This was a fitting climax for a pair of athletes replete with class — and indeed, courage.
Two big talents who, despite being from very different backgrounds, exhibit the same vast potential when it comes to distance-running.
At the Irish Life Health Schools Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Sarah Healy brought the curtain down on six years of dominance by sauntering to victory in the senior girls’ race in Clongowes Wood, while Efrem Gidey, a refugee from Eritrea who came to Ireland two years ago, announced himself as a future star with a second successive senior boys’ title.
Healy ensured her name will be etched in the annals of schools’ athletics by becoming the second athlete after Síofra Cléirigh-Buttner to win six consecutive titles, and the first schools’ athlete ever to win titles in all four age categories.
By the time they reached the first bend in that senior girls’ 2,500m race, she had her rivals in her slipstream and from there the 18-year-old poured it on. At the finish, the Holy Child Killiney student had a whopping 29 seconds to spare over runner-up Lucy Holmes.
Her final bow in this arena was tinged with nostalgia. “I was thinking about that on the way down, it’s kind of sad, especially as I feel like cross-country is [my thing],” said Healy, who is a good friend of the woman she emulated. “It’s cool to do what Síofra did; she’s a good role model.”
Her next major target will be the European U20 Championships in July, though study takes centre stage in the coming months ahead of the Leaving Cert — with UCD her likely destination.
Another with the Leaving Cert looming is Efrem Gidey, the Le Chéile Tyrellstown student who reaffirmed his class by retaining the senior boys’ title. He fled Eritrea in 2016 and spent six months marooned at the refugee encampment in Calais before being granted a passage here by the Irish Government.
Since then he has become a key cog at Clonliffe AC, where he trains under the guidance of Joe Cooper and he received the biggest cheer of the day as he sauntered up the home straight, high-fiving the crowd with the widest of smiles.
“I hope to run for Ireland,” he said afterwards — the manner of his victory ensuring the feeling will be mutual.
Niamh O’Mahony of Presentation Tralee was an impressive winner of the intermediate girls’ 3,500m, with Michael Morgan of Summerhill College Sligo a class apart in the intermediate boys’ 5,000m.
The junior titles went to Tadgh Connolly and Hannah Kehoe, with Shane Buckley and Erin Leavy taking the minor titles.
Elsewhere Grace McKenzie broke the Irish pentathlon record at the NCAA Championships in Alabama, the McNeese student tallying 4,230 points, while Kate O’Connor broke the Irish U20 javelin record in Slovakia with a throw of 48.95m.
Lizzie Lee set a women’s park run record of 16:48 in Westport, while Fionnuala McCormack impressed at the Longford 10K, clocking 33:09.