Albufeira golden European weekend

Dec 14, 2010 [Noel Guiden] A simply incredible weekend in Albufeira in Portugal for Irish athletics. It was a privilege to watch the heroic performance of Ireland’s U/23 men as they took on Europe’s best to take Ireland’s first ever Team Gold at these Championships and then for the emotion of the Irish Tricolour being raised as Amhran Na bhFiann blasted out of the sound system. Tears and joy!

My travelling party this year was whittled down to a trio of Joe Cooper, Gerry Carr and me, however over the weekend the party literally grew and grew as we met up with the advanced party of Paddy Marley, Johnny O’Leary, Noreen Keane, Noel and Conor Daly and of course the legendary three amigos – Messrs. Callan, Gorman and Rudden.

The Portuguese town of Albufeira in The Algarve is a strange place a fortnight before Christmas – a few bars still open, some restaurants and snack bars, the odd retired couple making the daily trek to the supermarket, Christmas trees and decorations which seem very out of place in a balmy 20 degrees.

The venue for these Championships was the same venue as visited by Clonliffe Harriers for the European Clubs in 2008, the best part of a 1500M lap crammed into a small sandy park which featured a very tough cork-screw type hill up through the forest section and a most bizarre two steep humps and beside it what looked like a pit used for tracking wild boar – all of which – save the wild boar, had to be negotiated by the athletes.

The Irish athletes performed superbly on Sunday, the highlight of course was without a doubt the performance of David McCarthy, Brendan O’Neill, Michael Mulhare, Dave Rooney, John Coughlan and Ciaran O’Lionaird. The performance of both McCarthy and O’Neill was simply stunning, however for me the star of the team was Dave Rooney who gained over 20 positions over the second half of the race. For the throngs of Irish athletics fans witnessing this performance it was frankly unbelievable – we came hoping for maybe bronze but witnessed these young athletes winning Gold by a considerable margin.

As always with we Irish our successes are tinged with sadness as Fionnuala Britton in the Senior Women’s race immediately after the U/23 success ran the most gutsy and heroic race only to miss out on a medal position by a fraction. Although it is an old cliché there is no doubt but had the race been 5 yards longer she would have got that medal.

Other impressive performances on the day included the performance of the Irish Junior Men’s team who finished 5th overall with a wonderful race in particular from Shane Quinn and in the early stages John Travers. These two guys in particular are athletes who will bring future glories for our sport. As expected Ciara Meegan also performed excellently placing 7th in the Junior Women’s race.

In the Senior Men’s race, National Inter-County Champion Joe Sweeney (DSD) was also up in the lead bunch and again in accordance with the theme of the Irish was positive from the start, a 21st place finish for Joe Sweeney.

Clonliffe’s Mark Kenneally only racing himself back into full fitness also ran well in all the circumstances and was 2nd Irish scorer in 35th place. As Mark gets back to full fitness better days lie ahead. The race was of course won by Sergui Lebid in an unbelievable last lap finish, at one stage Lebid slipped out of the top 10 but over the second half of the lap got back into the lead two and heading up the corkscrew hill, 400m from the finish, hit the front to win by 3 seconds.

Clonliffe’s other athlete was of course Becky Woods in the Women’s U/23 race. This was Becky’s first major championship and she was not overawed in any way, running a very controlled race, and after a tentative start worked her way strong through the field finishing like a train in 40th position. An excellent run in a race of this calibre.

In true Clonliffe tradition we motley group of supporters celebrated long into the Portuguese night with wine, beer and song –rumour has it that the Portuguese Police are currently looking for Big Joe Gibbons on a charge of murdering “Message in a bottle”.