Top class European Cross in Brussels

Dec 17, 2008 [Noel Guiden] The City of Brussels provided an excellent venue for a top class European Cross Country Championship on Sunday the highlights of which included a magnificent Eighth Senior Men’s Cross Country win from Serhiy Lebid, a battling fourth place from Ireland’s Mary Cullen in the Senior Women’s event and numerous good performances from the Irish Athletes including our own David Flynn in the Junior Men’s race and although the hoped for medals did not materialise there is certainly a very strong base to be built upon over the coming months in preparation for Santry Demesne on the 13th of December 2009.

There was a substantial Clonliffe presence in Brussels. My travelling companions were Joe Cooper, Gerry Carr, Pat Bonass, Mick Fogarty and a couple of Eamonns – Messrs. Coghlan and Dolan. Over the course of the weekend we met up with Club President Paddy Marley, Padraig Keane, Noreen Keane and Johnny O’Leary. We witnessed an extremely well organised event from the Belgiums who had constructed a compact spectator friendly course at Laken Park. From the athletes point of view it was a very testing course which had a number of sharp switch-back bends which caused a number of athletes difficulties. No such difficulty, however, for Lebid, the 33 year old Ukrainian running in this his 15th European Cross Country Championship. Lebid bided his time, always in the lead group and when Great Britain’s Mo Farah upped the pace Lebid covered the break as the pair opened a 50 metre gap back to 3rd place, again Lebid sat and waited until the final 400 metres when he hit the front for the first time powering away to a magnificent eighth championship. Mo Farah after a superb performance was second with Sweden’s Mustaf Mohamed 3rd. From an Irish perspective in the early stages things looked very good as Martin Fagan led out the field and looked fairly comfortable until on the 3rd lap he disappeared from our view eventually coming around in about 25th place, we later learned that a fall had contributed to his demise. In the end Fagan placed 24th and with Alan McCormack 32nd, Gary Murray 36th, Andrew Ledwith 37th, Mark Carroll 42nd and Mark Christie 74th the Irish team placed 7th.

Mary Cullen ran a magnificent race in the Women’s Senior Race and was positive from the gun and always to the front of things, eventually, however, she slipped off the pace and out of the medals positions to finish a heartbreaking 4th place only a matter of seconds away from that elusive medal. The Irish Women’s team placed 9th (Mary Cullen 4th, Deirdre Byrne 29th, Rosemary Ryan 41st, Hazel Murphy 57th and Kerry Harty 60th).

David Flynn ran very well in the Junior Men’s race, he clearly struggled over the first 2 of 4 laps and in his own words ‘just couldn’t get going’, at the end of the second lap he was placed 75th, however, got down to business over the second half of the race coming strongly through the field eventually placing 51st to be the 3rd Irish scorer. The Junior Men’s Team with Craig Murphy 19th, Ian Moore 40th, Flynner 51st, Michael Mulhare 59th and Patrick Quinn 84th placed 8th.

The Men’s under 23 team of David McCarthy 24th, Richie Yeats 33rd, Mick Clohissey 37th, Paul Pollock 57th, Jason Fahy 60th and John Coghlan 65th placed 8th.

The Women’s Junior and under 23 teams performed very well both teams placing 4th. The Junior Women’s Team of Sarah Tracey 12th, Charlotte Ffrench-O’Carroll 15th, Ciara Mageehan 17th, Lorraine McCarthy 33rd, Tara Jameson 54th and Rebecca Ffrench-O’Carroll 60th finished 4th on 77 points behind the Russians on 62 points whilst the Women’s under 23 team of Linda Byrne 10th, Rosemary Galligan 21st, Ciara Durkin 23rd, Hollie Knight 26th, Aisling Baker 41st and Eimear O’Brien 64th placed 4th on 80 points.

A notable feature of the championships as a whole was the quite exceptional performances of the Great Britain teams. It was an extraordinary achievement particularly in the Junior Women’s race for the 6 British girls to fill the first six places and the British with team gold in the Junior Women, team gold in the Women under 23, team gold Men’s under 23, team silver in the Senior Women and team bronze Senior Men and Junior Men took team medals in all six races. Clearly whatever they are doing they are doing right.

From an Irish perspective we just came up short again but with the correct approach for 2009, with home advantage and hopefully a big crowd at Santry Demesne medals are a distinct possibility.

It was also interesting and good to see first hand the organisation of the event by the Belgiums and all could see the commitment which is going to be required to put on an event next year as good as the magnificent event put on last weekend.

Another positive from the weekend is that with the 2009 Championships at home we will have no necessity to rely upon the navigation ‘skills’ of Eamon ‘Garmin’ Dolan!