Sweeney rises to stellar status with success in Sligo
JOE SWEENEY joined some stellar company yesterday when he became the first man in eight years to retain the senior Woodies DIY Inter-County Cross-Country Championships at Sligo Racecourse.
Not since legendary Clareman Seamus Power in 2003 has anyone won successive titles and the big Dundrum South Dublin post-graduate student, who won both the counties and inter-club crowns last year, maintained his marvellous unbeaten record with another emphatic display of front-running.
He covered the tough 10,000m in 32:07 minutes, a full 46 seconds clear of Meath's 2009 winner Andrew Ledwith (Fr Murphys).
"It was tough because Andrew's amazing in mud and the only place I could get going was the drier bits, but I got into my stride and learnt to deal with the course and running that should stand to me at Europeans," Sweeney (below) said.
Ledwith, who made his marathon debut recently, chased him hard after they were part of an early four-man breakaway with the Mulhare brothers, Michael and Dan, from Laois.
But it was Paul Pollock (Annadale), a Belfast doctor who has taken off work to try to qualify for the London Olympics, who came through to take third in 32:58, with Mick Mulhare holding on for fourth place and the U-23 title.
Meath's Sara Treacy proved the wild-card in senior women's, travelling home from England and showing tremendous form to come home 17 seconds clear of Cork mum of three Claire McCarthy (nee Gibbons) and third-placed Aoife Culhane (nee Byrne).
Culhane, a schoolteacher in Willow Park, Blackrock showed an impressive return to form by sticking with Treacy for a long time, but the DSD runner lost some vital ground when she took a tumble on the last lap.
But no one ever looked like catching Treacy, a former junior champion, who also recorded her third U-23 title in a row while winning her first senior crown.
Both her parents were international athletes and she has just completed four years of a medical degree in Birmingham and moved to Loughborough University to do a one-year special course in sports science.
"I'm training with some new people at Loughborough and I won a Midland League race in England two weeks ago, which gave me a lot of confidence," the delighted Moynalvey athlete said.
Another athlete was rewarded for making an even longer trip than Treacy.
Mullingar's Jake Byrne (19) is a first-year scholarship student at Iona College in New York and only flew home on Wednesday after taking part in the US collegiate cross-country championships last Monday.
He returned to America this morning with his first Irish junior title after coming home nine seconds clear of Raheny's Kevin Dooney.
The Junior/U-18 boys races were combined and third across the line was Clonmel's Sean Tobin who won the U-18 title and behind him was Tullamore's Liam Brady who took the junior bronze.
DSD prodigy Siofra Cleirigh-Buttner maintained her unbeaten record by adding the inter-county junior title to her inter-club victory earlier this year.
Just nine seconds behind her was her Colaiste Iosagain schoolmate Clare McCarthy, who produced a fantastic sprint to pass Waterford's Kate Veale on the run-in.
Both minor medallists showed real versatility as McCarthy is already a mountain-running international, while Veale is the World Youth race-walking champion.
Among the juvenile winners there was a welcome sign that Catherina McKiernan's great legacy lives on as the girls' U-18 and U-16 titles were won by two Cavan athletes, Annalee's Gina Dolan and Clodagh O'Reilly respectively.
One notable absentee yesterday was Fionnuala Britton (Kilcoole AC), whose sister Una took U-23 silver yesterday.
Britton skipped the 'nationals' for a race in France to prepare for the upcoming European Cross-country Championships and, significantly, finished an impressive third behind two Ethiopian runners and ahead of the Turk who pipped her for a medal at last year's Europeans.