Thrillers as Ciara Neville and Phil Healy lead the charge

Ciara Neville (Emerald) kept her cool to clinch gold after a poor start in the women’s 60m while Phil Healy (Bandon) secured the European standard for the 400m on a weekend full of back stories and close finishes at the Irish Life Health National Indoor Championships in Abbotstown, Dublin.

Ciara Neville, Emerald AC, Limerick, in action in the women's 60m semi-final. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile.

“I had a terrible start,” said 17-year-old Neville at the new Sport Ireland National Indoor Arena. 

The Castletroy schoolgirl recovered to win in a photo finish in 7.43 seconds from Bandon’s Joan Healy, sister of Phil, and Molly Scott (SLOT), who were both given the same time of 7.45. 

Healy was given the nod for second ahead of Scott after an official review.

“I think it’s all in the head,” said Neville — an athlete who has dealt with setbacks in her young career. 

“If you believe you can do it then you will,” she continued. 

“I won the silver medal at 15 in 2015 and it’s great to win the gold after a difficult 2016 where I didn’t get the results I wanted.”

Neville dealt with injury setbacks and loss of form in 2016 but bounced back this season to equal the national senior record of 7.30 seconds. 

The time qualifies her for the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade on March 3-5 but is still undecided whether to compete in her first senior major championship.

Elizabeth Morland, Cushinstown AC, celebrates after winning the women’s 60m hurdles final. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Phil Healy narrowly missed out on the national 60m record at the Athlone International last Wednesday, finishing third in 7.31 seconds so speed wasn’t a question going into the women’s 400m final where she would have to face off against Sinead Denny (DSD). 

Denny had already run below the European indoor standard of 53.75 with Healy still just shy. The Bandon speedster put each phase of her race together, striking gold and the European standard in 53.49 seconds.

“I’m delighted with that,” said Healy afterwards. 

“Coming from a speed base it’s a challenge to get the pace right because you’re so comfortable going through 200m. I’m happy I was able to beat a great competitor in Sinead and get the standard.”

Brian Gregan (Clonliffe Harriers) was another to speak of mental strength to win the men’s 400m in 46.59, holding off his new clubmate Luke Lennon-Ford who is currently in the process of declaring for Ireland.

Lennon-Ford, second in 47.05, has competed internationally for Great Britain but his mother is from Tallaght and he may yet get clearance to compete for Ireland in the European Indoors.

“I’ve been working with sports psychologist Kate Kirby and that’s helped in getting back to my best and being prepared,” said Gregan who is bidding for a competitive performance at the European Indoors.

Ciara Mageean (UCD) won a high-quality women’s 3,000m in 9:08.83 on day one of the championships where there were two new Irish records.

Alex Wright (Leevale) broke race walking legend Robert Heffernan’s (Togher) 5,000m record to win gold in 18:50.70 while Sharlene Mawdsley (Newport) broke the national junior 200m record to win her heat in 23.85. 

Mawdsley went on to edge the final from Mid Sutton’s Sarah McCarthy, who won gold in the long jump with 6.03m, in 24.04 to 24.06.

The women’s 3,000m saw three Olympians toeing the line and multiple internationals, including two-time European cross country champion Fionnuala McCormack (Kilcoole). 

The Wicklow woman, who ran the Barcelona half marathon last week, led the opening stages of the race with Mageean and Leevale’s Olympic steeplechaser Michelle Finn in close pursuit. 

Around the halfway stage Finn split the pack and only Mageean could hold onto the pace. The UCD woman eased away to win in 9:08.83 to Finn’s 9:12.61 with McCormack third in 9:15.58.

“I was happy with that, especially with the field,” said Mageean who has had a difficult week battling with a head cold and the passing of her grandmother in Portaferry. 

“It’s been difficult and I’ll probably be coughing all the way home to Portaferry tonight but at least I have something to show for it.”

Kate Veale (West Waterford) was a popular first winner on the track, with the former world youth champion on top of the podium in the women’s 3,000m race walk in 14:03.90.

“I’ve a long way to go to get back to my best but I’ve made my first steps,” said Veale afterwards. “I rejected the rigid athlete lifestyle but I’m happy to be back and want to make up for lost time.”



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