Donegal had an outstanding day at Thursday’s Ulster Sportshall finals, with three of its four teams emerging victorious.
Following the recent Donegal Championships and trials, four strong teams were selected and their performances on Thursday were brilliant individually and collectively. The Under 13 girls, Under 13 boys and Under 15 girls teams have now qualified to represent Ulster at the Sportshall Finals in Manchester at the beginning of April. The Under 15 boys nearly made it a clean sweep for Donegal, missing out narrowly to a strong Co. Derry team.
Donegal has been involved in this competition for over 15 years and has had a proud tradition both at Ulster and at the UK Finals. Sportshall is a team based athletics competition with 12 athletes involved at Under 13 some of whom take part in up to three events – a sprint, a relay and a field event such as standing long jump, triple jump, vertical jump, speed bounce and shot put. The concept combines the fundamentals of sport and athletics including speed, endurance, strength, agility and co-ordination. At Under 15, an all round ability is required for the seven person team, with the whole competition run off within 2-3 hours with plenty of fun, noise and excitement. For the Donegal teams on Thursday, there was an added bonus before the day started when the big driving force behind Donegal’s involvement in Sportshall athletics, Neil Cullen, made a welcome return to team management after a year out through sickness in 2013. Indeed, it was a proud day for Cullen, witnessing three Donegal teams emerge victorious from an excellent competition.
In the Under 13 girls, Amy Boyle Carr was a double gold medallist, individually winning the 6 lap race and the Vertical Jump. Lauren Callaghan won gold in the Standing Triple Jump with gold medals also going to Caoimhe Boyle in the Standing Long Jump and Aoise Willoughby in the Speed Bounce. Saoirse Bonner won silver in the Shot Putt while bronze medals went to Ciara Curran, Standing Long Jump, Lauren Callaghan, 4 Lap Race, Orla Winters, Speed Bounce, Claire Doherty, Standing Triple Jump and Maria Afxentiou in the 2 lap race. In the relays, Donegal took maximum points in the Obstacle Relay, the 4 x 1 and 4 x 2 Relays, and took silver in the 8 lap Paarlauf Relay. During the day, it was clear that Donegal were going to be the team to beat with several outstanding individual and team performances from early on. Such was the quality of all the girls performances on the day, that their overall victory over Co. Derry was over 150 points and sends these young girls to Manchester brimming with confidence.
The Under 13 boys title won by Donegal was a much closer fought affair and indeed, it went right down to the wire with only 14 points separating these young lads from a strong Co. Fermanagh team. Yet again, another brilliant team effort individually and in the relays. Thomas Mullen took maximum points winning gold in the 4 lap race and in the Long Jump, Jonathan Doherty took gold in the exhausting 6 lap race and James Loughrey following in the footsteps of older brother Pat, won gold in the Speed Bounce. It was a one, two for Donegal in the Speed Bounce, with Ulster record holder Oisin Bradley taking silver, while Cormac O Leime and Kyle Macadangdang took silver in the 2 lap race and the Vertical Jump respectively. O Leime took a bronze in the Standing Triple Jump, while in the Standing Long Jump, Aaron McGrath took bronze, with Dylan Kelly making it two years in a row to attend the UK Finals taking bronze in the 2 lap race. With double points on offer for the relays, Donegal took the maximum in the first relays of the day, the exciting Obstacle Relay. In the Paarlauf Relay, Donegal took bronze while in the 4 x 1 and 4 x 2 relays, Donegal were second behind their main rivals Fermanagh. However, these two victories for Fermanagh just couldn’t close the margin on Donegal who now make the trip to Manchester by the narrowest of victories.
The Under 15 girls event was another closely fought affair, with the seven strong girls team taking victory over Antrim by 36 points, Donegal achieving 646 points to Antrim’s 610. Under 15 requires an all rounder ability, with athletes taking part in a sprint, two field events and a relay. With several of these girls travelling as part of Donegal teams either Under 13 or 15 in recent years, the experience stood to them and in all likelihood was the telling difference when the scores were added up. Ailbhe O’Donnell took maximum points and gold in the 2 lap race and in the Speed Bounce and was third in the Vertical Jump. Janine Boyle won two gold, in the 4 lap race and in the Standing Long Jump. Naoimh McGranaghan won gold in her favoured Shot Putt event and in the Vertical Jump. It was a Donegal one-two in the Shot Putt, with Jessica Oglesby taking silver behind McGranaghan. Saskia Boyle took bronze both in the 4 lap race and in the Speed Bounce with Fodhla McFadden taking bronze in the Standing Long Jump. In the relays, Shannon Craig was part of the silver medal winning 4 x 2 relay team, while Donegal emerged victorious from the 8 lap Paarlauf Relay with maximum points. To round off a great day for these girls, Ailbhe O’Donnell took the all rounder athlete for her performances, winning the title by two points over East Belfast’s Kate Farrelly.
The Donegal boys Under 15 team were most unfortunate to miss out on qualification for the Finals in Manchester, being beaten by Co. Derry for the second year in a row. Indeed, this title has eluded Donegal for a number of years, but are getting closer every year, these young lads losing out by only 35 points on this occasion. While disappointed, these lads can take great heart from their individual and team performances. Brandon Connolly took silver both in the Speed Bounce and Standing Long Jump with Brendan O’Donnell taking silver in the Shot Putt. In the 2 lap race, Joey Donald took bronze, while in the Speed Bounce, Conor McGinley also took bronze. In the Paarlauf relay, Joey Donald and Alan McGinley won gold, while in the 4 x 2 relay, Jordan Burns, Danny Browne, Conor McGinley and Brandon Connolly took bronze.
To get three teams through in 2014 emulated was a repeat of last year’s achievement for these same teams, but this year was certainly a more closely fought affair. Until the final scores were tallied, aside from the early confidence built up through the Under 13 girls victories, it was too close to call for any of the other Donegal teams. These teams will now go on to represent Ulster at the Finals in Manchester on the weekend of the 5/6 April, competing against the best young athletes from across England, Scotland and Wales. Well done to each and every one of these young athletes.
Thanks to team managers Louise Gillespie, Ita Ward, Sharon Bradley, Sean McGinley, Gerry Davenport, Brendan O’Donnell and Seamus McGranaghan for their organisation and management of the teams.