Sprint magic as Leevale trio streak to stadium records

THREE stadium records in quick succession — all from Leevale sprinters — provided fans with 25 minutes of sheer magic at the AAI Indoor championships in Nenagh yesterday when Jer O’Donoghue, Ailis McSweeney and hurdler Derval O’Rourke braved the bitter cold to return scintillating performances.

The event of the weekend was undoubtedly the women's 60 metres which brought the top sprinters in the country together for the first time this year, with Ailis McSweeney winning her first senior title in a spectacular finish from Emily Maher, Ciara Sheehy and Anna Boyle.

It was always going to be an exciting race once Anna Boyle, who missed the heats on Saturday, was allowed in as a guest. But, from the gun, it was a desperately close affair between McSweeney and the in-form Maher.

The 20-year-old Leevale sprinter a Law graduate from UCC had the title in her grasp after a superb start gave her the decisive advantage after 40 metres, but she was a mere two hundredths of a second ahead on the line, winning in a new stadium record of 7.40 seconds. That equalled the qualifying standard for next month's European indoor championships, though she had already posted the standard in Bratislava with a 7.39. For Emily Maher it was again a case of so near and yet so far as she ran 7.42 for the third successive race.

"My start is not normally that good. It shocked me," Ailis McSweeney admitted afterwards. "But once I got away I knew I was running really well."

After three PBs so far this season, she will compete in the AAA indoor championships in Sheffield and will round off her preparations for the European indoors at a meeting in Loughborough.

Maher, meanwhile, will take her quest for a qualifying standard to Sheffield next weekend.

Jer O'Donoghue has not lost a race in Nenagh since finishing second to John McAdorey on his senior championship debut in 2001. He went to the line at the weekend still struggling with the 'flu, but after a 6.81 performance in the heats of Saturday, he ran a technically perfect final yesterday to win in 6.76, inside the stadium record he set on his first outing of the season but one hundredth of a second outside the standard for Madrid.

His start even surprised himself after a faulty start and then two false starts that resulted in John Laffey (Clonliffe) being disqualified.

"There was a lot of tension," O'Donoghue admitted. "It was all a matter of keeping cool. I got off to a good start and I was able to maintain the momentum."

Paul Hession, who has already qualified for the European indoors at 200m, ran a PB of 6.88 in the heats and improved this to 6.81 for second place yesterday.

Now Jer O'Donoghue will take his quest for a European indoor qualifying standard to Genoa on Tuesday where, on this running, it should be a formality.

Derval O'Rourke, who posted her qualifying standard in her first race of the season, was looking for something special on her return to Nenagh yesterday.

"I knew the race was not going to be overly competitive but I just wanted to attack the hurdles," she said after setting a new stadium record at 8.27 for her 7th senior indoor title. She will compete in the AAA's next weekend and then Loughborough before the Europeans.

David McCarthy is one of three 400m runners with European qualifying standards and he fulfilled the selection criteria with a positive if not spectacular victory when he had to hold off a strong challenge from Brian Murphy (UCC) to win in 48.39 secs.

Murphy has been showing tremendous potential in recent years and it was just a matter of time before he made the breakthrough in the form of a pretty powerful 48.72 secs yesterday.

Robert Heffernan (Togher AC) came off a bout of 'flu to retain his 5,000m walk title with a performance which was better than he expected.

"I felt rubbish but I competed very well. I go to Spain this week and will compete there at the weekend against a world class field so that will show me exactly where I am at. I will train there for three weeks, come home for a week and then go to Mexico for the Grand Prix."

Loughrea's Olive Loughnane was making her seasonal debut in competition when she won the 3k walk in 12:50.86. She will compete in the Isle of Man on the first weekend in March.

Gary Ryan (Nenagh Olympic) retained his 200m title and will head for Sheffield next weekend in pursuit of the euro standard, as will Ciara Sheehy who turned in a very impressive performance to retain her 200m title.

Colin Costello, who set a new national junior record last year in Belfast was setting a new national record at 3:46.17 in Ghent yesterday and that cleared the way for a 1,500m head to head between two of the most exciting young athletes in the country.

Ciaran O Lionaird (Leevale), led from the start with David McCarthy (West Waterford) tucked in behind.

Going into the last lap McCarthy edged closer, took the lead on the back straight and then sprinted clear to win in 3:56.77 with O Lionaird second in 4:03.97.

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