On a day of surprises at the Irish Life Health All-Ireland Schools’ Cross Country Championships, Sarah Healy made light of the mud and hills to make history at the WIT Arena in Carriganore.
The Holy Child Killiney student’s talent has bubbled to the surface in 2018 and she won the senior girls’ 2,500m by just under a minute in 9:26 to become the first athlete to ever win minor, junior, intermediate and senior cross country titles.
Siofra Cleirigh Buttner, who set an Irish 800m indoor record of 2:02.46 on Saturday night to win silver at the NCAA championships for Villanova, won six cross country titles in-a-row but that was before the minor age group was introduced – winning two junior, two intermediate and two senior.
But it was the manner of her victory that has seasoned observers purring as quality athletes resorted to walking one of the steep sections on the backend of the course while Healy ran as smoothly as she did when winning the national senior indoor 3,000m title in record time last month.
Heavy rain overnight and in the morning gave way for the races that begun at midday with the sun breaking out. Again the weather did no favours with favourites faltering throughout the schedule.
Last year Healy lost her spike in the mud of Mallusk but nothing was left to chance this time. “I told my mother to make sure my laces were tied tightly this time,” said Healy who had blocked out thoughts of making history.
“I just wanted to focus on winning today and not the overall. I’m really happy to win,” she explained.
And Healy, who is in fifth year, can match Cleirigh-Buttner’s six titles next year.
There was no stopping Sophie Quinn (Mount Sackville) in the first race of the day as she won the minor girls’ 2,000m.
Oisin Duffy (Lumen Christi, Derry) was a striking figure in his yellow and blue singlet and he dashed over the mud to gold in the minor boys’ 2,500m while Eleanor Godden (Loreto Kilkenny) won the junior girls’ 2,500m to win.
The Casey twins, Dylan and Dean, were not to be denied in the junior boys’ 3,500m as they went one-two and captured the team title to boot with St Flannan’s College, Ennis.
Unfortunately Aimee Hayde (St Mary, Newport) came a cropper after charging to a seemingly insurmountable lead in the intermediate girls’ 3,500m and was unable to finish.
This cleared the way for a fine victory for Maeve Gallagher (St Joseph’s, Castlebar) who held off Niamh O’Mahony (Presentation Tralee).
There was another surprise victor in the intermediate boys’ 5,000m where Michael Morgan (Summerhill College Sligo) delivered a classy performance.
Belvedere College created their own little bit of history by winning an All-Ireland schools’ team title for the first time.
Grass and good running was scarce for the senior boys’ 6,000m but that didn’t stop Efrem Gidey (Le Cheile SS Tyrellstown) from gliding to victory. It was a truly heart-warming story as not too long ago Gidey was in a refugee camp in Calais.
Darragh McElhinney (Colaiste Phobail Bheanntrai) suffered by keeping pace with Gidey and did not finish. Charlie O’Donovan (Colaiste Chriost Ri) had to settle for sixth — a cold hindering his title chances.
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