Sweeney takes heart from his glorious near-miss
ON ANY other day Joe Sweeney's fifth place would have been grabbing the headlines, but even the big DSD runner was happy to play second fiddle in Velenje yesterday.
"This is Fionnuala's weekend -- it will always be remembered for that and I'm delighted for her," Sweeney said modestly, despite finishing just two seconds off a medal in the finest performance of his life.
His fifth was the best ever Euro Cross-Country placing by an Irish senior man, surpassing Martin Fagan's seventh in 2007 and Alistair Cragg and Mark Kenneally's eighths in 2002 and 2009 respectively.
Yet he admitted to being disappointed at not doing even better in the final lap, when there was a mad dash for the minor medals after surprise winner Atelaw Yeshe Bekele -- the Ethiopian who moved to Belgium when he was 16 -- took his adopted country's first senior title with a gun-to-tape dash.
Ireland's Andrew Ledwith featured strongly in the early stages before fading to 35th.
While the Belgian hared off to lead by 80m after 4,000m, everyone else held their fire and Sweeney was always among the lead group and even moved up to lead it at the bell.
But it was Spain's Ayad Lamdassem who came through to take silver for the second consecutive year, one second clear of Portugal's Jose Rocha, with France taking the team title ahead of Britain.
"I'm slightly disappointed because when I saw all the lads there falling apart in the home straight I couldn't get up there but next year I really will be going for medal," said Sweeney, who added that he and coach Jerry Kiernan had targeted a top-eight finish. He came home 21 places better than Ireland's next finisher Paul Pollock (26th).
Elsewhere, Ireland's next best performance came in the U-23 women's, though national senior champion Sara Louise Treacy admitted to being disappointed at 18th place.
New York-based Mullingar student Jake Byrne (Iona College) was also crestfallen after his 24th in the junior men's, reckoning he had one too many flights in his legs recently.
The only surviving member of Ireland's gold-winning U-23 men last year, Michael Mulhare, had "a nightmare" -- being the first Irishman home in 31st after losing his shoe and getting badly spiked in the first lap.
Britain won all three of the women's team titles and the junior men's.
They won their seventh women's junior (U-20) title in eight years when Emelia Gorecka timed her run perfectly to take individual gold ahead of Romania's Iona Doaga.