“Horses for courses in Gowran”

Declan Power, National Cross-Country Championships 2023 Report:
Cross-country running can be a great ‘leveller’ so they say, and today’s national cross country
championship in Gowran Park lent credence to that theory. It proved to be a case of horses for
courses, as some athletes excelled on the winding, hilly, technical circuit complemented by sticking,
muddy conditions underfoot and stiff winds. It was ultimately a day of mixed emotions for Clonliffe
Harriers, with no individual medals bagged on this occasion, but more than compensated by a
superb collective display by our Junior Men (U20 & U18) who excelled on the day and show that the
future remains bright for future success.

For the second year running, the National Senior, Junior and Juvenile Cross-country Championships
relocated from the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, Dublin to farther fields. Following last
year’s epic and ultimately successful road trip by the Harriers to the picturesque surrounds of the
Rosguill peninsula in north Donegal, this year presented a mercifully shorter journey southward
along the M9 motorway to the ‘marble county’ of Kilkenny. The hosting club, Gowran AC, a mere 40
or so years in existence, provided the course location on this occasion: the expansive grounds of
Gowran Park, most well-known these days for horse-racing, while the surrounding demesne is the
site of Gowran Castle dating back to the 14 th century. The castle has seen some fierce battles
through the centuries, from the Norman invasions in the 15 th century to Cromwellian forces over 200
years later. Now in November 2023, it would serve as a backdrop to a ‘muddy battle’ of a different
sort featuring Ireland’s fittest and finest cross-country clubs across various age groups from Under
12’s through to the Senior ranks.

The coachload of Harriers arrived around midday to Gowran, with five teams set to compete: U16
Boys, Junior (inc U18) Men and Women, and Senior Men and Women. The course was quite
technical, involving several twists and turns, quite boggy underfoot from the recent days’ rainfall,
with several sections involving a nice squelching morass of mud, dirt and ahem… ‘cattle deposits’.
Each lap gradually rose in elevation, with the higher ground being quite exposed to the wind which
gradually picked up over the course of the day. The saving grace was that the rain (just about) held
off, and the temperature hovered in the low double-digits, above average for late November.
Our Under 16 Boys team lined up just before 1pm for the final juvenile race of the programme, over
two laps totalling 4000m, and battled hard over the energy-sapping ground. They were led home by
Liam Arthur in 80th place followed by Joshua Chalmers in 87 th who paid a bit for a hard pace early
on. Their scoring was rounded out by Sean Sinopluoglu (97 th ), Cillian O’Donovan (105 th ) and Fiachra
O’Donovan (125 th ), with the team finishing in 13 th place overall. All great experience earned on the
national stage which will serve them well for future competition.

Next up was our Junior (U20) Women’s team over a 5000m distance. Our five young Harriers fought
gamely to the end in a team race ultimately won by local favourites Kilkenny City Harriers in a close-
run affair with Youghal AC. Hazel Kenny moved through the second half of the field to take 84 th place
followed in close order by Sorcha O’Connor in 87 th . Ciara Sheedy (101 st ), Chloe Heaslip (132 nd ) and
Mya O’Reilly (138 th ) rounded out the scoring for a 9 th place finish in the team standings. Hazel collected U/18 inter county gold for Dublin.

The Black & Amber were well represented in the Junior Men (U20 incorporating U18) Race over the
same 5000m distance, with no less than 14 athletes toeing the line in a large field of around 200.
After their recent Dublin Cross Country golden performance, hopes were high that our lads could set
foot on the national podium come the end of proceedings today in Gowran. They didn’t disappoint
in that regard, packing well from the off, while not getting carried away with the frantic early pace.
Roared on at critical points of the course by the travelling Clonliffe entourage, the Junior team claimed National Silver behind Lagan Valley AC, superbly led by Tom Breslin (25 th ), Sean Cronin (31 st ),
Cillian Keegan (38 th ) and Matei Ursachi (47 th ). After this scoring quartet, there was a procession of
Harriers fronted by Rory Quill (53 rd ), Mahad Egaal (62 nd ), Leon Brady (69 th ), Lorcan Benjacar (107 th ),
Oran McGowan (130 th ), Ronan Donohoe (143 rd ), Jack Woods (156 th ), Jack Quinn (166 th ), Finbarr
Coughlan (187 th ) and Andrew Gaffney (189 th ). There was even better news to come when the Under
18 team scores were calculated, with the combined scores of Tom, Sean, Matei and Rory (58 points)
easily proving enough to claim U18 National Gold, well clear of nearest rivals Donore Harriers.

These team silver and gold medals were forged by hard training, dedication and team bonding over the
past year, ably guided and supported by our coaching team who were equally thrilled with today’s
performances and the richly deserved dividends from all their hard work. The Junior team’s 2 nd place
should also see them qualify for the European Club Champions Cup in the new year, to be held in
Portugal. The gold rush didn’t stop there, with Tom Breslin forming part of the winning Dublin junior
team in the County competition, while Sean Cronin, Rory Quill and Leon Brady took Dublin U18 team
gold medals home. All this ‘hardware’ would certainly add weight to the bus for the return trip back
to north Dublin!

The penultimate race of the day saw our Senior Women’s team toe the line in what was probably
the smallest field of the day, numbering less than 70. It was clear early on that gaps would form
quite quickly and indeed, small groups of athletes would get strung out over the 9000m distance
after the first lap. Interestingly, many of the bigger names in Irish distance running opted – for one
reason or another – not to make the journey to Gowran, meaning that there was no clear favourite
and that there would definitely be a new name on the trophy this year. There was an enthralling
battle up front with Fiona Everard (Bandon AC) eventually prevailing to take a popular victory,
closely followed by Mary Mulhare (Portlaoise AC), Danielle Donegan (Tullamore Harriers AC) and
Fionnuala Ross (Armagh AC). The Clonliffe women were certainly tested over the increasingly sticky,
cloying muddy terrain and remained in close order throughout the race. Yuliya Tarasova, no stranger
to the longer distances but arguably more at home on the road race circuit than country-country,
was our first scorer in 45 th , followed into the finishing chute by Julie Larkin (49 th ), Hannah Browne
(50 th ), Sarah Bateson (52 nd ), Jools Hughes (58 th ) and Sarah Hawkshaw (60 th ) for a final team placing of
6 th .

The final race of a gruelling Championship programme was the Senior Men’s Race over 9000m
distance (incorporating U23 Race), shorter than the 10k and 12k distances of previous years. The
course, by now becoming a veritable quagmire in places, probably made up for what it lacked in
distance and there was little doubt that overall strength and endurance would be rewarded on a day
that was probably not suited to the speedsters! Our Clonliffe men’s team were seeking to repeat last
year’s heroics and retain the national team title but knew that we faced stiff opposition from the
likes of Mullingar Harriers and Kilkenny City Harriers among others. Indeed, the field was stacked in
quality with most of the country’s best distance athletes vying for glory and selection for the Ireland
Senior and U23 teams to compete at the European Cross-Country Championships in Belgium next
month. There would be no hiding place and little margin for error, each man would need to fight to
the finish, knowing that every place would count. At 3pm, the starter’s gun sounded, followed by the
familiar stampede and fight for position at the first corner. Our lead athlete, Efrem Gidey got a few
of us concerned in the course of the first lap, as he trailed behind the lead pack and outside the top 20.

This proved to be a shrewd move as he paced his effort patiently and maturely, picking
up places on each subsequent lap. Cathal Doyle is a more familiar sight over four laps of the track
these days but got stuck into proceedings displaying his endurance qualities holding position all
through the race, closely tracked by Sean O’Leary who likewise admirably maintained position. Our
next men, Jayme Rossiter and Colm Rooney had got detached in the first lap and appeared to
literally get bogged down in the Kilkenny mud, battling forlornly to move up to the Top 30.

With little in the way of green turf to gain any momentum and the guys spent much of the race
in the trenches of a kind of ‘no-man’s land’ but commendably didn’t give any quarter to the chasers
behind them. Sergiu Ciobanu, no doubt still recovering from his recent Dublin marathon exploits,
understandably and one could say wisely, paced the first half conservatively and managed to pick up
around a dozen places in the second half, as his endurance and vast experience kicked in. Stephen
Cashin and Eoin Pierce always remained well in the top half of the field, picking off a few places on
the third of the four laps.

Ultimately, the race for gold and podium places proved to be an exciting one, as the leading bunch
gradually whittled down to half a dozen by the last lap. The last 300 metres presented the crowd
with a final burn-up after the 30 minutes of ‘long slog’ in the mud. The quickest wheels belonged to
Cormac Dalton of Mullingar Harriers, pulling away in the finishing straight, raising his arms aloft to
the crowd and kissing his club vest as he reached the finish line. He was followed a mere two
seconds behind by Kevin Mulcaire (Ennis Track AC) with Hugh Armstrong (Ballina AC) snatching the
bronze. Our own Efrem Gidey came through strongly in the second half of the race, picking up
numerous places and finishing in a fine 7 th place in what was surely one of the strongest National
Men’s Senior fields for several years. Not long behind, Cathal Doyle was finally able to it get into fifth
gear and motored down the finish straight to pick up more places on his way to a commendable 16 th .
Next in was Sean O’Leary, superbly holding firm in 22 nd place as our third scorer. Over a dozen
athletes crossed the line in the space of the next 20 seconds, which would ultimately prove decisive
in the destiny of team podium places. Jayme Rossiter (35 th ) charged home in that group, followed
closely by Colm Rooney (38 th ) and Sergiu Ciobanu (40 th ). Stephen Cashin (63 rd ) and Eoin Pierce (76 th )
both finished strongly, holding their positions to the end and finishing well up in the first half of the
field. The team’s scoring total of 80 points registered by our first four finishing athletes was an
improvement on our winning total of 86 from 2022, but unfortunately it proved not to be enough
this time around, as local favourites Kilkenny City Harriers and surprise package North Belfast
Harriers both recorded a total of 72, with Kilkenny earning a famous victory by the tightest of
margins, on countback. So, the Clonliffe men had to settle for bronze on this occasion, not the colour
that we coveted based on the high standards that we set ourselves. However, every man could be
proud of their effort, with every man finishing strongly and nobody giving up places in the second
half. When the dust settles, and the mud finally washes off, the team can be proud and reflect on
the race, before the cycle starts all over again in the quest to regain that national title.

Efrem, Cathal and Sean picked up National inter county gold for Dublin

Pictures by Cillian Sheerin click link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/146364500@N04/albums/72177720312799002/with/53343039967/