TEN days ago, Meath man Martin McGann completed the English National Cross-Country Championships for a 45th consecutive year. Now aged 67, Martin finished 1,512th of 1,657 finishers. Ahead of him, his junior clubmate Joe Steward finished 12th.
In England, no self-respecting athletics club misses the "Nationals". It's the big day of the winter season and essential blooding for all middle-distance athletes. While that tradition has slipped somewhat in Ireland, the gritty determination of all who ran at the Woodie's DIY Irish "Nationals" last Sunday was impressive.
All four races had points of interest. The junior women's 4000m signalled the arrival on the national stage of Sarah Myles from DSD.
In the junior men's race, Kevin Mulcaire of Ennis TC, who has been one to watch for a year or two, had to battle hard with Clonliffe's Aaron Hanlon before nailing down the title.
A thrilling women's senior race produced an absorbing three-way contest between double winner Maria McCambridge of DSD, fresh newcomer Michelle McGee from Brothers Pearse and seasoned international Sarah McCormack of Clonliffe.
Running 8km on a sodden course that included more than one strength-sapping incline will test the mettle of any athlete; and so it proved. Only in the final 600m did McCormack make her break and seal a fine victory.
A gruelling men's 12,000m saw Mick Clohisey of Raheny and Galway's Gary Thornton give defending champion Sergiu Ciobanu of Clonliffe the slip early on. Though he never gave up, Ciobanu, in training for the Rotterdam Marathon, couldn't bridge the gap.
It was left to Clohisey and Thornton to muscle it out until the final lap when a final effort from Clohisey gave him victory.
When it came to the four team titles, Dundrum, South Dublin, made it a clean sweep for the third time in their history.Dublin clubs completely dominated – as one wag put it, the team competitions were Dublin championships with a few guests thrown in. Even with B and C grades to contest, clubs stayed away.
So what next? The quality of the racing and the commitment of the clubs who did compete showed that this great event still has a future, but only if the entire winter season is overhauled. A discussion for another day.