Aoife Allen (St Senan’s) competing in the senior women’s 3000m Steeplechase during day two of the AAI Games & Combined Events Championships at Morton Stadium in Santry, Dublin. Picture: Sportsfile
To make the NCAA track finals is so special. To make them in a location such as the Hayward field in Eugene – the location of the Olympic trials is even more special.
Hayward has a long history in US athletics and anyone who races there smells the powerful scent of that history.
The Kilkenny City Harriers (KCH) athlete Aoibhe Richardson has been making history of her own for the last two years.
Competing for the University of San Francisco, she not only became their first female athlete to qualify for the NCAA Indoors (before her appearance in them was cruelly snatched by the pandemic lockdown) but she also last month became the first ever USF female to make all three NCAA finals (cross-country, track and field and indoors).
Despite being highly ranked in the 10,000m – her qualification being impeded by heat collapse in the regions in Texas through heat exhaustion - she did make the 5,000m in an incredible turnaround two days later.
A calculated and prepared runner, Aoibhe ran the first five laps of the NCAA 5,000m final according to plan – steady and keeping on pace. By lap seven her hip started to niggle (an injury she had been battling with for the previous week), but she blocked any hint of what might deter her ambitions from her mind and soldiered on.
By lap nine she could no longer ignore the pain – it engulfed her every breath. Through lap 10 and then 11 it restricted her leg movement. As the girls passed her she knew it was not her best day. She knew she just wanted to make it to that line in one piece.
Never was Aoife so happy to cross that finishing line, congratulating girls who she knew she should have beaten was hard, looking at another broken dream was tough but a second blow in the space of a few weeks just plain sucked.
It is just a pity that the final race of her scholarship years was so blatantly and cruelly written in the times of that race. It is neither reflective or reprehensive of the amazing journey Aoibhe has had this last two years.
For some who have endured athletics for several years, first through individual careers and then through those of athletes coached, there is the wisdom to know and understand that an athlete is much more than the time they achieve. They are a sum of the experiences, hard work and achievements that they have accumulated on their athletic journey. For Aoibhe Richardson, it has been some journey over the last four years. It was an all-encompassing journey, one hell of a dream that never shattered. Well done Aoibhe from all in Kilkenny County Athletics!
ATHLETICS IRELAND GAMES
With the countdown to the Tokyo Olympics well underway and the European under-23 and juniors fast approaching, the Athletics Ireland Games attracted a large number of elite athletes – all chasing those important points and qualifying times.
There was some star studded performances last Saturday and Sunday, many from Kilkenny athletes too.
It was a very different Morton Stadium in Santry that greeted the athletes. No spectators, bar the few parents that accompanied the handful of under-18s that competed.
There was no gathering of athletes on a large scale. Gone was that buzz and hum that one associates with a major competition of this level. As part of the new normal everyone wore masks, kept their distance and went about the day in an incredibly ordered manner.
Despite that, the competition was just as exciting as the days of old. Athlete pitted against athlete, all trying their best to outdo each other, chase down those times or distances. It was athletics at its best.
Cloidhna Manning (KCH) ran a superb race to win the women’s 400m – amassing a personal best (PB) in the process, 53.07 seconds to be exact.
Prior to the pandemic Cliodha had an ongoing foot injury that necessitated a surgical remedy. Rehab and lockdown training gave Cliodhna that much needed opportunity to build up her speed and to a certain extent catch up the missed years of injury.
On Sunday Manning, the former national 400m champion, looked every bit her former self as she powered down the home straight ahead of Catherine McManus (DCH) and Grainne Moynihan (West Muskerry AC).
It was a double celebration for the Manning clan as Cliodhna’s brother Jack produced a PB in the 200m later that day, finishing in a time of 21.98. He went on to clock 49.44 in the 400m a day later.
Also competing in the 400m was junior athlete Jordan Knight of St Joseph’s AC. Jordan is currently on the National 4x 400m relay squad and will be facing final selection at next weekend’s national junior championships.
In winning heat three Knight clocked a time of 50.19 for a new PB – just what this Leaving Cert student needs ahead of next weekend. The training is all going in the right direction.
The pole vault has always been an exciting competition to watch, be it the world elite dual between Sweden’s Amand Duplantis and France’s Renaud Lavillenie or indeed Kilkenny’s own Shane Power (St Joseph’s) and Matthew Callinan Keenan of St Laurence O’Tooles in Carlow.
Shane has come out on top on the last two occasions. However last Sunday it was the turn of Callinan Keenan to take the top honours with a vault of 4.45m. Shane repeated the same height he has been regularly attaining 4.40m.
St Senan’s AC under-18 athlete Peter McDonald finished third in the men’s javelin with a throw of 48.92 improving on his throw in the national juniors last year.
The men’s javelin has a steady group of enthusiastic athletes – a bubble of genuine enthusiasts who all motivate and encourage each other. This includes the Kilkenny Carlow RDO Shane Aston.
Shane competed in the decathlon over the weekend, finishing in second place with wins in both the 110m hurdles and javelin.
There were three Kilkenny competitors in the men’s 1,500m - all of them juniors.
Competing in heat two David Williams (St Senan’s) and Tom Lodge (KCH) battled it out with the best of their time category.
Williams, competing in his first 1,500m since 2019, came out the better of the two of this occasion, as he produced a storming last 200m to pass six athletes. In heat three the much improved Gearoid Long (St Senans) also produced a PB.
The women’s 1,500m saw Bronagh Kearns (St Senan’s) run the race of her life as he was a fast finishing second to Ireland’s elite runner Roisin Flanagan, a member of the European under-23 cross-country bronze medal winning team.
Coming from fourth place with 400m to go Bronagh gradually passed Irish International Masie O’Sullivan to chase down Flanagan. This is yet another PB for the much improved St Senan’s athlete. In the same race Sophie Jackman (St Senan’s) produced her third PB in three weeks over a distance that she is competing in for the first time this year.
Aoife Allen (St Senan’s) finished third in the women’s 2,000m steeplechase behind Irish internationals Eilish O’Flanagan and Kerry O’Flaherty - not bad company to keep!
Similarly junior Eoin Deely (KCH) was also in good company as he equalled his PB of 2.06 that he had claimed in Belfast a few weeks ago.
The race was won by Cillian Kirwan of Raheny in a stunning 1.48.
COUNTY Track & Field
Imagine; it was 2019 when Kilkenny athletes had their last track and field championships.
Athletes have been training away behind the closed doors of lockdown. Up hills, mountains, into the woods, along river paths, on the roads, in the fields – all the time unable to get to tracks.
The new training places that have been discovered have been amazing. It has been a great voyage of discovery through rural Ireland’s best training locations.
Nothing, however beats a good race – it’s something that as an athlete you are conditioned for. That track race has been absent from most athletic lives for two whole years - until last Sunday.
With limited flexibility in terms of crowds – the mandate from Athletics Ireland was no more than 100 on the track at any one time. This has resulted in a rather different county track and field.
Gone is the buzz of the whirling noises of juveniles roaring on their team mates, gone is the large number of events, gone is the resonance of a large number of legs pounding the rubber track surface as they race through event after event.
On Sunday the championship was limited to four events and certain age groups - discus, 100m, long jump and 1,500m.
That said, the Kilkenny County Board managed to squeeze in some juvenile events there too - athletes from 14 to 19 had 1,500m and discus while 17 to 19s had these along with 100m and long jump. Seniors and masters had them all.
Spread out over six days this year, the county board hope to get as many age groups racing as possible.
In the discus club of the day has to go to Brow Rangers. This strong throwing events club had over 14 medals in this event alone – spread across girls, boys, seniors and masters. This is some serious medal haul to take home from the first day of the counties and highly encouraging too.
St Senan’s AC were minus some of their usual middle distance contenders today – as they were competing in the AAI games in Dublin.
Despite their absence the Southern club managed an impressive seven medals – four of which were gold. KCH were equally impressive in the middle distance events taking home eight medals – including four gold.
Gowran managed to secure much of the medals in the under-17 to 19 age groups while clubs like Barrow Harriers, Thomastown, St Joseph’s and Kings River all featured in the medals too.
There were some very exciting races, none more so than the boys’ under-16 1,500m when Rory McEvoy (KCH) and Ben Wallis (St Senan’s) battled for 1,200m with Wallis producing a stunning last 400m to win the gold.
The Senior Men’s 1,500m also produced some excitement. James Kelly (Castlecomer) led from start to finish, but not before Jonathan Crowley came from eighth place to overtake athletes one by one.
With 200m to go looked like he might actually catch Kelly too. Kelly, however, was alerted to the fast finishing Kilmacow man and managed to hold on to his lead to take gold.
Grace Richardson looked impressive in the senior women’s 1,500m as did St Senan’s AC Ronan O’Donovan in the Masters 1,500m race.
The Kelly family of Brow Rangers had, as usual, a fine haul of medals to take home. Emma took the senior women’s discus with Kieran Kelly winning the senior men’s event. Joe Kelly was second in the masters with his father Murty, that amazing over-70s athlete, still looking strong as he took the bronze.
Billy Coogan (Gowran) in the absence of the St Senan’s crew took his first county gold in the boys’ under-17 1,500m as did Joe Roche (St Senan’s) in the discus.
Joss O’Connor (St Joseph’s) was an impressive winner of the boys’ under-15 1,500m with the ever improving Hugo Tierney of Barrow Harries in second place.
Maria Connolly and Eve O’Dwyer took a multitude of medals between the senior women’s field events and 100m, amassing quite a number of shield points for Gowran AC.
St Senan’s Eve Dunphy, Charlotte Carpendale and Caoimhe Phelan all looked impressive in their races as did Clodagh O’Callaghan (KCH) and Thomas Langton of Gowran.
Conor Byrne of KCH demonstrated pure speed as he retained his 100m title while Abbie O’Brien won both the girls u17 100m and Long Jump.
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