Rising stars Healy and McElhinney raise spirits
In athletics, there are moments you wonder why you bother - a sport seemingly locked in an endless tango with corruption and cheating can cause the enthusiasm to drain away and eventually run dry. Sometimes, however, an event comes along to remind you of all that is still right with the sport.
In Mallusk on Saturday, a pair of gifted teenagers offered a much-needed shot in the arm for Irish athletics. Darragh McElhinney and Sarah Healy may have had adversity of a very different nature threatening to derail their chances at the Irish Life Health Schools Cross Country, but in their own ways, they proved that old adage about what happens when the going gets tough.
McElhinney trounced the field in the intermediate boys' race, a mid-race surge carrying him clear of the field and such was his superiority that the Bantry schoolboy could high-five his way up the home straight. His emotions displayed a very different facade shortly afterwards, however, when he paused to dedicate the win to his friend, Shane Elphick, who passed away last month.
"He was a great person and a great footballer," said McElhinney, who until last year had played underage intercounty football with Cork. "The reason I'm most delighted is I got the chance to dedicate this to him."
Shortly before, another potential star took to the line knowing that only a series of unfortunate events could stop her taking the intermediate girls' title, but then they happened. On the first lap of the 3,500m race, Healy, of Holy Child, Killiney, Co Dublin lost one of her spiked shoes, forcing the 16-year-old not only to battle fatigue and her competitors, but a swelling sense of self-doubt. "I was panicking on the first lap but after a while you have to accept it," said Healy, who despite slipping on certain sections nonetheless routed the field to win with ease, marking herself out as an athlete of rare attributes - both class and courage in abundance.
If the intermediate races went entirely as expected, then the shock was saved for the day's finale as Fintan Stewart took the senior boys' title. The Lumen Christi student had never before cracked the top 10 at the event but in his final year he bowed out on top, surging away to win in 24:21 from Patrick McNiff.
Sophie Murphy of Mount Anville claimed the senior girls' title, while Aimee Hayde (St Mary's Newport) and Sean Donoghue (St Declan's Cabra) took the junior titles.
Elsewhere, at the European Throws Cup in Gran Canaria, teenage star Michaela Walsh set an Irish junior hammer throw record of 59.64