Saturday and Sunday last saw the final action of the All Ireland Juvenile Track and Field Championships for 2014 at a sunny Tullamore.
Lifford AC had its biggest representation in years at these championships with several athletes in contention throughout the weekend for national honours. With one national medal in the bag, courtesy of Shannon Craig in the u16 Girls High Jump three weeks ago, the border club added a further four medals to its tally in a glorious hour on Saturday afternoon when the red and white singlets claimed one gold, two silver and one bronze medal in a memorable sixty minute period.
The gold medal came thanks to reigning Irish Schools champion, Brendan O’Donnell in the u16 Boys Hammer Throw when he launched the hammer to a new personal best distance of 61.81m, breaking the magical 60m barrier for the very first time. The enormity of the throw can be appreciated when one considers that the winning distance was 17.46m with Ian Taylor of Dunboyne AC back in second place with a throw of 44.35m.
While O’Donnell was dominating in the field, Lifford AC hurdlers were dominating on the track with two silver medals making their way northwards courtesy of Tom Mullen in the u15 Boys 250m Hurdles and Alan McGinley in the u16 Boys race over the same distance.
Mullen actually led to the final hurdle but was overtaken in the race to the line by Kolade Abiodun of Donore Harriers who came home in an excellent time of 33.81 secs, with Mullen settling for a well-deserved silver in a best ever 34.22 secs. A national medal on the track was just reward for the young Lifford lad who has suffered several disappointments over the past few years at these championships.
Alan McGinley, a silver medallist over the 250m Hurdles in 2013, took up where he left off a year ago by again clinching a silver medal in the same event. Beaten by one hundredth of a second last year, McGinley thought he had won gold on this occasion as he battled toe to toe with Cathal Locke of Dooneen AC off the final hurdle. In a photo finish, McGinley again suffered the heartbreak of missing out on gold by the narrowest of margins, this time by four hundredths of a second – 34.48 secs to Locke’s 34.44 secs.
In the same race, Lifford AC’s Brandon Connolly battled bravely for sixth place in a new personal best time of 35.84 seconds. Connolly had put himself in the frame for a bronze medal in the home straight and will be content in the knowledge that with some extra stamina work over the winter, a medal is certainly within his grasp over this distance in 2015.
Shannon Russell was another to impress over the hurdles in this her first year of competitive athletics. The Killygordon lass ran a fast 49.47 secs to claim fifth place in the u17 Girls 300m Hurdles, a fantastic achievement when one considers her inexperience in this event.
With the hurdles events done and dusted, attention turned to the 800m events where Lifford AC had four athletes in action. Niall Quinn suffered the huge disappointment three weeks ago of double false starting and ultimate disqualification in the final of the u14 Boys 80m. The experience, however, made the young Lifford lad stronger as he came with a blistering finish around the final bend in the u14 Boys 800m to claim a magnificent bronze medal, the club’s first national medal over the distance in almost thirty years. The medal was the Lifford club’s fourth in the space of an hour, an unprecedented achievement.
It could have been so much more, however. Karen Gallagher ran brilliantly to take fifth in the u18 Girls 800m in 2 mins 22.97 secs in what was a very tactical if somewhat robust race. With a lot of pushing and shoving with 300m to go as the main contenders vied for position, Gallagher had to manoeuver her away around a faller in what in all probability, cost her a bronze medal. The dedicated Killygordon girl will have learned a lot from the experience and will undoubtedly come back stronger next year.
In the u16 Boys 800m, Alan McGinley came home in sixth position in 2 mins 06.83 secs. Having run the heats and final of the 250m Hurdles earlier in the day, McGinley found the pace just a little too fast in this, his favoured event. In all probability, the talented Lifford lad would more than likely have medalled in the 800m had the race not been so soon after his hurdle exertions, the winning time of 2 mins 00.51 secs being well within his reach.
The second McGinley brother, Conor, took to the starting line in the u15 Boys 800m. After going with a very fast pace on the first lap, McGinley suffered somewhat on the second, eventually settling for tenth place in 2 mins 14.22 secs.
Ballindrait lad, Conor Breslin has been showing good form recently and had hopes of going close to 40m in the final of the u15 Boys Hammer Throw. After a nervous start to the event, Breslin eventually launched the hammer to 33.64m for fifth position, missing out on fourth place by just 4cm.
Having returned from Romania the day before the u18 Girls Hammer Throw, St. Johnston girl, Gemma Lynch had a new personal best throw of 38.38m in the final round to claim sixth spot. Lynch, like Breslin, is certainly one to look out for over the next couple of years as both continue to improve in their chosen event.
Stephen McCallion also had a sixth place finish, this time in the u15 Boys Triple Jump. McCallion has been jumping well in training of late – regularly hop, step and jumping over 11m – but a recent leg injury scuppered his hopes of a medal. The Strabane lad still overcame the pain barrier to get out to 10.41m, just 25cm short of the bronze medal jump of 10.66m.
Other Lifford AC athletes to perform well over the weekend were Claudia Cuskelly in the u15 Girls 2000m Walk (9th in a time of 13 mins 36.87 secs); Shane O’Donnell in the u14 Boys Discus (11th with a throw of 16.07m); Ryan Stewart in the u13 Boys Javelin (11th with 21.92m) and Olivia Cuskelly in the u13 Girls Javelin (13th with 17.86m) while Brendan O’Donnell (7th in u16 Boys Discus – 36.68m and 8th in u16 Boys Shot Putt – 11.22m), Tom Mullen (7th in u15 Boys Shot Putt – 12.59m) and Conor Breslin (8th in heat of u15 Boys 250m Hurdles – 40.47 secs) also impressed.
So with the curtain brought down on the 2014 All Ireland Juvenile Track and Field Championships, Lifford AC boasts a return of one gold, three silver and one bronze medal, the club’s best return in years. Coupled with several other top six performances, the club will look to build on its success over the winter months with a view to bettering this year’s tally in 2015.