01 Oct 2022

Three cheers as Kilkenny trio are crowned Leinster champions

Three cheers as Kilkenny trio are crowned Leinster champions

Ruth Kennedy (Gowran) took gold in the women’s under-23 race

In the beautiful demesne of Avondale, where Charles Parnell once lived and championed the cause for Home Rule, Kilkenny produced three champions of their own.

It was a glorious day for the county as an army of athletes made their way to the Garden County for the Leinster cross-country championships.

Leading the way was Ruth Kennedy (Gowran), who has been having a great season. She produced her first Leinster title when she claimed victory in the women’s under-23 5,000m.

Charlotte Carpendale (St Senan’s) produced a clever and strategic run to take the girls’ under-15 title. In the boys’ under-11 race young Aaron Carrigan (Gowran) held off the challenge of Darragh O’Callaghan and Daire O’Flaherty of Kilkenny City Harriers (KCH) to take a victory of his own.

In total Kilkenny have 15 juveniles on the Leinster team for the All-Irelands, which will be held in Gowran on December 5 - five are from St Senan’s, five from Gowran, three from Thomastown and two from KCH. A total of seven county teams have qualified, ensuring more athletes from various clubs have earned their qualification.

On top of this, five club teams have qualified, bringing the total of Kilkenny juvenile athletes racing at the Nationals to 66, giving audiences plenty of local interest to follow.

Ruth Kennedy had been a good juvenile athlete, making the Leinster team and often securing national medals on county or Leinster teams. She was a solid fourth in the Leinster Novice a fortnight ago, demonstrating a significant improvement in her running since last year.

With St Senan’s athlete Bronagh Kearns absent from Sunday’s race with a small layoff, the mantle to lead the county was on Kennedy’s shoulders.

Starting out at a very sensible pace, she was content to let Euro Cross silver team medal winner Una Britton take charge and jump to the front with Fiona McKenna (UCD). These two athletes broke away from the main pack and produced a ding-dong battle for most of the race with McKenna powering up the final hill to take gold.

Kennedy raced cleverly and resisted the urge to move away from her own group. The tall Dungarvan native towered above the other athletes and allowed her long stride to control the downhill pace and gain momentum on the hills.

In the same chasing group was Lucy Deegan (St Abban’s) who was her main rival for the under-23 title. It was important to keep ahead of Lucy, who had a strong finish. This chasing group started to tear apart in the final lap as some of the older runners battled it out for the bronze medal.

This left Kennedy with a battle of her own with Deegan. However, she proved too strong for Deegan, who made no response when the final steep hill was covered. Kennedy powered up the final hill to the finish line to take the under-23 victory. Behind her, Ella Richardson (KCH) ran a great race to take the bronze.

The county senior women’s team pulled off a bronze medal despite missing Bronagh Kearns and Lauren Dermody. This was a superb result from a very young team.

Ruth Kennedy and Ella Richardson were joined by the St Senan’s pair of Aoife Allen (who was fourth in the under-23 race) and Adele Walsh. It has to be said that most of the women competing offer a success story of their own as they are all former juveniles who have kept running into senior level.

The Kilkenny women are finally making their mark at senior level after many years of absence. Hats off to the elder lemon of the field, Adele Walsh (St Senan’s) who, at 46 years of age, was the fourth scorer on the Kilkenny team – still running strong after all these years!

Another success story was Darragh Buckely (St Senan’s) who, in his first year of athletics, finished second in the men’s under-23 race. Buckley is improving with each race and the future looks bright for St Senan’s newest athlete.

The county men’s team were missing some athletes, with many waiting this one out in order to ramp up training for the nationals (also the Euro cross trials) and others in Greenland completing marathons. First home was James Kelly (Castlecomer) in eighth place. The county were fourth overall.

The boys’ under-11 race certainly produced some great running with Kilkenny taking all top three podium spots.

Aaron Carrigan (Gowran), Darragh O’Callaghan (KCH) and Daire O’Flaherty (KCH) in their first Leinster Championship outing, did not know what to expect, as is normal for kids of this age. Running as fast as they could from the gun, they found themselves in the leading group at the top of the hill.

With all three athletes having competed together in the counties in Castlecomer, it seemed like it was the same race all over again. With 500m to go, all three athletes battled it out for the top spot, with Carrigan crossing the line ahead of the two KCH athletes.

With two athletes so far up, it was no surprise to see KCH win the club team title. The county also scored a silver medal – with the first 10 athletes from the county on the team for the All-Irelands.

The girls’ race was also a very exciting contest with 20 young girls from across six clubs from the county taking part. While none of the girls made the top 12 individuals, they packed well and managed to get the county team across the line to qualify.

The girls’ under-13 were led home by Katie O’Shea (Thomastown) in ninth position, earning her place on the Leinster team.

Her Thomastown team-mates followed closely behind and produced a fine win, defending their club title from two years ago. In that All Ireland in 2019, they claimed a medal, so no doubt they will be chasing another in a month’s time.

The boys’ under-13 race produced some outstanding local results. This had been a very competitive race in the county championships and was always going to be equally competitive in the Leinsters.

Conor Carroll and Robert Coogan (Gowran) were joined by Zak Fenton (St Senan’s) as they chased the leading three athletes from the provence over tough two laps of the course. It was a great result for all three when they finished in the top 12 and thus secured a place on the Leinster team.

Not to be emulated by the girls, the boys produced one better in the county section when they produced a fine victory with Gowran AC winning the club title. St Senan’s AC also packed well together to finish fourth and join Gowran AC in the All-Irelands. It is great to have two clubs from the county qualify.

Charlotte Carpendale (St Senan’s) has finished in the top 12 at the Leinsters since she was under-11. Medalling both in her age and above her age at All-Irelands on all occasions, she was certainly earmarked for a top 12 placing.

At the Leinster under-16 race hosted by her club St Senan’s in Mountain View two weeks ago, she finished a superb second (out of her age) to Emer Cooney of Ace AC in Louth.

On Sunday in Avondale she faced the same challenges and Cooney was the girl to beat. Similar to Mountain View, Cooney went off to the front and built up a substantial lead after the first lap. The plan for Carpendale was to relax and get into a nice easy rhythm and run together with her St Senan’s club-mate Eve Dunphy. After the halfway mark, Carpendale started to gradually move. With 1,000m to go she was second and chasing down Cooney, gradually reeling her in.

It was a fantastic victory for the St Senan’s girl, with her clubmate and training partner Eve Dunphy all the time improving, taking fourth place. These girls led the St Senan’s team to second place and the county to silver too.

Runners in the boys’ under-15 category have always been in short supply in the county. The boys that did compete from the county ran great races. There is no reason why these athletes cannot produce some great victories as they get older; patience, hard work and determination win over talent in the long run.

For many years the boys’ under-17 age group has been dominated by Wexford, who often go on to win gold at the All-Irelands.

This year for the first time, a strong team of Kilkenny boys beat Wexford for the first time ever. It was in no small way attributed to the fact that we have three in the top 12 too.

This particular age group is very strong at national level, with most of the athletes contributing to this strength residing in the South-East.

Billy Coogan (Gowran) ran another superb race to once again repeat his silver medal performance of two weeks ago. Staying further up with the leaders this time, Coogan was tucked in right behind Jack Fenlon (St Abban’s) and eventual winner Jonas Stafford (Ashford) for the first 1,000m of this 5,000m race.

Right there too was David Williams (St Senan’s) who is just back from a three week injury and not far off this leading pack was fellow St Senan’s man Gearoid Long. Myles Hewlett of Wexford made a move at the midway point, gaining a slight lead.

However, with 1,000m to go Jonas Stafford made the race his own and moved further and further ahead. Coogan chased hard and moved clear of Hewlett to finish strongly in second place. David Williams produced a gutsy run to finish in sixth place and should, with four weeks to go to Nationals, regain some of the fitness he has lost over the last three weeks of absence.

Gearoid Long finished 11th to take his first ever Leinster Individual medal.

With county gold, the boys will hopefully be chasing gold on December 5.

The girls’ under-17 were haunted by the absence of St Senan’s athlete Caoimhe Phelan, who is sidelined from athletics until after Christmas. The girls all ran very well with a notable performance from Isabella Burke (KCH) in 17th place.

Numbers for both boys and girls were disappointingly low overall from the entire province at under-19 level. There were just 23 athletes in the girls’ under-19 race and 19 athletes in the boys’ race. No doubt many were lost to the sport over the various lockdowns over the last two years.

Notwithstanding this, there was some superb running from those who participated. The Thomastown girls, who have always been strong in this age group, produced another fine win to take gold with the county finishing in third place.

Claragh Keane (DMP) did what Claragh Keane always does – go to the front and gain as much of a lead as possible. Behind her a small group consisting of Thomastown duo Hannah Kehoe and Aine Kirwan engaged in their own battle.

Ruby Steuvens (Tullamore) was patient and kept a steady pace. With 1,500m to go – at the start of the final big loop, Steuvens made her move and launched an attack on Keane’s lead. This split the group, with Hannah Kehoe and Ava Costello (Trim) trying hard to follow, leaving Aine Kirwan in the second chasing group. Kehoe, who finished fourth in Mountain View two weeks ago had to settle once again for fourth place, with Aine Kirwan finishing eighth. Both girls are on the Leinster team for the Nationals.

Kilkenny had just one competitor in the boys’ under-19 race – Matthew Holland was sixth, earning his place on the Leinster team. Cathal O’Reilly and other top athletes chose to miss the Leinsters in favour of building up for the juniors, which doubles as the Euro cross trial in two weeks.

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