With the last rays of the Summer sunshine caressing our skin, athletes in Kilkenny are e preparing for the cross-country season.
From Kilmacow, to Castlecomer, Glenmore to Gowran and right across Thomastown, Castlecomer, Coon, Graignamanagh and wherever, athletes are building up condition.
This non-racing period from mid-August to the end of September is vital. It offers athletes space to slowly build up the mileage and strength and physical fitness before the speed work and racing season commences.
Without proper build up, injury can hit and damper even the best athlete’s season.
What can people expect from this season? Kilkenny has some fine cross-country athletes.
Some have had an amazing track season, while others prefer to lay low and keep ticking over – waiting for their favourite season to commence.
On the senior front KCH won the county seniors for the seventh successive year. With this year’s seniors again in Kilmacow, can they achieve an 8th victory?
Brian Maher is in training for the trials for the Irish Masters team. He is running well of late and he wants to add another international Masters cross-country victory to the brilliant win he had in Northern Ireland last year.
Then there is Tom O’Keeffe with his under-23 European cross-country selection. Can he build on that?
KCH have some older guys ready to embark on a junior and under-23 career. Shay McEvoy won the Celtic International 3,000m in August. It is no secret that he prefers cross-country.
Twin sister, Annie, is also back in action after injury prevented her from racing track.
Of course people should not forget Peter Lynch, who is currently on scholarship in Oklahoma, and Aoibhe Richardson in Seattle. Both will run their collegiate races and with some good scheduling people might see them back home racing in the black and amber too.
Thomastown are led by a brigade of young girls who are top of their age group in Ireland.
Fiona Dillon may have returned from a year’s injury last cross-country season, but her record breaking Leinster track performances and her superb National 1,500m victory surely has to put her right at the top of the under-15 national contenders.
Added to this Hannah O’Keeffe made her international debut in cross-country last year – she is eligible for the same age group this year – one would expect to see her name pop up on a regular basis.
The girls under-16 and 17 teams should feature for Leinster and national honours.
With some younger athletes emerging on the scene, this year could see some new faces sharing the limelight.
Down south Kilmacow has always had a strong cross-country tradition; back to the days they won best club in Leinster (a few decades ago now).
Tara Ramasawmy is coming into the 2018 season fresh from her under-17 All-Ireland 1,500m victory as well as having debuted early in 2017 as a cross-country international.
Tadgh Connolly surprised everyone in 2017 when the prominent shot putter stormed the field at the Leinster cross-country championships (even veteran Liam Kealy had to do a double take) and went on to finish in the top six at nationals.
With a summer of inter-county hurling and two national throws medals, Tadgh is back on the scene for cross-country again.
The St Senan’s boys undere-15 team should also do well again and the girls under-18 could have a trick up their sleeve.
After an absence of decades the club emerged with a decent senior ladies team in 2017, winning the county. Can they pull off a repeat?
Castlecomer are blessed with the talents of Lauren Dearmody and James Kelly. With both their names in the top three for so many races last year, we should expect to see this continue.
Lauren has probably promoted herself from novice and intermediate due to her ensemble of fantastic performances.
The under-23 cross-country scene will again be her aim.
James, on the other hand, will be challenging KCH for podium positions in the county seniors.
Molly O’Doran is coming through nicely for the juveniles and who knows what surprises the under-11s’ and 12s' might produce.
Gowran’s Hannah Kehoe, the double national silver medallist from 2017, will be chasing gold. With Kilkenny being exceptionally strong in this age group, she will also have to expect a challenge from Thomastown’s Fiona Dillon and KCH’s Elenore Goddin.
Hannah is another athlete who made her international cross-country debut earlier this year. Start placing your bets on this young lady for podium positions for 2018.
Rumour has it that the Gowran under-13 team are set to challenge St Senan’s this year too. Another exciting challenge to look forward to.
St Joseph’s Joss O’Connor should feature prominently too. As an under-11 he will enter the national competitive age groups.
He will hope to follow a long line of Glenmore, Tullogher and Rosbercon cross-country greats. Sally Forristal has already made her marathon debut in Berlin and like Lauren Dearmody, her 2017 accolades have most likely promoted her from the ranks of novice and intermediate.
Barrow Harriers are a new club still gaining experience. It was interesting to see how after two years their under-11s’ are now gaining credence within the county.
They had seven Barrow Harriers teams competing in the girls under-11 county cross-country relays recently, and four teams made the top six in this age group.
We can therefore expect to see them as a podium contender in both individual and team events. Watch this space for their names.
Brow Rangers are mostly known for their throwing poweress, but we can expect to see some of their younger athletes compete in the county championships. There could be gold in them there hills in Coon.
For the next few weeks the racing season will unfold and gather momentum.
Athletes will start to enter a new phase of the season, racing, fartlek, speed work. The St Senan’s AC Open cross-country will kick start the racing season.
This annual event in the Kilmacow Sports Complex starts at 1pm. It is a great season’s opener over slightly shorter distances.
The following two weeks will feature the county juvenile championships; the selection for county teams is based on these races.
September 30 - St Senans AC Open cross-country, Kilmacow (1pm).
October 7 - county even age championships in Tullogher (11am).
October 14 - county odd ages championships in Castlecomer (11am).
October 27 - Leinster juvenile even ages and novice in Navan (11am).
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.