Athletes from across the county braved the winter conditions as they travelled the winding midlands roads to the town of Ferbane for the Leinster uneven age and Senior Leinster Cross Country Championships.
Kilkenny had a special reason for making the trek - the cup for the best overall county in Leinster was up for grabs.
Coming into this second stage of the Leinster Juvenile Championships, Kilkenny was neck and neck with Meath. With some strong performances from across the county, Kilkenny managed to win by a margin of two points.
The strength of Kilkenny athletics is measured by the fact that there are now county teams in nine out of the 10 age groups who will progress to the All-Irelands in Dunboyne on December 15 - that is some accomplishment.
Kilkenny City Harriers (KCH) Shay McEvoy led the victory parade when he took gold with an impressive performance in the boys’ under-19 race. The county had two silver medals to celebrate with Tadgh Connolly (St Senan’s) running up an age in the boys’ under-17 race; Sarah Kehoe (Gowran) also moved up an age to take second place in the girls’ under-15 competition.
There was plenty of bronze on show - Charlotte Carpendale (St Senan’s) at under-13, Caoimhe Phelan (St Senan’s) at under-15, Hannah O’Keeffe (Thomastown) at under-17 and Kevin Burns (KCH) at under-19 levels took four bronze medals back home to Kilkenny.
Kilkenny has 19 athletes now qualified on Leinster teams. Spread across five clubs, St Senan’s have eight, while KCH and Thomastown have three apiece. Castlecomer and Gowran have two each with one for St Joseph’s.
Added to this there are nine county teams and nine club teams. St Senan’s and Thomastown have three each, KCH two and Gowran one team. In total more than 100 athletes from the county will travel to the All-Ireland uneven ages in Dunboyne, one of the biggest contingents in the last few years.
It was clubs day in the girls’ under-11 where Kilkenny athletes delivered strong performances. Close to 200 athletes assembled on the start line, many for their first ever Leinster Championships.
The Kilkenny girls bunched well from the start. In the leading group of 20 girls were Katie O’Shea (Thomastown) and Sinead Cormack (KCH), with Kate Maher (KCH) and Grace Gilmartin (St Senan’s) close behind.
As the race progressed the girls moved up the pack. Rounding the final bend, two Kilkenny athletes had made their way to the top 12. Katie O’Shea finished in eighth place with Sinead McCormack one place behind in ninth. Both girls will be on the Leinster team for the All-Irelands.
Kilkenny had six girls in the top 20 and were unbeatable in the county section, where they secured gold, well ahead of nearest rivals Louth.
There was more gold when Thomastown won the club section, with Kilkenny City Harriers in third place. This means a total of 15 Kilkenny girls have qualified for the All-Irelands, a very significant figure.
The boys’ under-11 race also had close to 200 competitors. While none of the Kilkenny boys made the Leinster team they did pack well to finish in third place in the county rankings, finishing behind Meath and Louth.
The county was led home by Robert Coogan (Gowran) who, while still being only an under-10 athlete, finished in 16th place. A bright future awaits the Clara youngster with a performance like this.
Kilkenny’s newest club Barrow Harriers were also represented as they had two boys on the county team. Along with Megan Kinsella, who made the girls’ under-11 team, they will be an inspiration for their clubmates who are now rising into championship ranks.
Gowran did really well to finish fourth in the club stakes. Their six boys, five of whom made the county team, will now move forward to the All Irelands. Kilkenny will be represented by a total of 11 boys in the All-Irelands.
The girls’ under-13 produced golden performances for Kilkenny. Led home by Charlotte Carpendale (St Senan’s) in third place and a very fast finishing Eve Dunphy (St Senan’s) in fifth the county had a very decisive victory over Louth and Meath.
Carpendale was in a group of four athletes who broke away from the rest of the field after 100m. No stranger to cross-country, having finished in the top 12 at Nationals for the last two years, she comfortably finished third in the 2,500m race.
Behind her Eve Dunphy was storming down the last 200m, passing four girls in the process to take fifth place. This was a welcome return to Leinster cross-country competition for Eve, who missed the season last year.
Three places behind Eve was Siofra Kennedy (Castlecomer), who has been having the season of her life. Siofra had stayed in contention with the top 12 right through the race and confirmed her spot on the Leinster team.
There was more Kilkenny gold when St Senan’s won the club team prize, beating Crookstown for the first time ever.
This will be a very significant win for the Kilmacow-based club, who had four athletes who made the county team. Twelve athletes will represent Kilkenny in the All-Irelands.
The boys’ under-13 athletes had considerably less luck than other days. Joss O’Connor (St Joseph’s) finished in 11th place and secured his place on the Leinster team.
While the county could only manage fifth place the good news is that there is potential here among the athletes for the future. O’Connor finished in the top 12 last year so he will be hoping for a similar spot this year.
Mullingar Harriers are so strong in this age group with four athletes in the top 12. They were unbeatable in the club section and also contributed to Westmeath’s success in the county.
The Kilkenny under-15 girls struck gold once more for the county. Not only was it enough to win the under-11 and under-13 county golds but the under-15 girls, with two in the top three finishers, nailed victory from Kildare and Westmeath.
What was interesting about this race was that the top three finishers were all running a year out of age. The race was won by Sinead Walsh of Tullamore Harriers who also won the girls’ under-14 race.
Sara Kehoe (Gowran) ran a strong race, moving into second position after 1000m. Caoimhe Phelan (St Senan’s) lay in sixth place and moved solidly through the field to produce a great final 1,000m and finish a clear third.
With Orlaith Kirwan (Thomastown) having a much better run this time out in 17th place Kilkenny had six girls in the top 33 positions, a result which was enough to grab the gold medals.
The 10 girls will now go to the All-Irelands: four from St Senan’s, two from Thomastown, two from Gowran and one each from St Joseph’s and Castlecomer.
The boys’ under-15 were led home by David Williams of St Senan’s in fifth place, the same position he finished in when he moved up an age category a fortnight ago.
A group of five athletes, led by Diarmuid Fagan of Mullingar and Myles Hewlett of New Ross, broke away from the field at the beginning. Williams was in this pack and stayed with the leaders up to the final 1,000m.
Back in seventh place Billy Coogan of Gowran had a great race and is starting to show great improvement in form. The county finished in fourth place. With five St Senan’s athletes on the county team the club earned a spot in the All-Irelands.
Leinster is very strong in this age group having won the National title for the last four years so a top 12 position in this age group should see athletes feature well at an individual level in the All-Irelands.
The under-17s races produced more individual medals for Kilkenny. In the girls’ race Hannah O’Keeffe, now recovered from the flu that robbed her of an under-18 individual medal, came up trumps to finish third.
A fast final 100m saw the Thomastown runner overtake Ava O’Connor (Tullamore) some three metres from the finish line. Another blast of speed saw her clubmate Aine Kirwan overtake three people in the last 100m to finish in fourth place.
The Thomastown pair were followed by Fiona Dillon who, finishing in 14th place, was also having a much better race on this occasion. With three girls in the top 14, Thomastown finished second in the club section. The county finished in third place, contributing valuable points in the quest to secure the overall cup. Both O’Keeffe and Kirwan will now take their places on the Leinster team.
The boys’ race was always going to attract a lot of interest with under-16 winner Tadgh Connolly (St Senan’s) taking part.
The boys had 5,000m to cover so the pace was somewhat settled for the first lap with no runner wanting to take on the pace so soon.
The leading group became 12 after 2,000m with five athletes then breaking away with 1,500m to go, including Connolly. Joe Byrne of Ferns forged ahead on the final hill and the leaders could not match his pace. Eoin Richards of Kildare tried but was soon caught by Connolly, who powered down the home straight to the silver.
Back in fifth place Cathal O’Reilly (Castlecomer) had an amazing race to take his first Leinster individual cross-country medal. The national steeplechase champion has improved considerably this year.
The county team, in this age group are well capable of taking gold medals, but some athletes chose not to compete. Nonetheless, with a fourth place finish this team is off to the All-Irelands.
With Annie McEvoy (KCH) sidelined for the season with an injury, the under-19 county team was centred around St Senan’s and Thomastown. The St Senan’s girls Tara Ramasawmy, Sophie Jackman and Aoife Allen, completed the entire race together finishing sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.
With such high positions it was inevitable that St Senan’s would win the club section. With three Thomastown girls following the county finished in second place.
Thomastown also finished third in the club standings. The race was won by Aoife O’Cuill of Kildare who has been in superb for this season. Kilkenny should feature strongly in the All Irelands with both clubs competing.
Shay McEvoy (KCH) looked to be in the form of his life as he stormed up the hill from the starting chutes. By 150m he had already hit the lead, unflinching at the pace. The downhill stint at 300m saw Shay take a commanding 20m lead over clubmate Kevin Burns.
As the race progressed he stretched that lead further and further, making his solo victory one of the most convincing of the day. Shay has his eye on a place on the Irish team for the European junior cross-country championships - after Saturday’s performance he is heading towards fitness for a place.
Back in third place Kevin Burns was running really well, taking his highest ever Leinster cross-country position.
KCH won the club title and with all six men making up the county team, they completed the rather unusual feat of winning the county title too. This club team looks like it could be primed for a podium place at the All-Irelands.
The senior men were the medal winners for the senior section of the programme. The men’s race was completely dominated by Liam Brady of Tullamore Harriers, who led from start to finish. Like Shay McEvoy in the under-19 race, he had a solo run and will also be looking for a place on the European cross-country team.
Kilkenny were led home by Niall Sheehan (Gowran) in seventh place. It was a great race from Niall, who was third in the recent Kilkenny senior cross-country championships.
With county champion Brian Maher taking a break to be in peak condition for the nationals in a fortnight’s time the team did very well to get the bronze medals. James Kelly (Castlecomer) was 10th with Conor Rochford (St Senan’s) producing a good run in 17th place.
The women were a little less fortunate owing to injury and marathon recovery, but Lauren Dermody (Castlecomer) looked impressive as she came home in third place. Lauren will be hoping to get a place on the Irish team for the European under-23 championships.
Sile Carroll, also from Castlecomer but representing Liffey Valley, was next home in 16th place. The women will benefit from the return of Adele Walsh and Sally Forristal for the All Irelands.
Leinster uneven age cross-country championships (club code: BH = Barrow Harriers, CC = Castlecomer, G = Gowran, KCH = Kilkenny City Harriers, SJ = St Joseph’s, SS = St Senan’s, TT = Thomastown:)
Girls’ Under-11: Individual - 8 Katie O’Shea (TT), 9 Sinead Cormack (KCH). County - 1 Kilkenny: 8 Katie O’Shea (TT), 9 Sinead Cormack (KCH), 14 Kate Maher (KCH), 15 Grace Gilmartin (SS), 18 Kate Hayden (G), 19 Martha Bergin (KCH), 22 Amy O’Shea (TT), 25 Moya O’Shea (TT), 29 Megan Kinsella (BH), 38 Erin Morrissey (TT). Club - 1 Thomastown, 3 Kilkenny City Harriers.
Boys’ Under-11: County - 3 Kilkenny: 16 Robert Coogan (G), 18 Conor Carroll (G), 25 Robert Lacey (KCH), 36 Hugo Tierney (BH), 45 Thomas Carroll (G), 47 Evan Ryan (G), 48 Patrick Quinlan (SS), 57 Thomas Hayes (KCH), 58 Shay Molloy (KCH), 60 Daniel Bolger (BH), 64 Darragh Carroll (G). Club: 4 Gowran.
Girls’ Under-13: Individual - 3 Charlotte Carpendale (SS), 5 Eve Dunphy (SS), 8 Siofra Kennedy (CC). County - 1 Kilkenny: 3 Charlotte Carpendale (SS), 5 Eve Dunphy (SS), 8 Siofra Kennedy (CC), 19 Lily Ryan (SJ), 23 Eabha Mullally (SJ), 30 Niamh Cleary (SS), 33 Hazel Coogan (G), 42 Aine O’Callaghan (SS), 48 Lucy Coomey (G), 65 Caoimhe Barry (SJ). Club: 1 St Senan’s.
Boys’ Under-13: Individual - 11 Joss O’Connor (SJ).
Girls’ Under-15: Individual - 2 Sara Kehoe (G), 3 Caoimhe Phelan (SS). County - 1 Kilkenny: 2 Sarah Kehoe (G), 3 Caoimhe Phelan (SS), 17 Orlaith Kirwan (TT), 21 Maeve Bookle (SJ), 31 Maria O’Keeffe (TT), 33 Molly Long (SS), 34 Rachel O’Neill (G), 62 Emer Phelan (CC), 65 Jessica Roche (SS), 70 Niamh Cuddihy (SS).
Boys’ Under-15: Individual - 5 David Williams (SS), 7 Billy Coogan (G). County - 4 Kilkenny: 5 David Williams (SS), 7 Billy Coogan (G), 17 Gearoid Long (SS), 37 Ben Wallis (SS), 38 Naoise Gilmartin (SS), 39 Kealan Gray (KCH), 40 Ruairi McEvoy (KCH), 50 Luke Phelan (G), 51 Harry Boyle (KCH), 52 Eoin Aylward (SS). Club - 4 St Senan’s.
Girls’ Under-17: Individual - 3 Hannah O’Keeffe (TT), 4 Aine Kirwan (TT). County - 3 Kilkenny: Hannah O’Keeffe (TT), 4 Aine Kirwan (TT), 14 Fiona Dillon (TT), 35 Clodagh Monahan (SS), 41 Eabha Carroll (TT), 42 Pia O’Grady (G), 45 Orlaith O’Shea (TT). Club - 2 Thomastown.
Boys’ Under-17: Individual - 2 Tadgh Connolly, 5 Cathal O’Reilly (CC). County - 4 Kilkenny: 2 Tadgh Connolly (SS), 5 Cathal O’Reilly (CC), 25 Colm Roche (SS), 32 Cillian Dunne (G), 39 Billy Power (TT), 44 Matthew Holland (G), 50 Ryan Cummins (SS), 53 Peter Holohan (CC), 55 David Byrne (G).
Girls’ Under-19: Individual - 6 Tara Ramasawmy (SS), 7 Sophie Jackman (SS), 8 Aoife Allen (SS). County - 2 Kilkenny: 6 Tara Ramasawmy (SS), 7 Sophie Jackman (SS), 8 Aoife Allen (SS), 14 Ellen Ryan (TT), 22 Ciara O’Keeffe (TT), 23 Sinead O’Keeffe (TT), 26 Nell Murphy (SS), 27 Orla O’Keeffe (TT). Clubs - 1 St Senan’s, 3 Thomastown.
Boys’ Under-19: Individual - 1 Shay McEvoy (KCH), 3 Kevin Burns (KCH). County - 1 Kilkenny: Shay McEvoy (KCH), 3 Kevin Burns (KCH), 13 John Muldowney (KCH), 16 Cathal Kearney (KCH), 20 James Kearney, 24 Dylan McLoughlin (KCH). Club - 1 KCH.
Senior Women: Individual - 3 Lauren Dermody (CC).
Senior Men: County - 3 Kilkenny: 7 Niall Sheehan (G), 10 James Kelly (CC), 17 Conor Rochford (SS), 23 David McPherson (TT), 30 Jonathan Crowley (SS), 39 Johan Muller (G).
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.