Local athletes shine in Leinster tests
Strong show in horrendous weather
Despite horrendous weather conditions, Wexford had arguably its best day in recent years at the Leinster Intermediate and Juvenile uneven age cross-country championships held in John F. Kennedy Park on Sunday.
Both Wexford's Intermediate men's team and the women's Intermediate county team braved the wet and the wind to be crowned Leinster champions in both grades, together with individual silver medals for Ger Forde (Slaney Olympic) and Annaleigh Hore (Kilmore).
With large volumes of rainfall during the week and on the morning of the championships, the ground was wet in many parts and underwater in more. The picturesque setting could not truly be appreciated with a driving wind that never eased, even between the torrential showers.
Though there was initial doubt over whether or not to run the Under-9 non-championship races, the young athletes themselves were all eager to go and the girls took to the start with great enthusiasm. There were four Wexford medal winners: Katie Doyle, S.B.R., second; Eabha Keane, D.M.P., seventh; S.B.R. in ninth and Ciabha Carty, Enniscorthy, eleventh, all putting in brave runs over 500m to be in the top twelve.
In the boys' Under-9, D.M.P's Kevin O'Mahoney was first in for Wexford in fourth place, earning a well-deserved front row seat in the medal enclosure, as did United Striders' Ronan Shannon in sixth position on home ground.
The first of the championship races was the girls' Under-11 over 1,500m. With tremendous performances from individual medal winners - Orlaith Deegan, S.B.R., finishing sixth and Leona Berry of United Striders, eighth, the Wexford girls' team finished in the bronze medal position, with the other four scoring members being Niamh English (Adamstown), Orla Byrne (S.B.R.), Kennedy Cullen (Kilmore) and Ellie O'Mahoney (D.M.P.).
Not to be outdone by their female peers, the Wexford Under-11 boys set off on an increasingly mucky journey for one large lap of the course. Putting in a powerful run on home ground, Striders were once again in the medal enclosure when Myles Hewlett sprinted over the line to take sixth place, leading the Wexford team to bronze.
Other members of the scoring team for Wexford were Conn Mernagh (St. Paul's), David Kirwan (S.B.R.), Tim Ivors (Craanford Harriers), Finn Kelly (United Striders) and Eoin Shannon (United Striders). These boys are now off to the All-Ireland in Dungarvan in December to represent their county.
In the Under-13s, the distance increased to 2,500m and as the rain held off the girls set off on their two laps of the course. Just outside of the medals and running out of age was Claragh Keane of D.M.P. who finished in 15th position. Also performing well for Wexford were Aoibhinn Mernagh (St. Paul's), Laura Ivors (Craanford Harriers) and Clodagh Foran (United Striders).
When the boys Under-13 took to the start line there were sections of the course fully underwater and the risk of a fall was high in the slippery underfoot conditions. Aidan Shannon of United Striders was nevertheless comfortable in the race and the Under-12 Leinster champion soared through the muck to take an individual medal in eighth place.
With other superb performances from the Wexford boys they qualified for the All-Ireland in fourth position, with the scoring team being Aidan Shannon (United Striders), Robert Wall (Adamstown), Adam O'Connor (United Striders), Joe Byrne (S.B.R.), who made a strong recovery from a fall mid-race, Darragh Flannelly (United Striders) and Owen Lennon (United Striders).
At Under-15 level the distance went up to a testing 3,500m and the rain started to pour down once again after a temporary reprise for the younger athletes. First Wexford girl home was Taghmon's Hannah Roche-Kelly after a testing three rounds of the park, running out of age. Also performing well for the home side were United Striders' Grace Costello and Adamstown's Kate Jackman.
Wexford had big numbers out in the boys' Under-15 and Adamstown's Luke Byrne, running out of age, led the purple and gold squad over the now saturated soil. Up against tough competition, Luke made the medal enclosure once again with an individual medal for a ninth place position following a very fast sprint into the chip-timed finish.
Also running well for Wexford were United Striders' Aaron Browne, S.B.R's Josh Hogan, Conor Keane from D.M.P. and Oisín Woolmington from Craanford Harriers.
The girls Under-17 were represented well by Katie Daly (Kilmore), Annalise Crean (Adamstown) and Elaina Browne from United Striders. In the boys' event, both Liam Turner (D.M.P.) and James Boland from S.B.R. had strong runs over the increased distance.
It was when the adults took to the course however that Wexford's strongest performances were to be seen. With home advantage the purple and gold was prominent at the start of the women's race.
From the start Kilmore's Annaleigh Hore was in the leading pack and she held well despite the conditions to finish with an individual silver medal. With strong finishes in her wake, it was clearly evident that the Wexford team was to take the Leinster Intermediate championship title.
Slaney Olympic duo Catherine Murphy and Emily Waldron-O'Connor were next in for the county, followed by Helen Doyle of Kilmore, Catherine Walsh of Slaney and Lillian Lawless of S.B.R. Annaleigh also led the Kilmore ladies' team to bronze, with scoring team-mates Helen Doyle, Sinéad O'Brien and Sue Cahill, making it a trio of medals for Annaleigh.
The men may have been inspired by the ladies' performance and were not to be outdone. With 21 Wexford athletes racing over 8k, Slaney Olympic's Ger Forde went out at a predictably strong pace from the gun.
After a gruelling race, Ger claimed the Leinster Intermediate silver medal in a time of 27 minutes and 23 seconds, and led Wexford to the Leinster championship title. Also scoring for the home county were S.B.R's Noel Kennedy and Paul Lynch, followed by United Striders' John McGrath and Ted Flannelly and Trevor Conroy, all in the top 14 finishers.
S.B.R. were immediately confident of the top team prize and were duly crowned Leinster champion club at Intermediate level, with Myles Gibbons also scoring just ahead of Denis Moynihan and Paul Gibbons.
United Striders were delighted to accept the bronze club medals on a special day for the New Ross club, with John McGrath, Ted Flannelly, Pat O'Callaghan, Seán Murphy and Paul Doran on the team.
This brought the total of Wexford county and club team medals to seven; a vast improvement on where Wexford cross-country running was three years ago. The strength of the younger Juveniles is also a positive, as is the consistency of some young athletes who are taking Leinster medals, both in age and out of age, over the past three years.
The next cross-country outing is the national championships, even and inter-county, in Santry on November 22, where both boys Under-12 and girls Under-12 will line up ahead of the boys' Under-14 Wexford teams to contest for the highest honours in the land.