On Sunday last, Sportsworld travelled west for the national masters and intermediate cross country championships. Tuam in County Galway was the destination. As we congregated outside Bushy at 9am, it was clear that Myles and Emily had managed to rally great numbers to tog out in the red and white. Apart from Myles and Emily, we also had plenty of supporters – Dave Clarke, Aggie Buckley, Sean O’Byrne, Breda Browne. Michael O’Grady was also on hand for last minute emergency kinesio taping on the bus! We also had a couple of guests onboard including the Crusaders medal winning intermediate ladies team, and Rathfarnham’s Paul Fleming who had a great run in the masters men race.

The journey down the M6 and up the N17 was blighted with a thick blanket of fog that would not have been out of place in a John Carpenter film. A brief pitstop in Athlone to collect Tara allowed for de-fueling and re-fuelling and on we went, with ne’er a sign of the fog lifting. And as we turned right at Claregalway visibility was so poor, neither the stone walls nor the green grass could be seen. The mood onboard the bus however was relaxed.

Because of the fog, we arrived at the course in Tuam with less than twenty minutes to spare before the scheduled start time for the masters ladies race. While our ladies went off to the start line to get ready, the rest of us assembled the trusty Sportsworld gazebo under Paul O’Cs supervision. Particular mention should go to Dave Clarke for arriving to help after the construction was finished. The course itself was really well designed, a couple of twisty turny sections and no horrendous mountains of hills.

Masters Ladies
Fortunately, the races were running a little behind schedule and so there was a bit more time for our team to get warmed up and race ready. When the race started, our team tore into the course with vigour. Sandra Armstrong glided around the tricky technical course, followed by Lucy Darcy who was also on precision timing duty. Anna Delaney, with arguably the run of the day, was one placed behind. Sandra Gowran added another strong run and navigated the winding course with ease. Anne Higgins was one of our medal winners on the day, picking up a Dublin County medal and Aileen Melody, who is flying at the moment, and her trusty spikes had a stormer.

Masters Men
We had a great turnout for our mens masters team and with over 200 in the race the standard was always going to be high. Despite only being back from Kenya a wet week, Phil Kilgannon showed that form is temporary and class is permanent. For Paul O’Connell, the hard work for the upcoming Boston marathon is obviously standing him in good stead as he looked very controlled throughout. Trevor Sweeney was his usual punctual self, turning up before the start with about ten minutes to spare. This suits the Sligo man clearly, as he thundered around the course, followed in close proximity by Michael Cunningham who looks to be getting back to his best. Martin Keenan, off the back of a great run in Raheny put in a great shift. Joe Byrne, resplendent as ever in his retro singlet was not far behind. Wesley Harrison, another who has come on leaps and bounds of late, looked positively at home on the cross country course. Denis McCaul, Anthony Gillen and Jim Browne had a great tussle amongst themselves as the race developed with the Millstreet man claiming the bragging rights in this round. A late call up for Brian Conway didn’t stop him having a solid run. Stephen Willoughby and Killian McMorrow, both doing their second races of the weekend, also did the club proud.

Intermediate Ladies
Due to an unfortunate combination of injuries and unavailabilities, Tara Rhatigan was our sole runner in the intermediate ladies event. Over the 6k course, the Tipp native gave a great account of herself to round off her first season running cross country for the club and battled hard to move up the field in the last lap.

Intermediate Men
The last race of the day was the intermediate men. For this group of lads, this had been a target race for a number of months. It was great to see ten lads toe the line in the race. Rallied by strong words from Myles, team captain Paul Duffy and the Ballyshannon Bullet, Kevin Curran, we headed for the starting gates. To quote the Tuam poets, “to win just once would be enough for us” and on paper we had a strong squad. On the day however Leevale were very strong with four lads in the top twenty to take the gold. Our team unfortunately didn’t medal but there was less than thirteen points between 2nd and 5th place which shows how competitive it was. Beidh lá eile againn.

Individually, both Karole Cronin and Gareth Murran finished on the gold medal winning Dublin county side. The upside of this, much to Gareth’s delight, is less XC to worry about next year! For the club team however, it means we lose both Karole and Gareth from novice and intermediate teams.

Gavin Finlay, in perhaps his last cross country race for the club before heading off to the Americas in the summer, powered to a top thirty finish. Mr. Consistent, Kevin Curran was our fourth scorer home, followed by Conor McCarthy who has been a revelation over the last twelve months. Karl Chatterton, another who is showing the benefits of consistent training and a great marathon last October, and James Brady both cruised around the course. Mark Small put in a great run and never let his head drop throughout the race, dragging me up the hills with him. Tim Telford ran a steady race in his first national event and is another who is making massive improvements and whose running can only benefit from now sharing an apartment with James Brady (…!)

Journey Home
We arrived back to Bushy Park around 8.30, following a pitstop in McDonalds in Athlone where there were enough Big Macs devoured to feed a battalion. Thanks to Myles and Emily for planning the last couple of months, and giving up their time especially on Saturday mornings. Thanks to our supporters who travelled down to Tuam, the vocal support on every corner and up every hill made it feel like Bushy Park.

A final word should be saved for our mens captain who unfortunately had to step off the course. Paul has been the lead man for our club for a few years now and has consistently poured his heart and soul into running for Sportsworld. A bad bout of sickness after Christmas laid him low and meant he only had a couple of weeks running before the race. A measure of the character of the man was that he was willing to tog out regardless, and while it didn’t work out on the day, his was still a key role as his words before the race got the blood up. His attitude and approach over the last number of years has served as a great example for the rest of us to follow. Paul will be back to his best in good time.

I think that’s the club cross country done for the season, thankfully. The XC spikes can go back into storage…and out can come the track spikes

Thanks to Will Greensmyth