Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman Award for December: Fionnuala McCormack

Inspiring run led Ireland to bronze medal in European Championships

Fionnuala McCormack (second from right) with the bronze medal winning Ireland team (left to right): Kerry O’Flaherty, Michelle Finn, Caroline Crowley, Lizzie Lee and Ciara Durkan. Photograph: Inpho.

Fionnuala McCormack (second from right) with the bronze medal winning Ireland team (left to right): Kerry O’Flaherty, Michelle Finn, Caroline Crowley, Lizzie Lee and Ciara Durkan. Photograph: Inpho.

 

You know what they say, that fourth is the most infuriating place to finish, and having endured that frustration in three of the last six European Cross Country Championships, Fionnuala McCormack knows more than most about the experience.

The considerable consolation for the Wicklow runner on two of those occasions, though, was that her performances led the Irish team to bronze, adding to the gold she and they won in 2012. That’s some record of achievement in the Championships, McCormack, Lizzie Lee, Caroline Crowley and Ciara Durkan combining to extend it in Hyeres, France last month.

While McCormack’s run was the stand-out performance of the day, her team-mates all played their part, none more so than Caroline Crowley who was making her international debut. And few have a more remarkable story than the Dublin solicitor who was purely a ‘fun’ runner until three years ago, the sport becoming, in her own words, a “release” after both her parents passed away in 2014.

Dug deep

Lee, meanwhile, produced the gutsiest of runs to finish 13th, as if her 2015 hadn’t been memorable enough – after returning to action following the birth of her daughter Lucy, the Cork woman ran the Olympic qualifying time at the Berlin Marathon, becoming the fifth fastest Irish woman of all time. The bronze in France was, she said, “the icing on the cake”.

And the fourth scorer on the team, Ciara Durkan, did her bit too when she came in 43rd. “Everybody kept shouting at me that we need one more scorer,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t let them down so I caught two more people at the end.”

McCormack was the inspiration for her team-mates, the sight of her right up with the leaders helping them all find that little bit more, helping them push through the pain barrier, because they knew another medal was within reach.

And despite the disappointment of just missing out on an individual medal, McCormack showed just how much the team effort meant to her when she turned to await her colleagues’ arrivals as soon as she crossed the line.

Personal frustration, then, gave way to joy for the former two-time individual winner when that bronze was clinched. “When you cross the line fourth you’re obviously going to be disappointed but when you turn around and see happy, exhausted faces at least you’ve gotten something out of it,” she said. “Coming fourth means something for the team for points so it’s not just about me.”

Marathon

Her 2016 focus will, of course, be on the marathon in Rio, for which she has already qualified, her form auguring well for the ultimate of challenges. For now, she is our Sportswoman of the Month for December, both as a representative of the bronze-winning Irish team, and for her own outstanding display.

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