Fionnuala McCormack and Shona Heaslip power to fine victories

While Fionnuala McCormack was busy making her mark at the 35th Cross Internacional de la Constituciónin Spain, Shona Heaslip was causing a stir at the Irish Life Health National Cross Country Championships at the Sport Ireland National Sports Campus yesterday.

McCormack (Kilcoole) decided to forgo the nationals and sharpen her preparations for the European Cross Country Championships at the IAAF meeting on the outskirts of Madrid. She achieved her objective with a notable victory over Ethiopia’s Etenesh Diro Neda who has a 5,000m personal best of 14:33.30.

The Wicklow woman’s victory was somewhat expected but not the same could be said of Shona Heaslip’s (An Riocht) shock victory in the senior women’s 8,000m in 28:13. Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle) pipped pre-race favourite Ciara Mageean (UCD) at the finish by one second in 28:23 for the silver.

“Driving up I was hoping to be the first U23 athlete,” said the delighted 22-year-old afterwards who completely surpassed that goal. Heaslip had shown little form coming into the race but the last month she managed to change things around.

“I had a lot on and graduated from IT Tralee in Health and Leisure,” she explained. “I felt good in the race but I had to check myself running alongside the other girls who I had watched on television in the summer,” referring to Rio Olympians O’Flaherty and Mageean. Her next decision will be whether to run the senior or U23 race at the European Cross Country Championships in Italy in December.

Mark Christie (Mullingar Harriers) rolled back the years to win the senior men’s 10,000m title in 30:41 ahead of Mick Clohisey (Raheny Shamrock) second in 30:53 and Mark Hanrahan (Leevale) third in 30:57.

“I fell out of love with cross country a little bit but I set myself this as a target to get back in the mix,” said Christie afterwards having won this race ten years ago. “I watched the lads in the Rio Olympics and that was a bit bittersweet but it was definitely good to be back with them today.”

Jack O’Leary (Mullingar Harriers) returned from his scholarship at Iona College in the US to win the junior men’s 6,000m impressively in 18:37 ahead of Peter Lynch (Kilkenny City Harriers) and Fearghal Curtain (Youghal).

Sophie Murphy (DSD) was a strong winner of the junior women’s 4,000m in 14:18 ahead of Amy Rose Farrell (Blackrock).

Athletes that caught the eye in the underage races were Sarah Healy (Blackrock) and Louis O’Loughlin (Donore Harriers) who had too much for their counterparts in the U16 girls and U16 boys. The announcement of the Irish team for the European Cross Country Championships is expected today.

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