Saturday the 25th of February is a day which will go down in the history of Clonliffe Harriers A.C., the day our men’s Senior Team made it three National Interclub Cross Country Titles in a row. The performance of our athletes and of this club in the hosting and organising of the 2006 Nationals can be summed up in three words: Class, Class, Class.
The hard work in the staging of the National Championships had begun several months earlier and great credit must go to our Club President Paddy Marley in the organising and directing of operations. The work over the weekend itself began early on Friday morning with a team of course markers under the direction of Johnny O’Leary, in this his fiftieth year as a Clonliffe Harrier. The lads marked out a wonderful 2000 metre lap over the rolling parkland of Santry Demesne and Saturday morning bore testament to their professionalism with a circuit which was worthy of any top class cross country race in Europe. Sheer class.
Race day itself witnessed an army of club members rallying to the cause. From the lads manning the car parks to the on course stewards, all suitably attired in fashionable yellow jackets.
Our invited guests including Clonliffe’s last men’s individual winner, Noel Cullen, previous Clonliffe winners Jerry Kiernan and Noel Harvey, great Clonliffe men like Lar O’Byrne, Frazer Walker, the great Eamon Coghlan and so on were greeted by Martin Treacy and Mick Kearney and treated to a pre-race reception.
It was then all systems go for the commencement of the 2006 Nationals on a fast, dry Santry Demesne with a biting blustery wind.
The first race of the day was the Junior Women’s Championship, over 6000 metres. There was a small field in this race including a number of Clonliffe’s young ladies. In the end Sara Treacy of Moynalvey was comfortable winner in 23:32 from R. Galligan (Newbridge) 23:48 and B. Twohig, DSD 24:05.
The winning team was DSD with 21 points from Newbridge second on 42 points and Raheny, third on 49 points.
Next up were the Junior men over 8000 metres. Again this race featured a number of Clonliffe youngsters who ran bravely and gamely though unfortunately they found the pace too hot to handle. The runaway winner was Stephen Scullion (North Belfast) 26:58 from R. Chesser (Ennis) 27:20 and E. Healy, DSD 27:30. The winning team was DSD on 39 points from Ennis, 58 and Glenbower, 61 points.
A special word of praise must go to young Declan Moran who was clearly somewhat distressed heading in to his final lap and was some way off the pace, however, he showed great bravery in battling on to finish on home territory when a lesser individual might have called it a day.
The Senior Women’s race was over 8000 metres and included a full Clonliffe team. One does not have to go back too far to the days when the Senior race did not feature a Clonliffe team but on occasions may have only featured the odd one or two Clonliffe ladies, great progress is currently being made and considerable credit must go to Bronagh Ní Bhrian, our ladies captain. Although our ladies did not feature in the final shake-up, they were placed fifth team, with continued progress and particularly the way our ladies section continues to grow, it cannot be long before this team will be in the hunt for medals.
Up front there was a tremendous battle between Marie McCambridge, a two-time runner-up in this race and Rosie Ryan (Bilboa). Halfway through the race these two were matching stride for stride, however, coming into the final lap McCambridge hit the front to open a gap of 19 seconds to take her first National Long course title, with Rosie Ryan a comfortable second and after a tremendous run, Fionnuala Britain (Sli Cualann) held on for bronze.
The winning team were DSD, 44, Sportsworld, 70 and Raheny 93.
The tension and excitement was almost at fever pitch as the gun went for the start of the Senior men’s race over an extremely demanding 12000 metres. This was an extremely classy field and we spectators were treated to a thrilling battle.
Up front there was a pack of some seven or so athletes including Mark Kenneally, Vinnie Mulvey, Peter Matthews, Mark Christie. Some yards back was one of the pre-race favourites, our own Killian Lonergan.
An early state of panic spread through the Clonliffe ranks as we wondered aloud whether Killian was under pressure, we relaxed somewhat as he quickly closed the gap to get himself in the middle of the lead pack.
The pack was now down to seven, Killian, Mark, Vinnie Mulvey of Raheny, Mark Christie of Mullingar, McAllister of Belfast, Peter Matthews of DSD and Paul McNamara of Athenry. Peter Matthews threw down the gauntlet to all the youngsters setting a blistering pace, try as he would, however, he could not break away.
Further back we were now concerned about Cian McLoughlin, he doesn’t seem to be in his usual flowing style: we experts mused – ‘Just keep ahead of the DSD guy’. Fingers crossed as we sprinted back across to the other side of the course. The excitement and desperation was mounting. We were now shouting until we were almost hoarse – words of encouragement – downright lies – ‘he’s dying on his feet – you have him’.
It is incredible how quickly 12000 metres can pass. We’re now into the last lap, Vinnie Mulvey looks in trouble, Killian’s at the front – this is his day.
Amazingly Mulvey has now caught Killian, there is less than 1000 metres left. Mulvey puts on a spurt and puts space between himself and Killian, Mark Christie is now on Killians tail. They’re in the final straight and Vinnie Mulvey wins, Raheny’s first individual national cross country champion, his time 37:58, second is Mark Christie, 38:03, our man Killian is third to take bronze, 38:07.
Where are we in the team we wonder? Mark Kenneally is already home, sixth, we are roaring and screaming at Gary O’Hanlon, he is twelfth, we have three runners home, DSD have two home, Raheny two home.
Cian McLoughlin has rallied and comes home in sixteenth place, a couple of places behind him is young Aidan Bailey, fifth scorer this year, he was fourth scorer in last years victorious team. Raheny now have four home, the fourth DSD man is also home.
It’s going to be very tight. Joe Cooper calls it a Clonliffe victory by 6 maybe 7 points.
The foot-soldiers are already dismantling the course when the official word comes through, we’ve done it with a margin of eight points over our northside friends, Raheny Shamrocks on 45 points with DSD on 50.
Pat Hooper did predict beforehand that Raheny were going to ‘give us a bit of a rattle’ – they certainly did.
With the course dismantled, the foot-soldiers now retired to the bar to relive the day – this cross country lark is extremely taxing, not just for the athletes!
The top six in the men’s Senior race were:
1 Vinnie Mulvey (Raheny) 37:58 2 Mark Christie (Mullingar) 38:03 3 Killian Lonergan (Clonliffe) 38:07 4 Paul McNamara (Athenry) 38:20 5 Peter Matthews (DSD) 38:26 6 Mark Kenneally (Clonliffe) 38:26
Great credit for our victory must go to not only the scoring four but also to the other Clonliffe guys out there, Aidan Bailey, Colm Rooney, Nigel Brunton and Ed Couglan. Great credit must also go to our club captain, Joe Cooper and also of course to Peter McDermott who coaches several members of the team. There’s that word again – class.
The hosting of the National Cross Country Championships is a very big undertaking for any club. The response of our club members and the assistance and help given by all, not just out on course but for example, Noreen Keane and her squad in the catering department. When the call went out as usual the men and women of Clonliffe responded and no matter what task you carried out over the weekend you were a vital cog in the machine and once again we demonstrated what a truly great club we are. Class, Class, Class.
Full official placings of all our athletes to follow.