Golden welcome for our cross-country stars
Six young runners make history with European win
'Individual disappointment aside, I'm just delighted to be part of a winning team with a group of lads that I grew up with'
SIX young athletes were welcomed home as heroes yesterday after they ran rings around the competition to make Irish history at the weekend.
The Irish under-23 men's team put in a solid gold performance at the 17th European Cross Country Championships in Albufeira on Portugal's Algarve on Sunday.
Ireland had never won a team gold medal at the 'Euro Cross' and it had been a long 16 years since Catherina McKiernan brought home an individual gold medal from the competition.
The team were ecstatic at the win and were given a heroes' welcome, returning home bleary-eyed from an early morning flight yesterday.
Although a little overwhelmed with the attention, they had had no trouble cheering for waiting family, friends and photographers.
"To get a gold medal is fantastic because the competition is so strong at European level," said team manger Anne Keenan Buckley.
"They all performed exceptionally well and each are seriously talented athletes," she added.
During the race David McCarthy was well placed from the start and continued to hold his place in the lead group coming 11th overall.
Michael Mulhare, Brendan O'Neill and David Rooney ran well with all three in the top 20, while John Coghlan was very close behind in 34th place.
Ciaran O'Lionard fell behind after feeling ill and finished in 76th place.
O'Neill said being the first Irish team to ever win gold felt better than anything he's ever done.
"We've just shown that we can compete with the best out there and I think it is good for the future and positive for the generations below us," he said.
Third Irish over the line, Mulhare was delighted with his performance.
"I almost got it right; I ran myself into the ground and couldn't have done any more," he said.
Some of the team members were disappointed with their performance but each member showed their true team colours and fighting spirit that got them to this historic achievement.
McCarthy, who had been plagued with stomach pains for the week before race, said: "I came over with the expectation of winning an individual medal but in the end it just didn't compare to being able to share this with your team mates."
O'Lionard "felt terrible all the way through" the race and missed out on the presentation of medals to receive oxygen.
"Individual disappointment aside, I'm just delighted to be part of a winning team with a group of lads that I've grown up with," he said.
John Coghlan, son of former world champion Eamonn who got gold in the 5,000 metres at the Inaugural World Track and Field Championship in Helsinki, said that U-23 men's team are looking forward to the future.
"To go on to the seniors is the next level for us," he said.
Meanwhile, women's senior runner Fionnuala Britton was just pipped at the post at the European races.
She was placed second for much of the race but in the last lap she faded to fourth and even after a sprint to catch up in the last 200 metres she just missed out on the bronze.
After the race Britton was visibly distraught and said: "I didn't come here to come 4th."
Ireland has a long and distinguished past in athletics, including legends such as Sonia O'Sullivan, Ronnie Delany, Eamonn Coghlan and Mary Peters.
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