A year to remember for Wexford athletics
To take a look back at the athletics year that was 2015 for Wexford did not prove an easy task. There never seemed to be a quiet time and so many athletes' names jump to mind, so many events and developments in a year that was as rich in memories as any in recent times.
The highlights, however, when you take a step back were: Ger Forde's total shake-up of the status quo in Senior men's endurance races up to provincial level; Ryan Carthy-Walsh's silver medal on a sweltering August afternoon at the European Youth Olympics in Georgia; Sophie McCabe and Marguerite Furlong jumping and throwing their way to international golds in Scotland, bringing the total of Juvenile caps for Ireland by Wexford athletes to eight during the year; the return of international combined events athlete Michael Bowler to Wexford in the autumn transfer window, with his younger brother, Tim, chasing fast on his heels for honours; Jackie Carthy keeping the status quo and exerting dominance in female endurance running at international masters level; Menapians' sprint squads continuing to break records; the consistent re-building of cross-country with the purple and gold represented at all national Juvenile events; Wexford's magnificent performances at Intermediate cross-country level in the muck and rain at Kennedy Park; and of course, one of the most significant developments ever for the sport in Wexford - the historical opening of Enniscorthy Sports Hub, as the long-awaited home of athletics in Wexford.
From an organisational point of view, Athletics Wexford membership has tapered off, from phenomenal growth rates during 2013 and 2014 which were in the region of nearly 25%, to a somewhat modest in comparison rate of 5% this year, in line with the national average.
Development events introduced over recent times, such as the winter leagues, secondary schools cross-country, summer development camp and sportshall athletics consolidated their places in the fixtures calendar, as did the Wexford county teams' contention in the National League.
The new sponsorship deal with Mr Oil early in the year facilitated the move of almost all track and field fixtures to the new track and despite an abnormally wet summer season, the foundations were laid for the years ahead.
In the early part of the year the indoor season was particularly good for Wexford with a huge influx of medals at Masters level from Senior clubs such as Menapians, D.M.P. and United Striders. At Senior level, Kilmore's Fiona Kehoe had 800m medal success amidst a strong field of internationals seeking qualification ahead of the European indoors.
At Juvenile level, Bree's Ryan Murray took no less than three medals, two golds and a silver, in the Under-18 60m, 60m hurdles and 200m. Other national champions crowned in the Athlone International Arena included Sabia Doyle (Menapians) in the Under-13 60m, equalling the national championship best performance time; Jack Forde (St. Killian's) in the Under-13 high jump; James Hanlon (Taghmon) in the Under-14 1k walk; Marguerite Furlong (Adamstown) in the Under-16 shot putt; Joe Mooney (Adamstown) in the Under-18 1.5k walk, and, setting a national C.B.P. in the Under-17 high jump, the first of many 2015 titles for Adamstown's Ryan Carthy-Walsh, jumping 1.98m.
In March Wexford had four young school teams compete in the national sportshall athletics final, also in the Athlone stadium. Teams from Ballyhack N.S., Adamstown N.S. and the Mercy (Wexford) all wore their county colours with pride and all Wexford teams were in the top half of the 16 competing counties.
As the road race season kicked off in the spring, the arrival of Ger Forde to Slaney Olympic, following an inter-county transfer from Dublin, saw a big shake-up in the local endurance running stakes. Ger's first victory was emphatic at Intermediate level, and the Wexford C.B.S. teacher went on to take the Senior county title in May in Enniscorthy.
His female counterpart on the roads was less of a surprise, with Jackie Carthy easing her way to become the 2015 county road race champion. At Leinster Novice road race level, Wexford were crowned champions with S.B.R. and United Striders forming the backbone of the county team.
In April, Marco Pons of DMP got a good start to the throwing season with a win in the Intervarsities from the Discus cage. Marco went on to win bronze in the National Senior Track & Field Championships, one of only two medal winners from Wexford at senior level.
The month of May saw a packed calendar of events. The two legs of the Mr Oil Wexford Juvenile track and field championships made their debut on the new track in Enniscorthy, with less than favourable weather conditions, but packed fields in every event from Under-9 upwards.
As is always the case with the county championships, old favourites performed, new talents emerged and challenges for the top spots on the podium were aplenty. The Juveniles took to their new home with great enthusiasm and the facilities were welcomed by the large crowd of spectators.
On May 16, former Olympic and World cross-country medallist and C.E.O. of Sport Ireland, John Treacy, cut the ribbon with Councillor Barbra Anne Murphy to officially mark the opening of Enniscorthy Sports Hub. Representatives of most clubs from around the county marked the occasion and the crowd were welcomed to a special treat when Ryan Carthy-Walsh arrived with coach Nicky Cowman, having just that morning jumped the qualifying standard for the European Youth Olympics, at the Leinster Schools track and field championships.
The President of Athletics Wexford, Toddy Moore, was exuberant on the podium, speaking of the years officials from clubs had spent marking grass tracks with whitewash to prepare for events. 'The days of the bucket of whitewash are now truly gone,' he enthused in a rousing speech to much applause.
Wexford County Council's foresight and the commitment of the former Enniscorthy Town Council brought about this new era for the sport, and the track is now one of the greatest assets to athletics in Wexford.
With the main action moving to Tullamore in June for schools, Leinster and national events, the hoards of Wexford hopefuls were treated to many windy and damp days in the midlands, moving closer to national glory as the qualification rounds progressed.
In the Irish Schools Athletics Association All-Ireland, Marguerite Furlong, representing St. Mary's (New Ross), did the double with gold in both the shot and discus. Representing Good Counsel, Ryan Carthy-Walsh retained his high jump national title and then added the Junior men's national title soon after.
Other podium positions were earned by Mikey Cullen (St. Peter's), Bronagh O'Hanlon (Presentation, Wexford), David McDonald (Wexford C.B.S.) Sophie McCabe and Chloe Whelan (Mean Scoil Gharman) and Ryan Murray (Enniscorthy C.B.S.).
Some of Wexford's very youngest athletes also showed immense composure to take national honours at the national pairs finals. Bree had a total of five teams win medals from Under-9 to Under-11 level, eventually winning them the Leinster All Star Award for best performing Leinster club in this grade.
In Taghmon over one hundred young athletes took part in the Athletics Wexford summer camp with specialised coaching in specific events, and it was one of the most enjoyable activities of the year.
Just ahead of the national track and field season, the county Senior event had its second outing at Enniscorthy Sports Hub over two evenings. With a few internationals competing as guests, the sprints were a treat for the watching crowd. Standards in many events showed a vast improvement that can in no small part be attributed to the new facilities in Enniscorthy.
Some of the highlights included Tony Stafford of Menapians' whopping 7.07m in the men's long jump; the men's high jump finalists finishing at 1.80m and 1.85m; some great battles in the middle distance races and full lanes in the relays.
At the Juvenile outdoor track and field national championships, the medals flowed Wexford's way. National champions crowned were Jack Forde, Under-13 high jump; James Hanlon, Under-14 walk; Sabia Doyle, Under-13 80m with a C.B.P.; Marguerite Furlong, Under-16 discus and shot putt; Pádraig Hore, Under-16 shot; David McDonald, Under-17 100m in a time of 10.92 seconds; Kathlyn Furlong, Under-17 hammer; Ryan Carthy-Walsh, Under-17 high jump with C.B.P. of 2.08m, and Joe Mooney, Under-18 walk.
Other medallists were Tara Connick, Sophie McCabe, Joseph Hanlon, Lystus Ebosele, Gergely Pap, Eimear Doherty and Aisling Kelly. The same week the schools international team was announced with five Wexford athletes representing Ireland: Chloe Whelan and Sophie McCabe (Mean Scoil Gharman), Kathlyn Furlong (Coláiste Abbain), David McDonald (Wexford C.B.S.) and Ryan Carthy-Walsh (Good Counsel College). Both David and Ryan went on to take medals home for team Ireland.
In the National League, Wexford women made the Premier Division final in third position and with a depleted team for the final due to holidays, injuries and international duties, were seventh overall. The Men's team in Division 1 were slightly off qualification for the final but are building for the years ahead with a very young team.
Also in Tullamore, the Masters had a fine medal haul with Jimmy O'Neill of Menapians doing the double in the sprints Over-50 and Karina Somers, Jackie Carthy, Niall Sheil, Aine Cullen and Ann Gilshenan amongst the gold medal winners.
With the end of the track and field season in sight, the highs to finish with were pronounced with three international medals. Marguerite Furlong, in her first outing in the Irish vest, took gold in the discus in Scotland at the Celtic Games, with Sophie McCabe repeating the feat on the same day with gold in the triple jump.
This was all within days of Ryan Carthy-Walsh jumping an astounding 2.09m at the European Youth Olympics in Tbilisi, Georgia to take silver and set Wexford alight for his homecoming celebration on the August Bank Holiday weekend.
As the autumn cross-country season took flight, hopes for Wexford teams were high following on from the breakthrough at provincial level the previous year. Following packed start lines at the two county championships in Adamstown and Kennedy Park, all hopes turned to Moyvalley in Co. Kildare for the first of the Leinster tests.
Aidan Shannon from United Striders became Leinster champion and led home a Wexford Under-12 boys' team which won silver medals and an automatic spot in the All-Irelands. Also shining were Luke Byrne and Joe Byrne, who led the Under-14 county team to silver, with the Under-12 girls' county team also making a qualification place.
Jackie Carthy became the second Wexford champion at the event and the Wexford women's county team secured bronze. Not to be outdone, the Wexford men also took bronze with great running from United Striders and S.B.R. athletes.
On home ground in John F. Kennedy Park for the second leg of the Leinsters, the men excelled at Intermediate level, taking advantage of home territory and the availability of Ger Forde to be crowned the Leinster champions in horrendous weather conditions.
At Juvenile level, the Under-11 boys and girls and Under-13 boys qualified for the national uneven age championships United Striders hosted the provincial test with great success and if the course was a little worse for wear following the event, organisationally it was outstanding, with all appreciating the advantage of having such a championship on their doorstep.
Santry, a familiar course to many Wexford athletes, was the venue for the first leg of the national championships and both Aidan Shannon and Luke Byrne improved on their previous year's medal positions as both individuals and with the Leinster team, earning two medals each and leading in the Wexford squads who were out in full force. To quote one seasoned Wexford commentator, they 'had each other's backs'.
In a rain-soaked and muddy Dungarvan for the second day of the nationals, success in the medal arena was gained in the boys' Under-11 1,500m by the ever-improving Myles Hewlitt of United Striders.
Three Wexford county teams took their places with the best in Ireland at Under-11 boys' and girls' and Under-13 boys' grades, providing valuable experience for our youngest endurance athletes and building a consistent base for the county teams.
With Kennedy Park in recovery following the Leinsters, the venue for the second Wexford secondary schools' cross-country had to be switched to the grounds of the reigning champions, Good Counsel College (New Ross). This event has introduced cross-country to hundreds of students from across the county and with almost 500 athletes taking to the course, competition was way more heated than in its first year.
St. Mary's (New Ross) pushed the boys of Good Counsel all the way for the Donna Foley Memorial Cup, and it was on countback that the boys' school retained their title, with Wexford C.B.S. taking third place. Sealing its place in the Athletics Wexford fixtures calendar, this event has been one of the resounding success stories in terms of participation in recent years.
With the year all but wrapped up, the County Board can look back with satisfaction. There is always plenty more to do; the facilities in Enniscorthy Sports Hub need to be developed in terms of equipment, cross-country at national level remains elusive in terms of Senior competitors, and the development of coaching support within the county is always a subject of discussion at County Board level.
There are many positives, however, to take forward into 2016, with the 18th Wexford club due to be affiliated in the new year. It's straight back to indoor competition in January and the cycle begins all over again, with nobody sure what the next twelve months will bring.