VIDEO: Determined Cillian O’Leary claims famous comeback victory

Cillian O’Leary claimed a famous comeback victory in the Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon in 2:30:41 yesterday, as Nollaigh O’Neill-Hunter triumphed convincingly in the women’s race in 2:57:45 in wet and wild conditions.

VIDEO: Determined Cillian O’Leary claims famous comeback victory

It was double delight for the Cork natives as they battled the elements to breast the tape on St Patrick’s Street. The outcome may have been the same but the path travelled was very different.

For O’Leary, who runs for Raheny Shamrock in Dublin, local knowledge was key in what he felt was a case of patience and persistence as he reeled in long-time leader Vincent Chepyegon in the final 800m.

“I targeted this race about a year ago,” said O’Leary, who grew up on the Model Farm Road but is now a secondary school teacher in Dublin.

“It’s something I trained very hard for. The weather conditions were very tough but I knew that was going to be the same for everybody. I had the local knowledge and in the last mile I had the hunger as well and once I caught him there was no way I was going to let him go.

“The hardest thing was keeping my patience in the first 16 miles or so. There was a big group of us, a lot of wind, a lot of rain and my heels got clipped a few times just because of the bunch we were running in. So the hardest thing in that race was keeping my patience. I made a break at about 16 miles. The Kenyan lad passed me at 17 miles and I didn’t see him again until about 800m to go but that was the only time I had to be ahead of him!” Chepyegon, who had to settle for second in 2:31:41, had built a sizeable lead at the 19 mile mark but then started to fade – something O’Leary sensed as he gave chase. Lezan Kimutai (Athenry) who was expected to mount a challenge had dropped out early having run in the Derry marathon the day before.

“In running, you just know when someone is fading ahead of you,” said the Raheny Shamrock athlete whose father Liam was 12th in the inaugural Cork marathon. “He wasn’t opening the gap. All you need is a sniff of it and I was after him. I was hunting him down each mile. I was getting [time] updates. It was 30 seconds, it was 20 seconds, it was 15 seconds and once you have that in your head you know you’re the one that is making progress. I didn’t believe it was going to happen until I caught him. And once I caught him I was gone.”

Leevale’s Brian Hegarty rounded out the top three in the men’s race with a time of 2:32:29.

There was no drama in the women’s race as Leevale’s Nollaigh O’Neill-Hunter ran out a convincing winner ahead of Joan Ennis (Grange/Fermoy) in 2:58:38 and Sorcha Kearney in 3:14:40.

“Everybody was in the same boat,” said O’Neill-Hunter of the conditions who wasn’t overly enthused with her time but delighted with the win. “I was behind a group for the first 10 miles so I was sheltered. It was perfect. But then I pulled away.

"I’d a bit of an injury lately so I let them go. I had to run steady and sensibly. I was on my own which was worse. I was facing the wind which was shocking but you know what, I don’t care, I won. It’s fantastic. I love it.

"The last 3 or 4 miles was fabulous because the wind was behind us so it was perfect. The last few miles is my favourite part of this race. You’re on the road home.”

Sergiu Ciobanu (Clonliffe Harriers) won a tough battle against Bantry’s Alan O’Shea in the half marathon – 67:40 to 67:57 – while Norah Newcombe Pieterse (Mayo AC) had a facile victory in the women’s race in 81:12. The “Leevale lads” were the first relay team across the line in 2:22:02.

Meanwhile in Dublin, Maria McCambridge (DSD) finally captured the Women’s Mini Marathon in a time of 34 minutes and 3 seconds. The Dubliner has had a glittering career winning national titles on the track, road and cross country, including a Dublin marathon victory, but had yet to win the mini marathon. McCambridge had finished second at least four times and finally achieved victory. Her main focus is the Frankfurt marathon in October where she will look to cement her place on the Irish team for the Rio Olympics.

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