The Irish Life Health national Senior track and field championships took place at Morton Stadium, Santry, recently.
The majority of Ireland's top athletes were out in force for the annual two-day championships, including the likes of Ciara Mageean (City of Lisburn), Mark English (U.C.D.) and Phil Healy (Bandon), all of whom have their eyes set on the world championships in Doha in late September.
Several athletes from Wexford clubs were also in contention for medals going into the weekend. Leon Reid, Michael Bowler, Marco Pons, Elizabeth Egan and Fiona Kehoe have all won national Senior medals before and would have all had aspirations of making it back onto the podium.
Michael Bowler (Enniscorthy) recently competed in the European combined events team championships where he moved to seventh on the Irish all-time list in the decathlon.
The Caim man is undoubtedly a phenomenal athlete, who continues to perform so well at the top level, with no funding or support from the likes of Sport Ireland.
Michael doesn't use this an excuse, however, and he continues to drive on, competing in both the pole vault and 110m hurdles.
The pole vault is arguably Michael's strongest event. Earlier in the year he won the national indoor title, clearing 4.60m, so he was hoping to do the double.
Michael entered the competition with the bar at 4m. At this stage, several other athletes had been eliminated.
He soared over the bar with ease to get off the mark. Subsequent clearances followed at 4.30m, 4.45m and 4.55m. The competition started to heat up at 4.60m.
Michael cleared the height, while the only other athlete left in the competition, Matthew Callinan-Keenan, got into difficulty, failing to clear the height with his three attempts.
Despite having the gold medal in the bag, Michael was hungry for more. A first-time clearance of 4.75m equalled his P.B.
With the entire crowd behind him, the bar went to 4.90m. Unfortunately, Michael was unable to clear the height, which would have been a massive P.B. He did, however, have three very good attempts, where he was within a whisker of getting over the bar.
Speaking after to RTE Sport, Michael said: 'I'm absolutely delighted. The atmosphere was unbelievable today, it pushed all of us to really good jumps. I'd like to thank everybody that was here, it's a fantastic crowd this year.'
Michael also competed in the 110m hurdles where he was joined by Aaron Tierney-Smith of Menapians.
Michael put in a very strong performance, finishing an agonising fourth, just two-hundredths of a second behind fellow multi-eventer and training partner Shane Aston of Trim in 14.95s. Aaron finished seventh, clocking 15.70s.
Michael has now got his eyes set on the possibility of doing another decathlon abroad before the end of the season, where he will be hoping for an even stronger performance than Madeira.
Another man who had his eyes set on the top of the podium was Leon Reid (Menapians) in the men's 200m. Leon made the European final in the 200m last year and has made a couple of appearances on the Diamond League circuit this season.
With a P.B. of 20.27 from the British championships in 2017, Leon had the strongest P.B. of anyone in the field. In 2018, Reid won both the 100m and 200m at the championships, but decided to focus on just the 200m in 2019.
He knew he would not have it his own way, however. With both Marcus Lawler (S.L.O.T.) and Stephen Gaffney (Rathfarnham W.S.A.F.) also in the field, it was going to be tough.
Lawler recently won bronze at the World University games, while Gaffney clocked a time of 20.39s in Belgium recently, to move third on the Irish all-time list and top of the Irish list this season.
Reid clocked a time of 20.63s to win heat three comfortably. Lawler and Gaffney both won their heats.
Lawler's heat featured Adam Fitzhenry of Adamstown, who finished fourth in 23.57s. Conor Wilson of Menapians competed in heat four, finishing fourth also in 22.76s.
Reid was the favourite in the final after his performance in the heat, but not by much. He ran a really strong bend, closing down Lawler, but the Carlow athlete started to pull away again.
Leon always tends to finish strongly and he did exactly that, taking the title after a strong last 50m in 20.62s. Lawler finished second, clocking 20.68s, while Gaffney came third with 21.18s.
Speaking to RTE Sport after winning yet another national title, Reid said: 'It was so windy, so when I got around the bend, everyone else pushed on and I was like, oh no! I had to chase them down but it was good in the end!
'I had Stephen on the inside and Marcus on the outside so I had to chase them down and then he (Lawler) went a little bit so I had to get him again and I got him on the line.'
Speaking about the 'rivalry' between himself, Gaffney and Lawler, Reid commented: 'I wouldn't call it a rivalry at all, we're all in the same group chats, we're always talking, so it's not a rivalry, it's just good, friendly sportsmanship, everyone wants to win.'
Leon was duly selected to represent Ireland at the European team championships in Norway, in the 100m and 4 x 100m relay.
The men's discus had two athletes from D.M.P. competing: Marco Pons, who won the title last year, and Pádraig Hore, who is throwing the 2kg discus for the first time this year.
Pons, who is based in Portugal, was considered as one of the main contenders going into the competition, having thrown a P.B. of 55.26m back in June. He faced stiff competition to retain his national title, however, from both Colin Quirke (Crusaders) and Eoin Sheridan (North Westmeath).
While not winning this year, Pons had a consistent series of throws to ensure he collected the bronze medal. His best throw was 50.53m in the fifth round. Quirke threw 60.40m, while Sheridan had a best of 55.14m.
Pádraig Hore had a fantastic performance. He finished in fifth position with a best throw of 42.85m. This has been a really strong season for Pádraig, and we look forward to seeing him back in action next year.
Elizabeth Egan of Bree featured in the women's 3000m steeplechase final. Egan faced strong athletes in the form of Michelle Finn (Leevale) and Kerry O'Flaherty (Newcastle).
Finn had ran a time of 9.41 minutes in Finland in the previous week, which was only a second outside the world championships qualifying mark. From the beginning Finn showed her class, with O'Flaherty second and Egan third.
Elizabeth continued to work hard throughout the race and finished third in 12.29 minutes. Finn broke her own championship record to win gold in 9.45 minutes. Kerry O'Flaherty finished second.
Emma Owens of St. Paul's had a very busy weekend in Santry. On Saturday she competed in the discus and on Sunday she competed in the hammer throw.
In the discus, Emma didn't have the competition she would have hoped for, having four fouls in her six throws. She still finished fifth, throwing a best of 32.46m.
European Under-23 discus finalist Niamh Fogarty of Raheny Shamrocks won the title with a massive P.B. of 52.96m.
In the hammer throw, Emma also placed fifth. In this competition she saved her best throw until last, with a best of 44.15m.
Amy Forde of St. Killian's also competed in this event, finishing eighth, with a best throw of 33.90m.
Fiona Kehoe was expected to be in the mix for a medal in the women's 1,500m. Fiona, who recently ran a new P.B. of 4.24.90 minutes, won the national indoor 800m title in 2017.
The 1,500m featured some top-class athletes including Sarah Healy (Blackrock), European Under-20 silver medal winner Siofra Cléirigh-Buttner (Dundrum South Dublin), who has a P.B. of 4.10 minutes, Amy O'Donoghue (Emerald) and Claire Tarplee (St. Coca's). The likes of Ciara Mageean (City of Lisburn) and Maisy O'Sullivan (St. Abban's) opted for the 800m instead.
On Saturday, Fiona competed in the heats, where the target was to simply finish in the top four to secure automatic qualification. Fiona did exactly that, cruising over the line, without having to waste too much energy.
Sunday's final was very much a tactical race. With the athletes passing through 800m in 2.40 minutes, it meant that it was going to be a fast finish. With 600m to go, Sarah Healy moved to the front and made her move.
With a lap to go, a group of four containing Healy, Cléirigh-Buttner, O'Donoghue and Tarplee began to move away, while Fiona battled with Rachel Gibson (North Down), Niamh Allen (Crusaders) and Ellie Hartnett (U.C.D.).
Fiona was in fifth up to the last 100m, when Gibson went past her. Fiona hung on in to finish sixth in 4.37.08 minutes, hitting her pre-race target which meant she walked away from Santry feeling pleased with her performance.
Peter O'Shea of D.M.P. competed in the men's javelin. This has been a good season for Peter, but coming into this weekend he had been suffering from a bit of an arm injury which didn't help his chances of winning a medal.
He finished fifth, throwing a best of 54.13m, a little off his best but nonetheless, given the circumstances, a solid performance.
Chris St. Claire Johnson of Adamstown competed in the men's 400m heats. Qualifying for the final was going to be a big ask given that only the winner and a couple of fastest losers would make it.
In his heat that featured eventual silver medal winner Harry Purcell (Trim) and fourth-placed finisher Andrew Mellon (Crusaders), Chris finished fifth, clocking 51.68s.
Michael Deady and Conor Wilson, both of Menapians, competed in the men's 100m heats. Both men were in heat six, which featured Paralympic champion Jason Smyth. Conor came fifth, clocking 11.35s, while Deady came sixth, in 11.65s.
Conor also competed in the 100m 'B' final on Sunday, finishing ninth from lane ten in 11.53s.
Ger Forde of Slaney Olympic competed in the heats of the 5,000m, qualifying for the final as a fastest loser in 15.06 minutes. Unfortunately, Ger was not present to compete in the final.
For a number of Senior athletes, the national championships bring the curtain down on their season. They will return to either cross-country in autumn or indoors next spring with renewed optimism for the season ahead.
Others will continue to race and compete for the rest of August.
New Ross Standard