The crème de la crème of Irish juvenile athletics assembled in Tullamore last Saturday to compete in the Irish Schools Athletics Championships. The occasion marked the culmination of the Irish Schools Athletics calendar on what was a glorious day for competition with temperatures rising to 23 degrees Celsius and sunblock much in demand.
Lifford AC had six athletes in action representing their respective colleges – Royal and Prior, Raphoe; Deele College, Raphoe; and St. Eunan’s College, Letterkenny. This was a marked increase on last year’s figure where the Lifford club had just two qualifiers and further evidence of the renaissance in athletics in the border town in recent years.
Brendan O’Donnell, representing St. Eunan’s College, Letterkenny returned from these championships a year ago with his first Irish Schools medal – a bronze in the Junior Boys Hammer Throw. What a difference a year makes! A year older and stronger, O’Donnell swept aside all rivals on this occasion to take a well deserved gold in the same event with an enormous throw of 53.45m, almost 12 metres clear of his nearest challenger, Max Reid of CBC Monkstown, Co. Dublin (41.85m).
Later in the day, O’Donnell, a second year student in the Cathedral town, almost made it a famous double victory by taking a magnificent silver medal in the Junior Boys Discus with a new personal best throw of 44.23m, just 0.54m behind the eventual winner, Jack Hallahan of St. Colman’s Community College, Midleton, Co. Cork (44.77m).
Brandon Connolly, Royal and Prior, Raphoe, qualified for these championships after blitzing the opposition in Ulster when taking gold in the Junior Boys 80m Hurdles. Connolly had high hopes of a medal but such was the quality of the opposition, that despite running a brilliant new personal best of 12.29 seconds into a headwind, the young Lifford lad had to settle for a still hugely impressive 5th place behind the winner, Sam O’Neill of CBS Wexford (11.58 seconds).
Karen Gallagher, also of Royal and Prior, Raphoe, took to the starting line in the Senior Girls 800m. With the sun at its highest and the heat at its most intense, the young Killygordon lass was involved in a great battle for the bronze medal throughout. At these championships a year ago, Gallagher had the heartbreak of falling at the water on the final bend of the 1500m Steeplechase when well clear in 3rd position. At the same bend this year, Gallagher showed great grit and determination to fight off her great rival, Roisin Flanagan of Sacred Heart, Omagh but couldn’t quite get close enough to the bronze medal position, settling eventually for a highly encouraging 5th place.
Gemma Lynch, Deele College, Raphoe, was the second of the Lifford AC Hammer throwers in action in Tullamore. After a steady start, Lynch, competing in the Senior Girls Hammer Throw launched the hammer in the fourth round to 32.19m – a new personal best performance and more importantly, a highly impressive 5th place finish in a national championships.
Alan McGinley of Royal and Prior, Raphoe has made huge headway since taking up the sport of athletics less than two years ago and is now considered one of the top juvenile middle distance athletes in Ulster. McGinley, competing in his first Irish Schools Championships and under the tutelage of coach, Michael McKinney went in the Intermediate Boys 800m and showed maturity beyond his years when after suffering a knock on the first lap, finished ever so strongly to come home in 7th place in 2 minutes 05.57 seconds, just outside his personal best.
The final Lifford AC athlete in action at these championships was Conor Lynch of Deele College, Raphoe. A potential medallist going into the Junior Boys High Jump, Lynch had problems with his run up but still managed a jump of 1.55m to finish just outside the top 8. The day was made all the more disappointing for the affable St. Johnston lad when realising that 1.70m was enough to take a bronze medal, a height Lynch felt more than confident of achieving prior to the competition.
Several of the Lifford AC contingent now surely in line for selection for the Ulster team which contests the Interprovincial Tailteann Games in Santry Stadium, Dublin on 21 June.