It is 9am in Conahy. Brian Maher completes the Sunday chores on his dairy farm.
He looks West at the sky and checks the wind; conditions are good, perfect for racing. He gives a nod of satisfaction, clenches his fists and heads back to the house. A good breakfast (the pre-race kind - check his bag one last time to ensure his racing kit is still there and then says goodbye to his family.
This is a ritual Brian has perfected over the years. Routine is important in the life of an athlete, especially one like Brian, who balances life as a top national athlete with family and farming.
The Abbotstown Open Cross-Country acts as the trails for both the European Cross Country and the Masters International. Last year Brian won this race, going on to win the International event too. This year he intended to repeat this performance.
The Masters Race was run over 7,500m and was held in conjunction with the senior men’s race. This made it tough to figure out what position he would be in during the race. But he had examined the entry list, the programme and knew who to look out for.
For the first lap Maher kept the leading senior men in his view. Running strong he knew after the first of the three 2km laps that he was the leading master.
Giving a quick glance over his shoulder, Maher could see the black vest of Colm Rooney of Clonliffe still 20 metres behind. Despite being a lower masters category Brian still wanted to beat him.
Ahead the race for the senior event was still between about 10 guys, with at least three Clonmel AC vests in their midst – Sean Tobin and the Maunsell brothers. Kevin Maunsell was going well. At 37 he was still aiming for the Irish Team place for the European Championships. He reminded Brian of himself at that stage.
Half-way through the second lap, Brian felt easy. As his supporters told him the position of his rivals he knew he still had work to do. His breathing was easy, his legs strong, he felt good.
Going into the last lap he knew he would have to up the pace and track the senior athletes ahead of him, to run in their slip stream rather than in isolation. With 1km to go he increased the pace as he knew others were closing in on him (he could hear them from behind - an athlete like Brian, who has been in the running game for 23 years, knows the signs).
After a quick glance sideways, he could see Colm Rooney (Clonliffe Harriers), Paul Moloney (Mallow) were right behind him, Rossa Hurley (Donore) and Shane Healy (MSB) had dropped back slightly.
He gritted his teeth; Colm and Paul were going to be tough. At just over 35, they had youth on their side. Brian was after all 41 years of age, six years older. Brian, Colm and Paul increased the pace again.
Over the last 400m around the copse of trees Maher dug deep, determined and focused, he sprinted for home to finish first in the Masters race and winner of the over 40s masters, beating all the over 35s in the process.
Not only did he make the international team again, but with a time of 23.29 for 6km he not only won the Masters race but was 16th overall in the full race – still one of the top senior runners in Ireland. He was a meagre 16 seconds behind fellow KCH clubmate Eoin Everard who finished 10th in the senior race.
Tom O’Keeffe, wearing the yellow and blue of UCD, was eighth in 23.03. The Knocktopher man now on scholarship in UCD is still under 23 and looks good for selection for the European under-23 event again this year. Niall Sheehan of Gowran was 36th in 24.50, a good race by all accounts.
Shay McEvoy competed in the men’s junior race. Having had a fantastic track season, winning the Celtic International 3,000m event Shay was well prepared.
At 17 years of age, he still had two more years in juniors so the Autumn Open was preparation for a more concrete challenge in 2019 and 2010.
Shay finished a very creditable eighth place in 18.56 – only 12 seconds off the sixth-placed athlete and potential Irish junior team selection. This puts him in a great position for the under-18 National Championships this year.
Seniors, masters and junior athletes were once again combined in the women’s race. Kilkenny had three representatives - Lauren Dermody (Castlecomer) and Bronagh Kearns (St Senan’s) in the seniors and Adele Walsh (St Senan’s) in the Masters over 40.
Despite finishing second in the under-23 All Irelands last year, Lauren was unfortunate not to be selected for the Europeans (Athletics Ireland chose to send only the winner).
Still under-23 this year, Lauren is on a mission to try and gain selection for the Europeans. Finishing 21st in the senior ladies, Lauren was 13 places ahead of Bronagh Kearns, who finished in 34th place. It was a great race from two girls who are great role models for a young Kilkenny senior ladies county selection.
Adele Walsh (St Senans) was aiming to qualify for her third over 40s Masters International. It wasn’t to be her day as she finished 30th in the overall Masters race and 12th in the over-40s race. In another year Adele will have the advantage of being eligible for the next masters age group.
This Sunday sees the first of the Leinster Cross Country Championships for even-aged juveniles, novices and juniors getting underway in Navan.
With some strong county teams heading to the Meath venue Kilkenny can expect to reap some county team placings.
This year’s junior teams are exceptionally strong, something which augurs well for the future of senior athletics in Kilkenny. In the junior women’s category both St Senan’s and Kilkenny City Harriers (KCH) have strong club teams, while KCH look good for the men’s.
The juvenile teams are particularly strong, none more so than the under-18 girls and boys.
The girls’ under-16 team as always are strong, although this year, they are shorter in numbers, making it important for all athletes to show up. St Senan’s look strong in the girls’ under-18 race with KCH looking good for the boys.
The Thomastown girls, Aine Kirwan, Hannah O’Keeffe and Fiona Dillon, along with Gowran’s Hannah Kehoe look good for individual titles in the girls’ under-16 event.
Tadgh Connolly leads the boys’ under-16 hopes with a strong chance of an individual medal.
The girls’ under-14 brigade are in a strong position with the under-13 athletes performing exceptionally well in the counties. Sara Kehoe (Gowran), Orlaith Kirwan (Thomastown) and Caoimhe Phelan (St Senan’s), along with Molly O’Dornan of Castlecomer, have been neck and neck all season.
The boys’ under-14 team, led by St Senan’s David Williams, should feature in the county race, with St Senan’s having a chance in the club section, pending the all-clear of Naoise Gilmartin to run. Both Williams and Billy Coogan (Gowran) should feature in the individual medals.
Fresh from their county win Gowran have high hopes for a team medal in the girls’ under-12 category.
Individually Charlotte Carpendale (St Senan’s), Hazel Coogan and Alexandra Brennan (Gowran) have a chance of an individual medals. Joss O’Connor (St Joseph’s) and Isaac Carew (St Senans) are running well and will be aiming for individual medals.
The county teams for the Leinster even age, junior and novice cross-country championships are (club code: CC = Castlecomer, G = Gowran, KCH = Kilkenny City Harriers, SJ = St Joseph’s, SS = St Senan’s, TT = Thomastown):
Girls’ Under-12: Hazel Coogan (G), Charlotte Carpendale (SS), Alexandra Brennan (G), Ava Mullally (SJ), Orla Brennan (G), Lily Ryan (SJ), Roisin Burns (KCH), Aine O’Callaghan (SS), Caoimhe Fennelly (TT), Caoimhe Power (TT), Eimear Cormack (KCH), Eimear Brennan (G), Hannah Quinn (KCH), Marie Farrell (TT), Celia Garvey (SJ), Moya O’Keeffe (S).
Girls’ Under-14: Sarah Kehoe (G), Marie O’Keeffe (TT), Orlaith Kirwan (TT), Caoimhe Phelan (SS), Molly O’Dornan (CC), Rachel O’Neill (G), Maeve Bookle (SJ), Molly Long (SS), Grace Glennon (SJ), Libby Murphy (SS), Katie O’Neill (CC), Juliet Evans (SS), Sophie Williams (SS), Niamh Ryan (KCH), Niamh Cuddihy (SS).
Girls’ Under-16: Hannah Kehoe (G), Aine Kirwan (TT), Hannah O’Keeffe (TT), Fiona Dillon (TT), Saoirse Allen (SS), Katie Bookle (SJ), Pia O’Grady (G), Eve O’Dwyer (G), Robyn Deneiffe (G).
Girls’ Under-18: Annie McEvoy (KCH), Aoife Allen (SS), Tara Ramaswamy (SS), Sophie Jackman (SS), Aine Phelan (SS), Ellen Ryan (TT), 7 Orla O’Keeffe (TT), Nell Murphy (SS).
Boys’ Under-12: Joss O’Connor (SJ), Issac Carew (SS), Patrick Lacey (KCH), Anil Ramaswamy (SS), Tom Kehoe (G), James Cummins (SJ), Michael O’Shea (SS), Darragh Dunne (G), Luke Browne (KCH), James O’Neill (CC), Aidan Keating (G), Luke Vereker (SJ), Luke Gamble (CC), Jamie Cahalane (CC), Ruairi Murphy (G).
Boys’ Under-14: David Williams (SS), Billy Coogan (G), Naoise Gilmartin (SS), Gearoid Long (SS), Ben Wallis (SS), Luke Phelan (G), Rory McEvoy (KCH), Eoin Aylward (SS), Matthew McAviney (G), Mikey Keating (G), Shane Morrissey (SS), Luke Joyce (G).
Boys’ Under-16: Tadgh Connolly (SS), Tom Lodge (KCH), Colm Roche (SS), Josh Fenton (SS), Ryan Cummins (SS), Joe Kerins (KCH), Billy Power (TT), Cillian Dunne (G), David Byrne (G), 12 Diego Rodriguez (G), Liam Lacey (SS), Cathal O’Reilly (CC), Brogan McAvinney (G).
Boys’ Under-18: James Kearney (KCH), Luke Whelan (KCH), Cathal Kearney (KCH), John Muldowney (KCH). Kevin Burns (KCH), Fergan Suffin (SS), Tom Butler (SS), Keith Butler (SS), Gavin Manning (G).
Junior Ladies: Ciara Murphy (KCH), Ella Richardson (KCH), Issie Shine (KCH), Helen Hoynes (SJ), Aoife Allen (SS), Tara Ramaswamy (SS), Sophie Jackman (SS), Nell Murphy (SS), Annie McEvoy (KCH), Ellen Ryan (TT), Orla O’Keeffe (TT), Ciara O’Keeffe (TT).
Junior Men: Fergal Suffin (SS), Tom Butler (SS), Keith Butler (SS), Gavin Manning (G), James Kearney (KCH), Luke Whelan (KCH), Cathal Kearney (KCH), John Muldowney (KCH), Kevin Burns (KCH).
Novice Ladies: Aine Kinsella (SS), Michelle McDonald (SS), Marguerite Hoynes (SJ), Caoilte Malone (TT), Ailish O’Shea (TT).
Novice Men: Jonathan Crowley (SS), Oliver Mullally (SS), James Kelly (CC), Peter Barry (SJ), Conor Rochford (SS), Dean Rowe (G), Paddy O’Keeffe (G), Cormac Buggy (G), Shane Noonan (G), Derek Kehoe (G).
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.