The Ulster Secondary Schools Track and Field Championships were held at a balmy Antrim Forum last Friday and Saturday.
The cream of Ulster’s colleges’ athletes were in action with Irish Schools Finals places on offer for the top three in each event.
Lifford AC had a sizable contingent competing for their respective colleges, with the border club having representatives on the St. Eunan’s College, Letterkenny; Deele College, Raphoe; Royal and Prior College, Raphoe; Holy Cross College, Strabane and Strabane Academy teams.
Brendan O’Donnell of St. Eunan’s College, Letterkenny and Conor Breslin of Deele College, Raphoe were first into action on Friday evening in the Junior Boys Hammer event. O’Donnell had a mighty throw of 49.46m to claim gold with Tom Jordan of Methodist College, Belfast a full 18m back in second place. Breslin, meanwhile has made steady progress in this discipline over the past year and will be delighted with his throw of 29.06m which saw him take a hugely impressive 4th place. O’Donnell now turns his attentions to the Irish Schools Final in Tullamore on 31 May and must be considered strong favourite to win his first Irish Schools title.
Gemma Lynch, Deele College, Raphoe, niece of former paralympian, Bridie Lynch, took a most deserved silver in the Senior Girls Hammer with a personal best throw of 29.13m and can look forward to exceeding the 30m mark in Tullamore.
There was further success for Lifford AC athletes on the Saturday in front of a huge crowd at the Antrim venue. A magnificent gold medal for Brandon Connolly of Royal and Prior, Raphoe in the Junior Boys 80m Hurdles in a top class time of 12.46secs, just about fending off Marcus Ong of Methodist College, Belfast who had to settle for silver in 12.58secs. On this form, a podium finish is a distinct possibility for the dedicated Connolly at the Irish Schools Finals.
Alan McGinley of Royal and Prior, Raphoe has shown dramatic improvement over the past year in his favoured event the 800m. A first year, intermediate, McGinley would have been happy before the race to shave a few tenths of a second off his previous best time but better was to come as McGinley stormed down the home straight to take a fantastic silver medal in a new personal best time of 2 mins 04.6secs. Surely the 2 minute barrier is now well within McGinley’s sights as the business end of the season fast approaches.
Following his Friday evening success in the Junior Boys Hammer, Brendan O’Donnell returned to the Antrim Forum on the Saturday to take part in the Junior Boys Discus. A throw of 36.46m was enough to place the St. Eunan’s lad on the 3rd step of the podium. Indeed just 80cm separated the first three athletes in what was a closely fought and most enjoyable encounter throughout.
St. Johnston lad, Conor Lynch was one of a number of high jumpers from the Lifford club in action in Antrim. The Deele College youngster went into the Junior Boys event with a best of 1.65m. Lynch is hopeful of clearing 1.70m this season but had to settle for 1.55m on this occasion and a still highly commendable 3rd place.
There was bad luck for a number of Lifford AC athletes with several having to be content with 4th place and therefore missing out on the national finals.
There was heartbreak for Karen Gallagher of Royal and Prior, Raphoe who missed out on a bronze medal by one tenth of a second when clocking 2mins 23.9secs to take 4th place, pipped on the line by Roisin Flanagan of Sacred Heart College, Omagh in 2mins 23.8secs.
There was heartbreak too for Shannon Craig of Royal and Prior in the Junior Girls High Jump. Despite a nasty gash to her leg during the week – a gash which required several stitches – Craig showed commendable bravery to clear 1.50m, the same height as bronze medallist, Sarah Speers of Kilkeel High School. Unfortunately, the Raphoe lass lost out on qualification for Tullamore on countback.
There were 4th place finishes too for Shannon Russell, Royal and Prior, in the Intermediate Girls 300m Hurdles (50.6secs) and Ciaran McBrearty, Deele College, in the Senior Boys High Jump (1.63m). McBrearty will be particularly disappointed having cleared 1.70m earlier this month, a height which would have given the talented Ballindrait lad a silver medal. Russell, meanwhile has made huge strides since taking up the sport just a few short months ago and like McBrearty, is certainly one to watch for the future.
So six medals for the Lifford AC contingent – two gold, two silver and two bronze – with five further 4th place finishes. Further evidence, if ever it were needed that the Lifford club continues to go from strength to strength.