Brian Maher (KCH) won the Masters race at the Abbotstown Autumn Open cross-county championships
Time has flown by in the athletics world, but 2018 was a year dressed with success and excitement and adorned with medals of gold, silver and bronze.
From the lofty heights of the Castlecomer plateau to the lush southern Kilkenny countryside, athletes from all over the county have basked in a year that has topped the previous.
With athletics being divided between indoors, track and field and cross-country, the year featured a plethora of competitive events at which locals excelled.
The Indoor Season
The inaugural county Indoors was launched in January 2018 and proved highly successful. Although Kilkenny does not have an indoor track the county board opted, like most counties, to host the event at one of Ireland’s three Indoor stadiums, Athlone. For many athletes this might prove their only opportunity to compete in an indoor arena.
With January frequently delivering cold winds and driving rain the indoor arena is a welcome refuge, allowing competitiveness to prosper.
Building on the foundation of this county event, athletes went on to participate in the Leinster indoors. And for those who finished in the top three at the Leinsters, the All-Ireland Indoors beckoned.
There were many national medals accumulated by Kilkenny athletes. David Murphy (Gowran AC) was one, demonstrating sprinting at his finest.
He was the fastest man of Indoor Juvenile running when he easily won the under-19 60m event.
Having already competed in an Irish vest David had set his sights on another one for 2018. However, athletics often can be a cruel sport – injury wiped out an entire year of hard training. For David, that golden indoor moment was one he would treasure for the remainder of the year.
Ciara Deely (Kilkenny City Harriers - KCH) had a magnificent win in the under-19 400m. This was the start of a great year for Ciara, whose success story flows throughout the report.
Louis Raggett (KCH) followed in the jumping footsteps of his elder siblings when he leaped to success in the under-12 high jump. Who could have predicted that Tadgh Connolly (St Senan’s), with his silver in the under-15 walk and bronze in the shot-put, would embark on the first two of the 10 national medals he went on to win in 2018.
The boys’ under-16 200m was a showdown between Zach Bay Hammond of Thomastown and Jordan Knight of St Joseph’s. With both boys recording fastest times in their heats, the final was always going to be an exciting competition.
All eyes were on the track. On this occasion Jordan narrowly edged in front to get silver with Zach in the bronze medal-winning position. In the relays, the KCH girls’ under-14 team won the 4x200m relay.
In Wollaton Park, Nottingham, four Kilkenny girls - Hannah Kehoe (Gowran), Eleanor Godden (KCH), Hannah O’Keeffe (Thomastown) and Tara Ramasawmy (St Senan’s) - took their rightful places on the Irish team for the Schools International Cross Country.
With the splendid backdrop of the Elizabethan mansion Walton Hall dominating the parkland below and the spring sun high in the sky, the four Kilkenny girls embarked on a new step in their athletic careers; for three of them it was their first Irish vest.
In the junior girls Hannah Kehoe finished 19th and Eleanor Godden 31st. In the intermediate girls Hannah O’Keeffe was 21st and Tara Ramasawmy 28th. The intermediate girls’ Irish team were third with both Tara and Hannah taking home bronze medals.
This was the second Irish vest for Thomastown’s Hannah O’Keeffe. In January she represented Ireland in the Celtic Cross-Country. Two Irish vests in two months? Not a bad start to a new year!
The Masters Championships has seen an increase in popularity over the last few years. In part due to the running boom and in part due to athletes refusing to give up on athletics.
With the increased popularity there has been more interest in competing at European and World level. Maggie O’Connor and Brid Lawlor (St Joseph’s) travelled to Madrid in March to compete in the European Masters Championships.
With an entourage of about 30 St Joseph’s supporters in tow, it was opportune that their performances were winning ones. Competing in the over-45 5,000m, Maggie finished sixth overall and was a member of the Irish Team that won the silver medal in the team section.
Coming of age
With St Senan’s AC turning 40 years old in 2017, there was another significant birthday in 2018 as St Joseph’s AC celebrated its 50th birthday. Within this half century the club has traversed many realms of athletic endeavours, from the local sports to the lofty heights of international athletics.
Older names such as John Mackey, the Lawlors and the Hennesseys to the current names of Becker, Power, Manning are a melting pot of something special in the parishes of Tullogher, Glenmore and Rosbercon, something that has not only been etched in the club’s own history but that has established a legacy for future generations of athletes to encourage, develop and grow in sport. A celebration was held in the Rhu Glen with leading names in the world of Irish athletics attending.
The Great Ireland Run doubled up with the Irish National 10km Championships in April. Brian Maher (KCH) won in a time of 30.20. At the Leinster 10 mile championships the ladies race was won by Sally Forristal of St Joseph’s AC while James Kelly of Castlecomer was second in the men’s event.
The KCH quartet of Thomas Hayes, James Ledingham, Brian Maher and Eoin Everard secured third place in the national Road Relays which were held at Raheny, Dublin in April. This is the exact same position as the team finished in 2017.
The Leinster Marathon was run in conjunction with the National Marathon in October. Success for Kilkenny lay with Patsy Foskin (St Senan’s AC) who was third in the women’s over-60 category. It was the third year in a row that Patsy featured in the top three.
Track and Field
Kilkenny City Harriers emerged as the winners of the County Track and Field Juvenile Shield, pipping Gowran to the title. At Leinster level it was St Senan’s who shone as they topped the medal table. At the Nationals in July St Senan's also came home with the biggest medal haul of all clubs in the county.
There were so many fine track and field performances in 2018. At the Leinster Championships in June, Kilkenny dominated a number of events. Two athletes even smashed Leinster records - Fiona Dillon (Thomastown) in the girls’ under-15 1,500m and Tadgh Connolly (St Senan’s) in the under-15 shot-put.
Tullamore sizzled in the Summer sun for the track and field championships, with Kilkenny athletes setting a searing pace with some stunning performances in July.
Rory McGabhann (KCH) stunned the jumping world with a surprise victory and new personal best (PB) in the boys’ under-17 high jump, earning a place on the Celtic International team.
Tara Ramasawmy (St Senan’s) had her first ever juvenile individual medal when she not only took third in the under-17 800m but stormed home to win the 1,500m.
Another 1,500m winner was Fiona Dillon (Thomastown) in the girls’ under-15 race. Like Tara, Fiona already had a bronze in the 800m.
Peter McDonald (St Senan’s) finished second in the under-15 javelin, a few centimetres off the gold. For St Senan's the medals kept coming in. Aoife Allen was second in the under-18 steeplechase, with Keelin Roche and Isaac Carew third in their respective under-14 and under-12 high jumps.
Tadgh Connolly (St Senan’s) was beginning to shape an intriguing character. With two national medals in the bag, he collected two more when finishing second in the under-14 discus and third in the shot-put.
Jordan Knight (St Joseph’s) collected a silver in the long jump and 200m and a bronze in the 80m hurdles. Club-mate Evan O’Toole was second in the under-15 triple jump.
Castlecomer would also take a slice of the medal action when Nicky Connolly won the boys’ under-18 5km walk. Shay McEvoy won the boys’ under-18 3,000m and was second in the 1,500m with Cathal Kearney taking bronze in the boys’ under-17 steeplechase. Ella Richardson was third in the under-19 1,500m.
Gowran was also represented on the medal table. Hannah Kehoe was second to Fiona Dillon in the under-15 1,500m. The KCH girls’ under-14 relay team recorded a win in the 4x100m relay.
At county level Gowran AC won the overall County Shield for senior and Masters events. At the national seniors Sophie Becker (St Joseph’s) was second in the 400m, making the relay team for the World Championships in London. This was Sophie’s first Senior International.
At junior level Ciara Deely (KCH) won her 400m, qualifying for the World Juniors in Finland. She finished sixth in her heat in a new PB. Nicky Connolly (Castlecomer) was third in the 5km race walk.
In the National under-23 championships Lauren Dermody (Castlecomer) was third in the 5,000m and Tom O’Keeffe (KCH) was also third in the men’s 5,000m. Shane Power (St Joseph’s) was second in the under-23 pole vault.
Brow are best
Brow Rangers topped the county medal table at the National Junior and under-23 championships when they brought home eight national medals – four alone through John Joe Kelly.
In the shot-put – a favourite through the years for John Joe - he recorded 12.23. Emma Kelly was third in the junior weight throw and Aoife Coady third in the under-23 discus.
In the junior weight throw Patrick Darcy threw a PB to come second. In the under-23 hammer Ciaran Coady was second.
Track and Field
Sophie Becker (St Joseph’s) achieved the highest honours in the county when she competed in the World Championships in London as part of the Irish 4x400m relay team. Meanwhile in Finland Ciara Deely (KCH) represented Ireland in the women’s 400m.
Spare a thought for Cliodhna Manning (KCH) who was in top shape during the season and would surely have raced together with Sophie on the relay. However, Injury hit just before the Nationals, leaving the 2017 400m champion cruelly sidelined.
It is at Cross Country that Kilkenny usually excels - there is something about those wild fields and soft underfoot conditions that suits the Kilkenny athlete.
Gowran proved a force to be reckoned with at county level when they narrowly beat 2017 Shield holders St Senan’s to earn the crown of best juvenile cross-country club in 2018.
St Senan’s avenged that defeat when they topped the Leinster and National county medal tables.
While county teams may not have performed as well as in previous years there were some brilliant individual performances. Three Kilkenny athletes earned the right to don the Irish vest in January 2019 – Tadgh Connolly (St Senan’s), Hannah Kehoe (Gowran) and Hannah O’Keeffe (Thomastown).
Connolly delivered a performance that stood out at the national championships. Winning by a comfortable margin of 29 seconds, Tadgh captured the under-15 title in Navan.
With a versatile spread of national medals across cross-country, race walking, shot and discus he emerged as one of the most versatile athletes in the county in 2018. Shay McEvoy (KCH) won the boys’ under-18 event. Hannah Kehoe (Gowran) looked like she had the girls’ under-15 title in her hand but was denied when caught with 80m to go.
In what was a great haul for the county St Senan’s had nine individual national medallists. Thomastown and KCH had five apiece, with Gowran earning two and St Joseph’s one.
At Masters level Brian Maher was once more at the top of his game winning the Masters Autumn Open. The county’s ladies, a rising talent, led Kilkenny to bronze medals in the Ladies National novice. There were fine performances by Bronagh Kearns (St Senan’s) and Sally Forristal (St Joseph’s). Aoibhe Richardson (Portland University) gained selection for the Irish under-23 team for the Europeans.
New clubs, new goals
It was great to see Barrow Harriers, a young club, earn their first national representation in 2018. Young Hugo Tierney flew the flag when he competed for the club as part of the county team in the boy’s under-11 event.
This should prove a great inspiration for many generations of Graignamanagh athletes in years to come.
Kings River, another new club, managed to get some team medals in the county cross-country. At county level the county cross-country training sessions proved more popular than ever before, with all but one club from the county taking part.
These sessions have proved a vital catalyst in the progression of athletics in the county, not only in terms of performance but also in for the bonding and gelling of athletes across all teams and ages. It is hoped that all clubs will continue to contribute to these sessions in 2019.
With increased collaboration between clubs Kilkenny will not only see continued success but will hopefully ease the transition of many athletes from the juvenile ranks through to the senior ones.
Shutting the door on 2018 will not be a question of judging shadows in the dark – rather shining a guiding light that leads and inspires the new 2019 athletics season.
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.