Cathal O’Reilly (Kilkenny City Harriers) on his way to victory in the junior men’s event at the Leinster cross-country championships at Mountain View
The Leinster juvenile even ages, junior and novice championships were held at the beautiful venue of Mountain View, Kiltoran on Saturday.
Hosted by St Senan’s AC, spectators, athletes and officials deemed it an unequivocal success. Set amid the rolling hills of South Kilkenny, the former golf course provided not only spectacular views but also the perfect cross-country terrain. At times the incremental weather attempted to mar the day, however, intermittent sunshine provided the perfect relief.
The event was picked up by St Senan’s AC, just 10 days prior to the scheduled date as another Leinster club’s venue failed to materialise, leaving Leinster Athletics in a conundrum.
Bea and Teddy O’Neill, the owners of Mountain View, were a contribution to the success of the day. From the fabulous food in the Cow Shed restaurant to facilitating every angle of the event on their premises, despite running a business there already. St Senan’s AC and Athletics Leinster could not wish for better people to work with.
The host club had an army of 56 helpers, drawn from parents and committee members, all of whom did their part to make the event run as successfully as it did. Teamwork is what makes an event possible and last Sunday was definitely a St Senan’s team effort.
The host club St Senan’s provided a winner on the day in the form of Bronagh Kearns.
Bronagh left no one in doubt as to her total dominance of the race, right from the start. After 10 metres she was already in front and never once relinquished that position. Her long and easy gait made her efforts look so easy.
The 4,000m course was facilitated through two laps of 1,000m and one lap of 1,500m along with starts and finishes making up the total distance.
From lap to lap Kearns increased her lead, to the extent that at one point she was so far ahead of the rest of the field, the second athlete - Sile O’Byrne of Sli Cualann - was mistaken for the leader.
Having competed at the Autumn Open the previous week where she finished in an incredible fifth place, Bronagh understood the pace she needed to maintain to win the Leinster Novice.
“After the first 1,500m I glanced at my watch and asked myself could I keep going at this pace,” she said.
Her decision to keep with the pace she had set was exactly the right thing to do when she claimed victory with 40 seconds (about 300 metres) to spare over the Sli Cualann athlete Sile O’Byrne.
Another woman who had a great race was the ever improving Ruth Kennedy of Gowran. The DCU-based athlete ran well in the St Senan’s Open Cross Country at the end of September, where she was third. At the Leinster Novice she stayed up with the chasing pack and was never out of the top eight.
After Sile O’Byrne and Aisling Ahearn (Raheny) pulled away, Ruth was left in a three-way battle with Silje Langstad (DCH) and Lucy Deegan (St Abban’s) with Kennedy managing to pull through to finish fourth. This is Ruth’s best ever performance at a Leinster senior level event.
Kilkenny finished second in the county section, with scoring team members being Bronagh Kearns (St Senan’s, first), Ruth Kennedy (Gowran, third), Aoife Allen (St Senan’s, 21st) and Kate O’Brien (Gowran, 34th).
There is great depth in women’s athletics in Kilkenny – now hopes are all can come together for the National Seniors this year and make the impact that they are capable of.
If patience could be bottled and sold as a valuable commodity, then Cathal O’Reilly would be a rich man.
Always interested in athletics and training away at every level, through his juvenile career Cathal has come through in his final year as a juvenile to demonstrate some real athletics potential.
As a young juvenile with Castlecomer he ran in the shadow of Will Fox, who went on to win the under-13 national cross-country. Will then changed clubs to St Abban’s and moved away from the athletics world.
Even at county level, Cathal often was overshadowed by other county athletes. He had a minor breakthrough at under-17 level when he won the national steeplechase title. The following year he switched clubs to Kilkenny City Harriers (KCH) and had a good run with St Kieran’s College in the All-Ireland schools cross-country. A week later the country went into lockdown and athletics was disbanded.
The national junior track and field saw Cathal run a solid 3,000m in 2020 and moving on to this year he had a phenomenal track and field season taking a gold, silver and bronze at the national track and field championships, setting new personal bests (PBs) for the season.
On Saturday O’Neill, like Bronagh Kearns, knew his pacing. He had been ninth in the Autumn Open a weekend earlier in Abbotstown, a testing race for the season ahead.
Conditions underfoot for the combined under-18/junior race were excellent, which suited the Harrier. Joe Byrne from Wexford set a blistering pace for the first 1,500m. O’Neill was content to sit back in the chasing pack which consisted of Adam Condron (Raheny) and Aaron Smith (Cilles), who had been third in that same race in the Autumn Open. Also in the pack was Marcus Clarke (Ratoath) and Liam Mulligan (Drogheda).
The pack clawed back the distance that Joe Byrne had amassed over the following few kilometres.
With 1,500m to go O’Neill, Condron and Smith tried to overtake Byrne, but he found a new lease of life and pushed ahead once more. This time O’Neill went with him.
By the time the athletes reached the final hill, crossing through the trees, the Kilkennyman had taken the lead from the now fading Byrne. A strong downhill finish saw O’Reilly take victory with 11 seconds to spare.
With the European Juniors in Dublin this year, no doubt he will be aiming to peak for the Nationals on November 21, which is also the trial for the Irish team.
The current crop of under-16 girls from St Senan’s have always had an impact on both Leinster and the All-Ireland events, ever since they first started running at under-11.
This year the team is currently without Caoimhe Phelan, who will be absent until after Christmas, but under-15 athlete Charlotte Carpendale stepped up to the mark and clinched the silver medal. The club team were fourth as was the county, meaning both will go through to the All-Irelands.
The under-16 race is quite an important race as it marks the first time juvenile athletes will have an opportunity to compete for a place on an Irish team. Qualifying for the national championships, which doubles up as a trial, is very important.
Carpendale and clubmate Eve Dunphy lay around 10th position after the first lap, with some work to do to catch up on long-time leader Emer Cooney of Louth with another Louth athlete Dearbhla Allen in second place. A few roars of encouragement from the St Senan’s AC members got Carpendale moving and, gradually, through the course of that second lap she came through the field to claw back about 50m and finish a very clear second, gaining on eventual winner Cooney all the time.
The locals involved in the boys’ under-16 race were led by Ruairi McEvoy (KCH) who finished ninth. Kilkenny were fourth county and will now go forward to the All-Irelands. McEvoy will also be included on the Leinster team.
In the boys’ under-18 race Billy Coogan had the race of his life to claim second place behind Sean Connaughton of Dunleer. Like Carpendale, Coogan was content to stay back at the start of the race and let the big guns battle up front. While the big names chased down Joe Byrne, Coogan kept to his own pace, content on knowing that his fitness from the schools international was still there and that he could sustain the 6,000m and produce a final kick.
With the absence of county mate David Williams of St Senan’s through injury, Sean Connaughton, Jack Fenlon (St Abban’s) and Myles Hewlett (United Striders) were probably the favourites to win. The short but steep hill at the bottom of the course caught many athletes, with lactic filling their muscles and finding it hard to gain momentum for the next 200m or so.
Coogan had no such problems. He powered up that hill, gaining more and more each time. At the start of the final lap he had already passed out Myles Hewlett and lay in fourth place just behind Jack Fenlon and Luke Duffy of Tullamore. Duffy, who is good on hills, lacked speed and lost any ground he gained on the hills.
For the final 600m, which is all downhill, Coogan used his long stride to his advantage and overtook first Fenlon and then Duffey. Connaughton was just that bit too far ahead to catch. This was a superb performance for Billy Coogan, who should be confident going into his own age group (under-17) in Avondale on November 7.
Going into these Leinsters, most followers of county athletics knew the Kilkenny under-12 boys’ squad was strong. Ding-dong battles between Robert Coogan (Gowran) and Zak Fenton (St Senan’s) laid the foundations for great expectations. These two boys were well up for most of the race - they both knew that the only guarantee of making the All-Irelands was to finish in the top 12, so had to keep an eye on one another while, at the same time, trying to push ahead.
Both athletes are tough and hills are but an inconsequential inconvenience to them - something to be navigated rather than laboured on. With just one big loop to complete, there was no point in worrying about any aspect of the course – just run and do your best.
The race was led from start to finish by Fionn Kirby (Kildare) and Cormac Green (Dunleer). Behind these two athletes came Coogan and Fenton mixed in with athletes from Greystones, St Peter’s, Mullingar and Dunboyne. As Zak Fenton tried to make a break with to go, so too did Robert Coogan. Just as he had done in the counties, Coogan just took off and not only did he manage to outkick the St Senan’s man, he also overtook four other athletes to chase down the leading pair of Kirby and Green. Robert Coogan, younger brother of Billy, came home with a Leinster bronze. He surely must be looking forward to Nationals on November 21.
Fenton finished fifth, meaning both he and Coogan qualified on the Leinster team. The county team was second and Gowran put in a great performance to finish first club with Evan Ryan also qualifying on the Leinster team when he finished in 12th place.
Elsewhere on the day, Sinead Cormack (KCH) gained a place on the county team when she finished in ninth place. The under-14 girls were in hard luck as they should have qualified. Led by Lily Ryan (St Joseph’s) in sixth and Clodagh O’Callaghan (KCH) in seventh place there is plenty of talent within the county. Had some of the girls chosen to compete in the county championships they would have qualified on the county team and this would have been enough to bring the team up to a podium position. As the race stood their positions were discounted, costing the team a place in the All-Irelands.
It was great to see another good performance from Hannah Kehoe in a race that was important for her to do well in. Kehoe had spent a number of years suffering from knee and hip injuries after her superb performance as an under-11 to under-14 athlete - she was forced to abandon the county under-18 race a fortnight ago with another injury.
At the weekend there was no evidence of injury as she looked strong and fit and finished in fourth place in the girls’ under-18 race. For some, fourth might be the worst place in the world. However, for Kehoe it was a blessing to be back running well and once more through to an All-Ireland where she hopes she can once more stand on that podium and remind the athletics world of that talent that was there at a younger level.
Thomastown finished with the gold in the junior girls club section. This group of girls has been at the top of Leinster since they were under-11 and it is great to see them all still going strong at junior level. The transfer of Kehoe from Gowran two years ago has certainly helped.
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