By Will Downing
Ireland enjoyed capable performances right across the board in the men’s and women’s marathons to kick off the final day of the best European Athletics Championships in years.
Kevin Seaward and Mick Clohissey enjoyed top-20 finishes in the men’s event, while the women were bunched together all around thirtieth place.
Barring Clohissey, all of the Irish men got off to a slow start, with St Malachy’s AC athlete Seaward down in 48th position around a quarter of the way into the race, after the first 11 kilometres.
The Loughborough-based teacher hadn’t made any significant ground by halfway, but then rocketed up the standings in the second half of the race, ultimately taking 15th position in a season’s best of 2 hours 16 minutes 58 seconds.
Clohisey had been the Irish kingpin throughout, dropping no lower than 30th at halfway, but was overtaken by Seaward in the final three kilometres.
The Raheny Shamrocks man clocking 2:18:00, with Sean Hehir happy to put the demons of last year’s 63rd-place finish in the World Championship marathon in London behind him, as he came home 25th in 2:18:58.
Sergiu Ciobanu was 36th in 2:19:49, while Paul Pollock came home 47th in 2:23:26.
As a result, Ireland were sixth in the team competition.
Koen Naert of Belgium was the resounding winner, having over ninety seconds to spare in a Championship record 2:09:51 over Tadesse Abraham of Switzerland, who clocked 2:11:24.
Bronze went to Italy’s Yassine Rachik in a lifetime best 2:12:09.
Having competed at the Commonwealth Games in April, Seaward said: “15th place today. I’m really happy with that.
“I was aiming for something between top-15 and top-10.
“Four years ago in Zurich, I was 28th, so I think it shows the progress made in this race today.
“My plan was always to start a little bit more reserved. I felt pretty good, but I ran a marathon at the Gold Coast 16 weeks ago and it took a lot out of me mentally and physically.
“I knew I felt okay in training, but I wanted to be a bit cautious for the first half and then I could always pick it up in the second half if I felt good.
Clohissey reported: “Top 20 was always going to be a good solid performance, so I’m happy with another strong championship.
“Conditions took their toll as we went on with the sun getting stronger, but that’s a marathon, they always get tougher as they go on!
“I faded a bit but then managed to hold on in.
“The Irish support was phenomenal around the course all day.”
Hehir had a score to settle from last year’s World Championships in London.
The Rathfarnham WSAF athlete said: “I’ll be honest, I’m just glad I banished the demon from the World Championships last year. That was my last marathon (before this) and that was the worst case scenario for me.
“To deliver a sub-2:19 at a Championship, it’s been a busy year as well, I’m just glad to have banished that demon.
“I went for a meal with my family last night and my father said that the work was done, it’s a matter of putting last year right and I’m so glad to have got the opportunity to have put that right.
“That last 7k hurt like hell but it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and holding everything together.”
It was a blanket finish for the Irish women in their marathon, with Lizzie Lee finishing 29th, Breege Connolly 31st and Gladys Ganiel-O’Neill 33rd, as the team placed eighth overall.
Lee broke away from Connolly and Ganiel-O’Neill from pretty much the start, and maintained a placing around ten places higher than her team-mates over the duration.
The Leevale AC athlete clocked 2:40:12 to Connolly’s 2:41:53 and Ganiel-O’Neill 2:42:32 with three relatively solid displays.
Lee, a member of the Irish gold-medal-winning team at the 2012 European Cross-Country Championships in Budapest, lost a toenail near the end but still battled through.
“I don’t know how but I’d say it happened with four miles to go,” said Lee.
“I can just feel it sticking into me. It’s not my first outing with toenails causing problems.
“I’d say if you added up the average between the eight marathon runners by the end of the day, you would not have an average of six per person.”
She added about her 29th-place finish: “It was grand. I was hoping for a little bit higher up, and a little bit faster but Championship is Championship, and I gave it my best out there today.
Connolly and Ganiel-O’Neill had paced each other together across the fan-laden streets of Berlin, but Ganiel O’Neill faded before the finish.
Speaking afterwards, Connolly said: “I didn’t realise it was as close between all of us. So gthat’s grand, a bunch performance.
“Myself and Gladys were together until the third lap (four laps of 10k today), and there was a steady bunch of us, with Gladys doing most of the work there, in the last lap I just tried to get out of that group.
“31st is good for me, yes!”
There was drama as with nothing between the top two, Volha Mazuronak of Belarus took a wrong turn as she entered the final straight, opening the door for French marathon debutant Clemence Calvin.
Mazuronak recalculated her path quickly, and after losing ground to new leader Calvin, shot past her in impressive style to win in 2:26:22, by a margin of six seconds.
Bronze-medallist Eva Vrabacova-Nyvltova of the Czech Republic set a new national record of 2:26:31 in third.
Tonight, Ciara Mageean competes in the women’s 1500m final at 7pm Irish time, and both Irish 4x100m relay teams have semi-finals which they hope will lead onto finals.