Those expecting stories of all-night partying from Ireland’s gold medal winning European Cross Country team are set to be disappointed.
Senior women’s race winner Fionnuala Britton and company were tucked up in their Budapest beds nice and early on Sunday before passing a few hours yesterday on a sightseeing tour around the Hungarian capital.
Team manager Teresa McDaid was still attempting to process the historic happenings of the previous 24 hours as she sat down to lunch.
“It is incredible. I am delighted and honoured to be part of such a fantastic achievement. These are an incredible bunch of girls.
“They were all up bright and early at 9am for a photograph outside the hotel as they had promised they would do so. After that they had breakfast and then relaxed for the day before their flight home to Dublin.”
McDaid believes such unity and togetherness is the central reason why the team secured gold ahead of France on countback.
“The night before, the girls were talking and discussing their race plans and strategies. They went into the race as a unit. Down the years, there are always good opportunities for medals at the Europeans. The return of Linda (Byrne) and Ava (Hutchinson) was a huge boost and there was massive interest from the girls. I knew that they were going to be in the mix but no, I hadn’t expected a gold medal. In cross country, it is the team ethos which often takes them home. We had the depth, the consistency and the team spirit and when all those things fall into place, then you are going to be very hard to beat. “Cross country in the past was sometimes seen as something of a poor relation but now with these successes on the back of Fionnuala’s win last year and the U23 team in 2010, we are establishing a bit of consistency.”
Britton produced a polished performance to see off Portugal’s Ana Dulce Felix and write herself into the history books. McDaid explained the enormity of the Wicklow star’s achievement: “To win one European championship is an incredible achievement. But then to come back and deal with the pressure and expectation and come out on top again is phenomenal.”
McDaid also paid tribute to another woman who may not have run a single step at the weekend but was in everyone’s thoughts during the medal ceremonies. “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Anne Keenan-Buckley for all the work she has done,” said McDaid of her predecessor. “I worked with Anne over the last five years and know the time, effort and commitment she has put in. I have been involved since 1999 at European Cross Country level so I knew all the athletes involved. Certainly there may have been a challenge or two in recent weeks but I was pretty much up to speed with where I wanted to be and got huge support from everyone involved.”
And so to the future. “On a personal level the team management contracts are up in December and will be reviewed so we must wait on that. On a broader scale I hope that this will be a massive shot in the arm for athletics in general and for cross country in particular. I hope that it motivates and ignites an interest in running down the line and develop that next crop of talent.”
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