Fionnuala McCormack leads the bronze brigade

A fighting fourth place finish from Fionnuala McCormack led the Irish women’s team to magnificent bronze medals at the European Cross Country Championships in Hyeres, France yesterday.
Fionnuala McCormack leads the bronze brigade

McCormack’s remarkable individual record at the European Cross Country Championships continued making it three fourth place finishes, two firsts and a sixth in the last six years.

“When you cross the line fourth you’re obviously going to be disappointed but when you turn around and see happy, exhausted faces at least you’ve gotten something out of it,” said McCormack of her run and leading the Irish women to a third place finish in the team standings. “Coming fourth means something for the team for points so it’s not just about me.

“I can be disappointed on the one hand but on the other we do come away with a team medal and it’s all about the team in cross country.” Sifan Hassan (Netherlands) justified her pre-race favourite tag winning the 8km race in 25:47 with Kate Avery (Great Britain) second and Karoline Grovdal (Norway) third. Great Britain claimed the team title on 33 points.

The Irish women’s team have started to become a formidable force at the Europeans having won team gold in 2012 and bronze in Samokov last year.

McCormack was backed up by scoring members Lizzie Lee (Leevale) in 13th, Caroline Crowley (Crusaders) in 23rd and Ciara Durkan (Skerries) in 43rd for a total of 83 points – just five points behind the French. Michelle Finn (Leevale) finished 54th with Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle) 55th.

Lizzie Lee has had a dream year giving birth to her first child, running an Olympic marathon qualifying time and now adding a team bronze medal.

“This is the icing on the cake,” said Lee who moved to number five on the Irish women’s marathon all-time list in September running 2:32:51 in Berlin. “To get a medal around your neck with the nicest, loveliest girls is a brilliant end to the year.”

Lee got out aggressively from the start as part of the plan set by her coach Donie Walsh who is fast earning a reputation as one of Ireland’s leading distance coaches.

“Donie just told me to get out there and race it. I don’t come through (the pack). I’m a marathon runner and have to get out in top gear. I just went out hard.

“I got in this group,” continued Lee on her mid-race battle on a fast firm course in the south of France in perfect running conditions. “I felt like I was controlling that group and when it came down to the sprint only one of them beat me. I’m thrilled.”

Caroline Crowley’s (Crusaders) fairytale rise from fun runner to elite continued with her 23rd place finish has had a heart-warming response in the running community with the passing of her parents last year.

“Part of the best preparation I did was read the text messages that came through,” said the 27-year-old. “It gave me something to run for. It’s known now that my parents passed away.

“I could hear him (my father) screaming my name – my full name ‘Caroline Crowley.’

“What an experience in my first serious race. A bronze medal is a surprise package for me. I wanted to run well and do well for the country.” Mick Clohisey (Raheny Shamrock) was the first Irishman home in the 10km with a 37th place finish in 31:11 with the team finishing 11th overall.

The men’s 10km race started off as a repeat of last year in the ski resort of Samokov with former Kenyan duo Ali Kaya and Polat Kemboi Arikan, now running for Turkey, locked together with Spain’s two-time former winner Alemayehu Bezabeh who hails from Ethiopia and has served a doping suspension. Ali Kaya eventually cruised to victory in 29:20 with Bezabeh second and his compatriot Adel Mechaal pouncing for bronze.

Jack O’Leary (Mullingar Harriers) was the best of the junior athletes finishing 23rd, learning from last year’s mistakes where he faded to 61st. The team finished 8th.

Sophie Murphy (DSD) was first of the junior women in 54th. Brandon Hargreaves (DSD) finished 31st in the men’s U23 race and described the race as “relentless” — summing up a challenging course as much as the pace. An Riocht’s Shona Heaslip was the first Irish finisher in the women’s U23 race in 33rd.

Ultimately it was a day for the senior women and McCormack felt pride that it would reflect in the headlines. “Women’s sport sits in the background and it’s great we’ve added more medals to hopefully grab the headlines.” Meanwhile Kate Veale, winner of the IAAF World Youths 5000m race walking title back in 2011, continued her return to athletics when winning the annual Paddy-Joe Curran Memorial five-mile road race in a time of 32:50.

This was the second local running victory for the now 21-year-old Dungarvan athlete in recent weeks.

She finished well clear of her West Waterford clubmate Sandra Prendergast who recorded 34:48 for the undulating route which started and finished at the Marine Bar.

Tara Rhatigan, representing the Sportsworld club from Dublin, took third spot in 35:08.

Philip Harty, also on the comeback trail, was first across the line in 25:56 with another West Waterford man, Raivis Zakis, second in 26:50, 11 seconds ahead of third placed Frank Quinlan from Waterford AC.

The proceeds from the race, along with a four-mile walk held in conjunction, went towards the Cuan House Cancer Support Centre in East Cork and West Waterford.

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