Athletes in the girls’ under-12 race dash from the start line at the St Senan’s AC Open Cross-Country race
It has to be said that St Senan’s AC have a knack of hosting a fantastic event with brilliant sunshine to boost!
The St Senan’s AC open Cross Country has been running now for 44 years - the longest continuous running open cross-country event in Ireland - creating a little bit of history in Kilmacow.
In 2020 the club had the distinction of being the only club in Ireland that managed to host an open event of any kind. Amid lockdown after lockdown, athletes seized that tiny window of opportunity and registered for the open cross-country.
This year with no current lockdown, those who had participated for the first time last year along with the regulars returned for a brilliant day of cross-country racing.
With clubs from Louth, Tipperary, Laois, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford, Limerick, Carlow and Cork running across a variety of races, champions of the past were pitted against each other with some thrilling battles for the line.
The local club St Senan’s AC retained the cup for the best overall club by just one point from Newbridge AC. A close contest by all accounts and not without some nailbiting close finishes.
The senior races boasted great numbers. Former Irish Junior National Steeplechase champion Roisin O’Rielly (Menapians) stormed home to take a fine victory. Roisin has represented Ireland on a few occasions including the world juniors in the Steeplechase. Back in second place Niamh Cunneen (Nenagh Olympic) closed the gap a little on the final lap but it was not enough to overtake O’Reilly.
Ruth Kennedy of Gowran AC ran a terrific race to clinch the bronze medal position while the St Senan’s women’s team of Aoife Allen, Sophie Jackman, Aine Phelan, Michelle McDonald and Catherine Calhnan won the team event. This young team collectively making a big impact in the senior race.
Ellen Cunneen (Nenagh Olympic), a twin sister of Niamh, won the junior women’s race. Evelyn Maher (Templemore) retained the masters title she won in 2020.
The senior men’s race was nail-biting from start to finish, with a group of four men locked together for most of the race. Joe Cocoman (Naas AC) and junior athlete James Tanner (Nenagh Olympic) led for the first half of the race. Just after the half-way mark the more experienced seniors Cocoman and David Mahon (Slaney Olympic) began pushing slightly ahead.
It was neck and neck all the way with the Slaney Olympic man just edging past the Naas athletes on the run to the finish. Ben Keane (Waterford AC) was first junior with clubmate Noel Murphy winning the masters race.
The St Senan’s open cross country is a highly respected competition with an equally high standard of competition, attracting many of the best juveniles in the country.
Known for its melting pot of champions, it is expected that a good level of competition will be offered to those attending. The races did not disappoint on this score either.
In the boys’ under-18 event Irish international David Williams (St Senan’s) looked comfortable as he led from start to finish - but it wasn’t an easy competition. Williams was pushed hard by Nenagh Olympic athletes Luke Purcell and Tom Walshe, both of whom have also competed in the green vest for Ireland.
This high quality field offered much down the field excitement too as athletes looked to prove their form coming off the late summer season. The girls’ under-18 race saw Niamh Brady (St Peter’s AC) take the gold from Orla Looney (Portlaoise), edging ahead on the final lap to finish strongly.
If the boys’ under-18 race saw St Senan’s take a home victory, then the girls’ under-16 event proved they could do the same.
In what was probably the most exciting competition of the day the 35-strong field of athletes was led after 100m by last year’s winner Dearbhla Allen (St Peter’s AC). Just like last year, the Louth athlete did all the front running. For the first 1,200m of this race, she had opened up a large gap on the St Senan’s pair of Charlotte Carpendale and Eve Dunphy, along with Jennifer O’Leary of Nenagh Olympic.
O’Leary, who finished third in the national 1,500m during the summer, looked like she might claw into the lead that Allen had amassed. She led the challenge going down the hill for the final time.
Along the scenic river bank, she had gained slightly but so too had Charlotte Carpendale. The St Senan’s girl, passing O’Leary with 500m to go. Both athletes had now come within 10m of long time leader Dearbhla Allen.
Up the final hill, Charlotte Carpendale was hot on her heals. With 150 metres to go she overtook her rival in what could only be classed as a heroic sprint for the finish.
The St Senan’s team was rewarded with victory in the club section. The first five in this race were all medalists in the last national juvenile cross country that was run – back in 2019. An exciting winter season awaits them.
The boys’ under-16 was another race of champions. Ben Walshe (Nenagh), like Dearbhla Allen in the girls’ race, led for most of the way. Unlike Allen, he had Sean Lennon of United Striders hot on his heels all the way.
At times it looked like Walshe was pulling away, only to be immediately pursed by Lennon. In the final 300m, Sean Lennon challenged for the lead and the two athletes changed leading roles at least six times in 300 metres. Sean Lennon finally crossed that finish line for the gold with Ben Walshe second and Ben Wallis (St Senan’s) finishing third.
With 48 athletes contesting the girls’ under-14 race, it was always going to be a race for the front from early on. Emma Hickey (United Striders) was unrelenting in her pursuit of that gold medal. She looked both comfortable and fit and took the gold in a fine display of cross country running.
Second place went to St Joseph’s AC athlete Lily Ryan who excelled this year at race walking and certainly has proven her versatility when it comes to athletics.
Katy Hayes of St Coca’s came all the way from Kilcock in Kildare and went home with the bronze. With four athletes in the top 20, it was West Waterford who took the team title.
The boys’ under-14 race was also boosted large numbers, with 42 athletes this time racing their best. Joss O’Connor won the race. The Rosbercon-based athlete, who has recently transferred from St Joseph’s AC to United Striders (New Ross), finished 10m ahead of Harry Cahill of St Coco’s with a brilliant run by St Senan’s Daire Casey-Power in third. This fine run by Daire was backed up by his St Senan’s team-mates when the club finished in second and third place, seeing all eight runners going home with a team prize.
The girls’ under-12 race boasted the biggest field of the day with 61 athletes taking part. Despite the large field, the start went smoothly. Isabelle Gaffney of West Waterford was just superb. Her win was by far the one with the largest margin by any athlete during the day.
After just 200m she had a clear lead. This she incrementally increased as she progressed through the race while she finished with lots more left in the tank. Aveen O’Donohue of Ferrybank was second with Erin Butler of Waterford AC in third. Ferrybank grouped well to win the team title.
The boys’ race saw a thrilling late challenge by St Senan’s own Zak Fenton on leader Robert Gleeson of Newbridge.
Known as a determined athlete, Zak fought hard to the line and was only beaten by the narrowest of margins. Lewis Morgan of Ferrybank was third. Newbridge won the team title from St Senan’s with a tie for third between Tramore and Ferrybank. There were just under 50 athletes taking part, another great entry.
The under-9 and 10 girls and boys races always generate a bit of excitement. Many of these were competing for the first time ever. Ordinarily these athletes would have raced in under-8 and under-9 races at this stage, but the pandemic arrested their racing development. This has now been rectified and a great bunch of youngsters in these age groups, delighted in the cross country run.
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