Rory MacGabhann (KCH) in action in Athlone
Athlone was the venue for two long, but exciting, days of athletics action at the weekend.
The national juvenile indoor championships were held at the AIT Arena for athletes who qualified via their provincial championships.
Kilkenny had four superb victories in the form of Tadgh Connolly (St Senan’s), Ben Wallis (St Senan’s) Fiona Dillon (Thomastown) and Molly Daly (Kilkenny City Harriers - KCH).
Three of the athletes won their respective middle distance events, emphasising the further dominance of Kilkenny athletes at national level in this category, while Ben won the under-14 race-walking event.
St Senan’s were at the top of the medal table with five medals, while Thomastown, KCH and Gowran followed with two apiece.
While 11 medals from the entire county may seem somewhat low considering the normal medal haul, the figure was all the more impressive considering how the indoors are often seen as a stop-gap between the cross-country and track and field seasons, with most athletes peaking for these two competitions. Kilkenny clubs tend to use the indoors as a benchmark for the start of season fitness.
Coming on the back of an amazing cross country season for our athletes – the middle distance events once more proved to be the jewel in the athletics crown. The girls’ under-15 1,500m event saw Kilkenny get a first and second placing, with Fiona Dillon (Thomastown) taking gold and Hannah Kehoe (Gowran) silver.
From the gun, Dillon powered away from the rest of the field, opening up a 30m gap at one stage. She looked strong, steady and focused throughout.
Hannah Kehoe remained with the chasing group for about 1km when she decided to rein in some of Dillon’s commanding lead. Chase as she might, there was no catching the Thomastown athlete, who led from the gun as she claimed the gold medal.
As if one medal was not enough, the next day Dillon set out to see if she could do the double when competing in the 800m event.
The Thomastown athlete knew she had tough opposition in the form of Victoria Lightbody (City of Lisburn AC) and set her stall out from the start. Like the 1500m final she set off at a very fast pace, but this time the Lisburn athlete was not prepared to allow it go unchallenged for too long. By the second lap she was fast closing in on Dillon and with 400m to go Victoria Lightbody was now shoulder to shoulder with the Thomastown girl.
In what boiled down to a last-lap race it was the tall Lightbody who claimed victory in a new championship record with Dillon just two seconds behind in a new personal best. A gold and silver was a great haul from a weekend’s athletics.
Molly Daly (KCH) had the disappointment of being fourth in the 60m, but arrived on the start line of the girls’ under-12 600m race with determination and confidence. Feeling good, her legs did not suffer from the three sprinting rounds from the day before.
Content to settle for the middle group for the first 200m, she then rocked shoulders with the leading group for the middle 200m. By the bell she was making inroads to the leading position, which she did on the bend.
Coming off the bend she strode strongly and by the top of the back straight she was about five metres clear of the second-placed athlete. Rounding the final bed she maintained her lead to finish first in her first ever All-Ireland indoors and claim the first medal of the championships for KCH.
And then came Tadgh Connolly (St Senan’s), who delivered a series of impressive performances in Athlone.
The national cross-country champion competed in a variety of events - the shot-put, race-walking and 800m. He started with a bronze medal in the under-16 race walking event on Saturday. Two minutes after securing the bronze medal in the shot-put he qualified comfortably for the 800m final.
The final, a tough race, saw Connolly sit in behind the initial leader Sean Kinsella (Donore Harriers). With 400m to go he made his move, going into the lead as he took command of the pace. Oisin Kelly (Cranford) moved with him, the duo going marginally ahead of the chasing group. Jack McGlone (Greystones) was chasing hard but neither he nor Kelly could catch the St Senan’s man.
With 100m to go Connolly made a break for home and would not be denied his glory. He crossed the line in 2.06 to claim gold, earning his third medal of these championships.
Five minutes later St Senan’s clubmate Sophie Jackman lined up for the final of the under-18 800m. Having already finished sixth in the 400m the previous day with a new personal best (PB), all she asked from the final was another PB.
Jackman set off with the leading group and remained in their midst for 500m, working hard to maintain the pace. With 300m to go Murphy Miller (North Down) made a break - Jackman followed.
The two girls broke clear of the remaining finalists. In the final 100m Miller proved too strong for Jackman, but she was more than happy with her second place finish which came with a new PB and another medal for St Senan’s.
Raising The Bar
Kilkenny has had great success in the high jump over the past two years, with some fantastic athletes raising the bar.
Young Ailbhe Steiger (Gowran) was pride of the jumping set at the weekend. Her first indoor All-Irelands, she managed to secure joint first place in the girls’ under-12 high jump as she shared the top spot with Lianh Grogan (Dunboyne AC).
Both girls cleared 1.30m and had cleared every height up to this. Finally attempting 1.35m both girls failed three times - it was impossible to separate the pair, who were duly crowned joint winners.
Kilkenny had three fourth place finishes in various high jump events. Isaac Carew (St Senan’s) was fourth in the boys’ under-13 event with a new PB of 1.45m while Rory MacGabhann (KCH) was fourth in the boys’ under-19 high jump with 1m 90cm. Jennifer Leahy (KCH) also scored a fourth place finish in her high jump event.
St Senan’s, KCH and Gowran also had several other athletes in the high jump events, making it a popular event for the county. In total 13 county Kilkenny athletes qualified for the high jump.
In the long jump Alex Cullen (KCH) was fourth in the Leinster championships, securing the final qualification spot. He did even better at the National Indoors, producing a series of stunning jumps to claim the silver medal, with a new PB of 4.83. He had also finished sixth in the high jump, scoring another PB in the process.
St Senan’s had some renewed success in the race walking events. In a discipline that has been good to them down through the years, Ben Wallis was crowned the man of the moment when he led from start to finish in the boys’ under-14 event.
Wallis is better known for his cross-country running, where he produced an individual medal last year in the Leinsters. The walk was something he tried out for the county indoors, had a knack for it and decided to train for the Leinsters and thus qualified for the Nationals. This was his first ever All-Ireland medal.
Kilkenny in general has a long history of success nationally at the race walking events, with athletes gaining international recognition. Keelin Duggan (St Senan’s) was seventh in the girls’ under-14 event while clubmate Sophie Monahan was fourth in the girls’ under-15 final. David Williams (St Senan’s) was sixth in the boys’ under-15 final with Tadgh Connolly third at under-16 level.
Hurdles and Sprints
While hurdles and sprinting events have been good to Kilkenny at a national level over the years, this year’s finals failed to produce a medal for the county. Liam O’Dwyer (Gowran) was fourth in the under-13 60m hurdles, Molly Daly was fourth in the under-12 60m hurdles, with Sophia Kerr (Castlecomer) sixth in the under-15 60m.
Medal winners from the championships were:
Girls’ Under-12 600m: 1 Molly Daly (KCH).
Girls’ Under-12 high jump: 1 Ailbhe Steiger (G).
Girls’ Under-16 1,500m: 1 Fiona Dillon (TT), 2 Hannah Kehoe (G).
Girls’ Under-16 800m: 2 Fiona Dillon (TT).
Girls’ Under-18 800m: 2 Sophie Jackman (SS).
Boys’ Under-14 walk: 1 Ben Wallis (SS).
Boys’ Under-14 long jump: 2 Alex Cullen (KCH).
Boys’ Under-16 800m: 1 Tadgh Connolly (SS).
Boys’ Under-16 shot-put: 3 Tadgh Connolly (SS).
Boys’ Under-16 walk: 3 Tadgh Connolly (SS).
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.