Euro Clubs: Clonliffe Men finish 9th in Albufeira (plus Cragg interview)

The weakened Clonliffe Men’s team of five gave Sunday’s (Feb 2nd)European Club’s Cross Country in Albufeira, Portugal their best shot with all five athletes putting in their best possible performance on the day. The club’s finishing place of 9th was a considerable improvement on last years 14th place but on later reflection that evening there was an air of disappointment as not only were we only a mere point off 8th but 7th was within touching distance.

 The Championships were held at what is now a permanent course in Albufeira, underfoot conditions are short grass and sandy soil. The ground was hard, there were a number of hairpin bends which certainly did not suit taller athletes and several testing sharp hills. Athletes elected for track spikes or in some cases flats. It was a perfect day with nice sunshine and temperatures of around 15 to 17 degrees.

Although the team was hit by the late withdrawal of the injured Mark Kenneally the presence of Alistair Cragg was an enormous boost. Alistair’s wealth of experience, knowledge and presence was a great confidence booster to the other four team members and it was clear that Alistair himself was also benefiting from the experience as a team man in his first European Clubs event.

The quality of the field in the European Clubs is simply unbelievable. Champion athletes abound. Literally minutes before the start Gary ‘Giggsy’ O’Hanlon quipped to Joe Cooper: “Joe, the field looks a little stronger than the one I faced in the  Connemara marathon!”. The five Clonliffe athletes including Giggsy O’Hanlon now wearing black shorts (don’t ask) lined up in pen number 15. A great start from the gun saw Alistair Cragg move nicely working himself up into a top ten position as the first small lap finished before the field set out on the 1600m or so bigger lap. The yougster of the team, Jayme Rossiter was looking particularly impressive over the first half of the race not in any way nervous in what was the biggest race of his young career.

As the race developed the pace at the front was phenomenal being driven along by Daniel da Silva (BRA) with the European Cross Country champion Alemayehu Bezabeh sitting comfortably in the lead six. Over the latter stage of the race, however, Bezabeh was dropped.

Further down the field from a Clonliffe perspective Alistair was under pressure in around 20th position, remember that this was Alistair’s first cross country race in some five years. National Cross Country Champion Sergiu Ciobanu was as always running another very solid and positive race, Jayme Rossiter was still the 3rd place scorer but Gary was closing fast with Colm Rooney, who up to midweek had been a serious doubt for the race having been laid low with a virus the week before, now battling hard but feeling the after effects of illness.

At the end of a long hot race the race winner was Mohammed Mousaoui in a time of 29.13, one second behind, for the second year in succession, was Ayad Lambassem with da Silva 3rd.

The Clonliffe finishing positions were Alistair Cragg 21st (30.25), Sergiu Ciobanu 34th (31.02), Gary O’Hanlon 49th (31.51), Jayme Rossiter 51st (31.56) and Colm Rooney 68th (32.44).

What can be said with certainty is that all five of the black and amber clad athletes gave the race their all on the day. No-one can ask for any more than this.

An excellent night’s relaxation followed, it was great fun all round as Alistair did his best to convert a pretty cynical bunch of clubmates to the virtues of bird watching! It was a true traditional Clonliffe night (no further comment required).

The travelling support crew also deserve a mention for their continued undivided support of the lads: Johnny O’Leary, Mick Kearney, Paddy Marley, Noel, Conor and Margaret Daly, Martin and Terry Treacy, Eamon ‘Clonliffe ‘til I die’ Tierney, Mick Fogarty, Gerry Carr and an Unnamed Athlete from an Unnamed Club (to protect his identity). Well done also to the other vital members of the team Captain Joe Cooper, Vice Captain Killian Lonergan, coach Peter McDermott and reserve Tudor Mircea.

Great post race interview with Alistair Cragg click here:

There is now a great determination in the squad to defend the National Title, the first Sunday in March, and to be at these Championships again in 2015. Nil desperandum.