Ladies leave opponents trailing in league final
ALL ROADS led to the Tullamore Harriers stadium in Offaly on Sunday last for the final of the Athletics Association of Ireland National League.
The grand finale to the track and field season saw three teams from Co. Wexford compete: Menapians men, Wexford county women and Wexford county men.
Five clubs were represented by the athletes on the Wexford county women's team in Division 1. This team had earned themselves bronze medals in the 2012 campaign and went into Sunday's final in a leading position on 222.5 points. Portlaoise were hot on their heels with 219.5. Athletics Louth and Meath County lay in third and fourth respectively, on 20 and 206 points, indicating a hotly-contested battle for the title of Division 1 champions was to be on the cards.
For most of the competition, the women were lying in second position to Athletics Louth but with events in hand the team played their strongest cards in the latter part of the day.
Not quite having to endure the 50k distance of Ireland's world champion Rob Heffernan, Catherine Walsh (Slaney Olympic) was first in the walk early in the day, proving Wexford's long-standing strength in race walking. Having won this event on all days of the league, she held off a strong-finishing Sligo athlete in the final.
Next up was Catherina Corcoran (Bree) who finished second in the high jump, clearing 1.50m. The event was won by the national silver medalist. Christine Furlong (D.M.P.) was first in the hammer, beating her rival from Louth by four cm. Christine had also won the hammer on all days of the league and when a grand finale was needed she threw over 40m.
Emma Owens (St. Paul's) came first in the discus with a throw of over 34m. Emma was also fourth in a strong shot putt competition. Denise Wickham (St. Paul's) ran a strong 200m to finish fourth and came fifth in the 100m, with the sprints featuring some of the most competitive events of the day.
Bróna Furlong (Slaney Olympic) ran an extremely strategic 800m in two minutes, 16 seconds to win the event despite carrying a minor injury. The ever-dependable Fiona Kehoe (Kilmore) was also first in the 1,500m after an illegal athlete was disqualified. Fiona went on to come second in the 400m straight afterwards. Ciara Wilson (D.M.P.), who was just returning from injury, came fifth in the 3,000m.
In the field events, Niamh Rochford (Bree) threw over 30m to take fourth in the javelin and also placed fourth in the long jump despite a persistent knee problem. Emer Gilhooly (D.M.P.), who has had a great triple jump season, came second, narrowly beaten with a great jump of 10:47m.
Aoife Fanning (Bree) ran a tough race in windy conditions in the 400m hurdles to finish fifth. And finally in the 4 x 100m relay, Aoife, Niamh, Catherina and Denise won easily despite pouring rain coming down for the duration of the race. The last event was the 4 x 400m relay for Aoife, Catherina, Fiona and Bróna, knowing that nothing short of a win would be good enough to take the title.
After the emphatic wins in both the 4 x 100m relay and the 4 x 400m, there was an agonising wait on the points tally, where lowest scoring events were eliminated from the final score. While the experienced Wexford officials were confident that a win was on the cards, there was no celebration until the official result was announced by A.A.I. The final score was Wexford county 107.5 points with a narrow victory over Athletics Louth on 105 points and in third place Sligo county on 89 points.
The victorious team was Niamh Cloke-Rochford, Catherina Corcoran and Aoife Fanning from Bree; Fiona Kehoe from Kilmore; Eimear Gilhooly, Christina Furlong and Ciara Wilson from D.M.P.; Catherine Walsh and Bróna Furlong from Slaney Olympic; Emma Owens and Denise Wickham from St. Paul's. Also part of the team from the earlier rounds were Patrice O'Gorman (Adamstown) and Hannah Mahon (Enniscorthy A.C.). The victory means promotion and the ladies will now move up to compete in the Premier Division in 2014.
Meanwhile, in the Premier Division, the Menapians men went into the final in third position following the preliminary stages. They were competing against strong club teams, including last year's champions, Clonliffe Harriers, who had Brian Gregan make the trip back from the World Championships in Moscow to compete.
Cork's Leevale A.C. and Dublin's Crusaders A.C. were also in the mix for the national title with the Wexford town men. After some fine individual performances over the 15 events, from Ireland's fastest man - 100m national champion David Hynes, Tony Stafford, Barry Upton, Jimmy McDonald and Conor Wilson, the team finished in sixth place, with Crusaders taking the national title.
The Wexford county men were competing in Division 1 also and had done well to make the final in their first year of competition. Made up primarily of a young contingent of athletes, many competing for their county for the first time this season, the team was hoping to improve on the performances from the earlier rounds.
There were four clubs represented on the team: Enniscorthy A.C., D.M.P. A.C., St. Paul's A.C. and St. Killian's. The team had the welcome addition in the final of Niall Sheil (St. Killian's) adding his endurance experience to the squad. With some high scoring in the throws in particular - Marco Pons and Tom Furlong winning their events - the men eventually finished ninth and have built a solid foundation for next year.
In what was a great week for Irish athletics, the Wexford athletes have proved their strength on the national scene and team managers, Eamonn Owens and Paddy Morgan, are already looking forward to the 2014 league campaign with greater glory in their sights.