Seán Hehir and Maria McCambridge capitalised on the domestic entry at the 34th Airtricity Dublin Marathon yesterday to become the first joint Irish winners since 1993 in two exciting duels that ebbed and flowed as record numbers took to the streets for the classic distance.
Experience was the key as Hehir, second Irishman last year, overcame marathon debutant Joe Sweeney in 2:18:19 and experienced international McCambridge overhauled Leevale’s Claire Gibbons McCarthy in 2:38:51.
At 9am and a cool ten degrees, perfect temperatures for marathon running, the elite and first wave runners got underway on Fitzwilliam Street Upper in bright conditions.
Rounding the corner on to Leeson Street, the expected tussle between Clare’s Hehir and Dublin’s Sweeney was underway — their only company being Brian Maher and Colm Rooney on pacing duties.
This duel had deeper roots with Hehir coached by Dick Hooper and Sweeney by Jerry Kiernan — marathon rivals back in the 80s. Both aged 28 — this could be the beginning of a new rivalry on the marathon scene.
“We had Brian Maher and Colm Rooney pacing us early on with Brian keeping us on pace up to 10 miles,” which was passed in 51:48 said Hehir.
Running shoulder to shoulder through Inchicore, where Hehir is a primary school teacher in Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal, the pair were in relaxed mood.
Passing the halfway point in 68:25 Sweeney was visibly looking to push on which he did coming to the 14th mile on Kimmage Road West.
“I could tell Joe was itching to go and I just kept my cool,” said Hehir. “He got a gap and I just kept within myself.”
Sweeney’s eagerness paved the way for a 100m lead but coming past the Dropping Well pub in Milltown at 18 miles the lead was down to six seconds with the long legged Dubliner starting to lag.
“I think I got a bit carried away and I paid dearly for it,” said Sweeney of his move at 14 miles.
Hooper was on hand as they climbed the hill on Clonskeagh Road, issuing a rallying call to his Clare charge — Hehir responded to his mentor and forged a 10m lead.
“I heard that Joe was winning at one point but when I got around to Clonskeagh they were level with Sean making a move,” said Hooper — coach to Hehir and McCambridge. “I knew he would finish strongly.
“At that point Maria was at least a minute up. At mile 24 Sean was 25 seconds up and I was confident he had it in the bag. But then Maria was six or seven seconds down. I couldn’t understand what had happened.”
McCambridge had encountered stomach difficulties that led to a brief pit-stop.
“I was having stomach problems,” said last year’s national champion. “I was holding off for a good while but at 17 miles I decided to stop because I knew I’d be in trouble going down the hill.”
A minute lead over Leevale’s Claire Gibbons McCarthy had reversed into a 7 second deficit on the Shelbourne Road with two miles remaining.
“When I got a gap I was just thinking to take one step at a time,” said Gibbons McCarthy.
“I know she’s strong as a horse and at 23 miles my husband (Martin) said to, ‘Keep something in the tank’ so I knew something was coming.”
McCambridge was coming fast and keen to defend her national title incorporated as part of the race.
“I could see she had her racing cap on,” said Hooper.
“I shouted at her, ‘You’ve got the speed.’ She’s a former national 5,000m track champion so I knew she could close it. I was relieved when she crossed the line.”
The Dublin woman powered to the line in 2:38:51 — the first Irish winner since Sonia O’Sullivan in 2000.
Gibbons McCarthy had to settle for a personal best of 2:39:27.
Ten minutes earlier Hehir approached Merrion Square North and breasted the tape in 2:18:19 — Sweeney faded to 2:19:26.
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