The largest ever Lifford AC contingent travelled to the National Juvenile Indoor Championships held at the National Indoor Arena in Athone last weekend.
Having earned the right to compete in these championships through qualification from the Ulster Championships held in Magherafelt last month, a total of 18 young Lifford AC athletes travelled to the Westmeath venue to pit their talents against the best in Ireland.
Two national medals made their way home to the border town – a silver medal courtesy of Daragh McCauley in the Boys u19 Triple Jump, and one bronze medal courtesy of Shannon Craig in the u16 Girls High Jump. There were several other top 6 finishes over the two days of competition, a sure sign that the Lifford club is firmly back on the map at national level.
Strabane lad, Daragh McCauley, joined the Lifford club just six short months ago and despite suffering a nasty football injury a few weeks back, managed to put the setback behind him to get out to an excellent 13.00m in the Triple Jump – a new personal best performance and a silver medal the reward for his efforts. Indeed McCauley had earlier in the weekend leapt to 6.23m to take 4th place in a highly competitive Boys u19 Long Jump – the winner Sam Healy of Leevale AC in Cork breaking the 7m barrier with a huge jump of 7.02m.
On Sunday morning, Raphoe lass, Shannon Craig jumped 1.50m to take a brilliant bronze medal in the Girls u16 High Jump. Craig was right in the mix throughout and a clearance on her 2nd attempt at 1.55m where she clipped the bar with her heels would indeed have given Craig the gold medal. It was not to be on this occasion with the gold going to Aisling Keady Cummins of Craughwell AC in Galway. On this form it is only a matter of weeks before Craig breaks the 1.55m barrier and can look forward with optimism to clearing 1.60m this summer.
Lifford AC had three other athletes competing in the High Jump events over the two days with all three achieving 5th place finishes. Eoghan Breslin jumped to a new personal best of 1.25m in the Boys u12 High Jump, failing narrowly at 1.30m, a height which would have given him a podium finish. The experience will stand to young Breslin, however, and come the summer, he can be confident of going much higher and turning his 5th place finish into a medal position at the national track and field championships. There was a 5th place finish too for Conor Lynch in the Boys u16 High Jump. Lynch had a best ever jump of 1.65m losing out on countback for the bronze medal. The young St. Johnston lad was ever so close to clearing 1.70m and is another who can now look forward to the outdoor season with confidence. Conor McKinney had the misfortune of having the Boys u18 High Jump and Triple Jump events clashing but still performed admirably to high jump 1.70m for 5th place. McKinney has cleared 1.80m in the past and on his day without the distraction of a clashing event is more than capable of medalling at a national championships. Indeed McKinney is a current national outdoor medallist in the Triple Jump. He was a little below par in the hop, step and jump on Sunday, however, with his first round jump of 11.74m good enough for 7th position on this occasion.
Thomas Mullen ran brilliantly to make the final of the Boys u15 60m. In a highly competitive final, Mullen ran faster than he has ever gone before, crossing the finish line in 7.81 seconds to take an excellent 5th place behind winner, Tony Odubote of Ennis Track Club in Co. Clare. Later in the day, Mullen took 6th place in the Boys u15 Shot Putt with a throw of 11.62m, just 3cm off 4th place. Mullen had been closing in on 13.00m in training and in another year could well have medalled. The standard this year was exceptional however, with the top 3 all getting the shot out to over 13.41m with winner James Kelly setting a new Championship Best Performance with a huge throw of 16.78m.
Brendan O’Donnell was another of the Lifford AC contingent to take 5th place, this time in the Boys u16 Shot Putt. The Letterkenny lad had hit just short of 12m in training recently but was unable to better his distance of 11.62m set in the Ulster Championships in February, having to settle for 10.86m and 5th place on this occasion. O’Donnell will now turn his attention to the Hammer Throw and Discus events for the outdoor season.
Ryan Stewart was the last of the Lifford AC shot-putters in action at the weekend with his throw of 7.96m good enough for 10th place overall. Stewart will be disappointed not to have made the top 8 as he had been showing good form in training in recent weeks.
Lifford AC had four athletes competing in the 800m events in Athlone. On a red letter day for the club at the recent Ulster Indoors , the red and white vests had dominated in the middle distance events. The McGinley brothers, Alan and Conor have been a revelation since joining the club a little under two years ago and deservedly made the national finals with two brilliant runs in Ulster. Conor, the younger McGinley brother, had the run of his life in Athlone to take an incredible 8 seconds off his personal best, running 2 mins 14 seconds in the heat of the Boys u15 800m to make Sunday afternoon’s final. Running two 800m in two hours proved a huge ask, however, yet McGinley came home in a still highly creditable 8th position.
Older brother Alan, dominated his heat of the u16 Boys 800m winning after a hard fought encounter on the home straight and showed considerable strength to hold off his main challengers. McGinley went on to finish 7th in the 800m final in a time of 2mins 14seconds, just outside his best, but still a hugely satisfactory performance. McGinley’s short term objective will now be to take his 800m time to below 2mins 10seconds.
There was disappointment for Niall Quinn and Karen Gallagher in the Boys u14 and Girls u18 800m events. Quinn was unable to shake off a recent virus and was understandably well off form while Gallagher took ill during the final of the Girls u18 800m and had to be stretchered from the arena. Both are highly talented athletes, however, and will be back mixing it with the best come the summer season.
Brandon Connolly was another to suffer disappointment in the heat of the Boys u16 60m Hurdles, false starting and dashing his chance to compete for a medal later in the day.
Carrigans girl, Claudia Cuskelly, had a 10th place finish in the Girls u15 1km Walk in a time of 6mins 30 seconds, just 3 seconds outside her personal best of 6mins 27 seconds achieved in the Ulster Championships.
Conor Breslin, meanwhile, was out of luck in the heat of the Boys u15 60m Hurdles. Despite a slow start out of the blocks, Breslin fought back well but couldn’t quite make up the ground to qualify for Sunday afternoon’s final.
All in all, a fantastic weekend’s athletics for this group of Lifford AC juveniles. The National Juvenile Relay Championships take place this weekend, again in Athlone, to bring down the curtain on the indoor season. After that, attention turns to the upcoming outdoor season which Lifford AC athletes can now look forward to with great confidence.