Kelly’s heroics dull the pain

THE expression on his face as he powered his way up the home straight said it all as Drogheda athlete, Keith Kelly, buried 10 years of frustration at Santry Park yesterday by claiming the National senior cross-country title for the first time at the age of 31.

He was taking part in the race for the first time some 10 years after he won the American national collegiate cross-country title — a feat equalled by very few Irish athletes.

Since then he has been to hell and back as he notched up no fewer than nine stress fractures — one serious stress fracture to his back — and underwent surgery on both knees last year in a bid to sort out persistent problems.

Indeed last Thursday it appeared as if he would not run at all yesterday. After finishing fourth in Rás na hÉireann yesterday week, his left knee flared up again and he had considerable pain in the right one as well.

“I talked to my coach, Ray Treacy in Providence, and said ‘listen I’ve missed 12 of those championships, I am 31 now and I am running out of time so I am going to toe the line — I’m going to give it Dixie from the gun, go really hard, forget about the pain in my knee and focus on the pain of the race’ and that’s what I did.”

He crossed the line three seconds clear of fast finishing Mark Kenneally (Clonliffe Harriers) to claim the title. Half a mile out he led by over 30 metres — a lead he enjoyed from three laps out when he sprinted clear of the Dubliner who would have to settle for his second silver medal at the same venue.

Back behind a former winner, Vinny Mulvey (Raheny Shamrock) beat Gary Thornton (Galway City Harriers) for the bronze medal and Mark Hanrahan (Leevale), coming off injury, won an enthralling contest for fifth position.

“It is very important for me. It gives me a lot of confidence heading towards the European cross-country championships here on this course next December. If I can get six months of uninterrupted training there is no reason why I should not be part of a medal winning Irish team. Martin Fagan has a definite chance of winning the individual title, along with myself, Mark Kenneally, Alistair Cragg and Vinny Mulvey we have a great opportunity to do something big.”

He won’t be available for the world cross-country championships in Amman at the end of the month and neither will Maria McCambridge (Letterkenny) who was an impressive winner of the senior women’s title as she will be putting her finishing touches to her preparations for the Paris Marathon on April 5. And all the indications from yesterday’s performance are that she will have an exciting run there.

She opened up an early lead over her former DSD clubmate, Linda Byrne, the inter-counties champion, and stamped her authority on the race with every stride to reclaim the title she last won in 2005 by over a minute.

Behind this pair three of the women who fought out the masters title at Tymon Park a couple of weeks ago were embroiled in another ferocious battle with Annette Kealy (DSD) taking the bronze medal and Niamh O’Sullivan (An Riocht) overtaking the winner of that race, Olympic marathon runner, Pauline Curley (Tullamore Harriers) for her best ever placing in those championships.

The finish to the junior men’s race was every bit as thrilling as the men’s as Ian Ward (Finn Valley) held off the renewed challenge of the Munster schools champion, Michael Carmody (Emerald AC), with the early leader Liam Tremble (Metro/St. Brigid’s) third. Carmody, running barefoot as is customary, pegged back Tremble and appeared to have the race at his mercy until Ward, coached by Olympic team manager Patsy McGonagle left the chasing group and reeled him in.

But even then the race was far from over as Carmody, who is coached by the legendary Limerick coach Bill Logan, offered a renewed challenge that cut the deficit to three seconds.

But there was never going to be any doubt about the winner of the junior women’s race after Charlotte ffrench-O’Carroll (DSD) left her twin sister, Rebecca, more than a lap from the finish to retain her title. Both girls are students at UCD but it seems they will join Ray Treacy at Providence College after the summer.

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