
With three gold medals winners, and some silver and bronze to add to the tally, this was further evidence of the current high standard of athletics in the county.
With so many good performances to cheer, it is hard to know where to start.
As usual the middle distance races produced all the excitement and drama that usually come with these blue ribbon events.
Starting with the girls under-15, Kilkenny were blessed to be represented by two magnificently talented girls, Fiona Dillon of Thomastown and Hannah Kehoe of Gowran.
Fiona set a blistering pace of 64 seconds for the first lap. This sent the message to her competitors that she meant business on the track for the 1,500m.
A group of four athletes followed at a distance, including Hannah Kehoe of Gowran.
Out in front Fiona was not to be caught and she continued her solo run right to the end of the race, taking the gold medal in a personal best time of 4.39 – a spectacular time for a 14-year-old.
Driving on and on
Meanwhile, Hannah Kehoe had begun to shake off Meave O’Neill.
O’Neill recently represented Ireland at 1,500m in the schools international.
By the last lap Hannah had well and truly secured the silver medal, crossing the line in 4.43, a personal best time and some six seconds ahead of Meave O’Neill.
This was Hannah’s first ever track medal.
No reward would be too good for these two wonderful athletes, who work so hard at their event. It was a delight to see Hannah and Fiona on the podium together, rivals in racing but friends in sport.
Just two races later there more excitement for Kilkenny when Tara Ramsawmy (St Senan’s) won the gold in the girls under-17 1,500m.
Coming into the race after shaking off a recent injury, Tara was lacking her usual pace early on.
She completed the first lap in a cautious 12th place. By the second lap she had secured herself comfortably at the back of the leading group of eight runners.
A lot to do
She remained in this group with 200m to go. At this stage one would have been forgiven for thinking that the race was between a group of five girls, which did not include Tara – her name being scarcely mentioned by the PA.
Roisin Treacy (Ashford) and Saoirse O’Brien (Westport) took the pace up a notch at the 200m mark. Tara slipped into fifth position.
With 150m to go she was battling for third and by 100m she was a clear second.
Somewhere down the home straight she found that inner strength to challenge Saoirse O’Brien, and she passed her within the closing 10 metres.
Crossing the line, Tara realised with shock that she had won her first ever gold medal.
The look on her face was of total disbelief. If there is a lesson in Tara’s victory it is that any runner, who currently feels disheartened at never winning national medals, should realise that these championships gave Tara her first individual All-Ireland medals.
At under-17, it took seven years of running to produce a national medal.
Juveniles of Kilkenny take note. Keep running and keep trying hard, your day will come if you put in the work, was the message to all.
While the girls were gaining their victories on the track, another competition was taking on quiet a unique twist of competition.
The boys under-18 high jump was home to several extremely tall young men, one of whom was Rory McGabhann (KCH).
Standing at 6 foot 4 inches, he poses a long lean figure as he cheers on his fellow county athletes between jumps. Having secured his only other All-Ireland medal last year, a bronze, with a PB of 1m 86, he came into this year’s competition hoping he could manage the bronze medal again.
The favourite, Nelvin Appiah from Longford AC, cleared 1m 80cm with ease, as did Darragh Courtney of St Brendan’s AC.
Rory missed the height on his first attempt, but he easily glided over it on his second.
With five athletes left in the competition, he knew the next height would be just 1cm below his best.
His nerves were jangling. Both Appiah and Courtney cleared the new height on their first attempt.
Rory managed to get the height on his second attempt. He coasted over 1m 90 and 1m 93 on his second attempt, with just Appiah and Courtney now remaining.
Whatever happened now, he had not only a bronze medal in hand but also a new PB by 7cms.
Then the unthinkable happened. At 1m 96 he cleared on his first attempt.
Neither Appiah nor Courtney could match the height. Rory McGabhann had won the All-Ireland for the first time, complete with a 10cm PB improvement.
He has now qualified for the Celtic International on August 4.
Where did this huge PB come out of?
Speaking with him afterwards he attributed it to the increase focus on technique above height. The perfect technique should allow for increase height said his coach Paddy O’Keeffe.
And he was right. Coaches like Paddy O’Keeffe know their stuff.
The silver lining
At this stage the track was ablaze with another frenzy of excitement.
Shay McEvoy (KCH) looked to repeat his success of the 3,000m from last week when he led a group of four runners into the last lap.
With 100m to go Shay was out in front, just ahead of James Dunne of Tullamore Harriers. Both tried to surge one last time.
Shay dug deepest and pulled slightly away from Dunne, but with 30m remaining Dunne gave one last deep kick and passed Shay, cruelly snatching victory with the dying steps of the race.
A silver medal for Shay McEvoy in a PB of 4.07. It is a time and position he can be proud of.
Next up was Ella Richardson (KCH), who also claimed her first individual medal, a bronze at under-19 level.
Ella has been consistently on the periphery over the years in both cross-country and track. Through sheer hard work and perseverance she earned her medal at the ripe old age of 18.
Ella should now be able to march with new found confidence into the cross-country season.
Jordan Knight (St Joseph’s), the guy with the coolest ever name and already in possession of two All-Ireland medals from the previous weekend, came into the boys under-16 200m with some expectations.
This multi eventer knew he was in good shape. His third place finish in the 200m rounds off a season in which he has confirmed himself as a clear multi event athlete.
Another athlete to get a silver medal was Tadgh Connolly (St Senan’s). Tadgh was third in the shot putt last weekend and went one better to take sliver in the boys undere-15 discus.
New to this event, Tadgh threw a PB to maintain his silver medal position for all his throws.
Another versatile athlete, Tadgh now has national individual medals in 2018 for cross-country, race-walking, shot putt and discus. He is clearly a talented guy.
Maintaining a strong tradition of throws in this age group, he was joined by fellow St Senan’s club man Joe Roche, who finished sixth.
Evan O’Toole (St Joseph’s) completed the county silver linings when he was second in the boys under-15 triple jump.
Another multi eventer, Evan has competed at long jump, high jump and triple jump in these championships.
The rest period
With the juvenile track and field season now completed on the domestic season, Kilkenny athletics can reflect with positivity on the season.
St Senan’s AC were top of the medal table with eight, followed by KCH with five medals and St Josephs with four.
Gowran and Thomastown both secured two medals each and Castlecomer claimed one medal.
Sometimes one needs to look beyond the medal winning performances and reflect on the potential in the athletes who managed to make the nationals but not medal.
The long hurdles, where Kilkenny did not medal but had some fine performances from St Senan’s AC and KCH athletes, produced good top six finishers from the county, to offer perhaps a glimmer of hope for the efuture.
The throwing events, where Brow Rangers excelled, produced many near medal winning moments and will no doubt bag medals in the future. And to those events that are often ignored by clubs but offer huge potential for club development and where Ireland traditionally have excelled at national level, namely race walking and hammer, these events beg opportunities from clubs.
The upcoming rest period in juvenile athletics gives clubs time to ponder on 2019.
Kilkenny athletics county board expressed sincere thanks to all the hard working coaches and officials who have made juvenile athletics a success throughout the county.
With the 2018 cross-country season looming, the county has plenty to look forward to.
1,500m girls under-15 1 Fiona Dillon (TT); 2 Hannah Kehoe (G); girls under-17 1 Tara Ramasawmy (SS); girls under-19 3 Ella Richardson (KCH).
Boys under-18 2 Shay McEvoy; 11 Kevin Burns; 19 James Kearney; 200m boys under-16 3 Jordan Knight (SJ).
Hurdles girls under-15 250m 12 Rachel Leahy (KCH); girls under-16 250m H, 5 Clodagh Monahan (SS); girls under-17 5 Jennifer Leahy (KCH), 6 Sophie Jackman (SS).
Boys under-16 7 Cathal O’Rielly (CC).
Discus boys under-14 12 David Williams (SS); under-15 2 Tadgh Connolly (SS), 6 Joe Roche (SS).
Triple jump boys under-15 2 Evan O’Toole (SJ).
High jump girls under-17 5 Jennifer Leahy (KCH); boys under-18 1 Rory McGabhann (KCH).
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.