New kids on block push old guard


ATHLETICS:THIS MUST be the changing of the guard, when the young and the insouciant dominate a National Championships – and say welcome to the new generation.

Where to begin when not even names can set some of them apart? Thomas and Jessie Barr became the first brother and sister to win national titles on the same day, both in the 400 metres hurdles. Yes, they look certain to raise the bar in the event and Thomas, just 19, produced a championship best performance of 50.06 seconds – which actually makes him the fastest Irish-born hurdler ever.

Two other teenagers were the class acts in the distance races, and if pure ambition denied Ciara Mageean the 800 metres title, pure bravery won her the 1,500 metres title. The 19-year-old from Portaferry collapsed across the finish line in the shorter race, having set off at near suicidal pace – 57.6 at 400 metres! – yet the disgust at only winning silver was written all over her face. Siobhan Eviston took the title, in 2:06.69, looking every bit as surprised as we did.

Two hours later Mageean was back on the track, the disgust replaced with absolute determination, and this time she raced with utter conviction to win in 4:16.36 – her first senior outdoor title. “Well I’m not the kind of person to give up,” she told us, beaming with satisfaction, and rightly so. “The plan was to go out fast in the 800, but I was just swimming in lactic acid in the end. But I didn’t feel I’d peaked there either, so once I warmed up again I was ready for the 1,500 metres”

Donegal youngster,Mark English still only 18, from the New School of Irish Distance Running – also known as Letterkenny AC – limited himself to just the 800 metres and had plenty in reserve when winning 1:50.22. English cruised past David McCarthy with 100 metres to go, as Brian Kelly won silver in 1:50.83, and Anthony Lieghio third in 1:50.88.

Then we saw Paul Robinson, who just turned 20 and recently became Ireland’s youngest sub-four minute miler, fairly glide home in the 1,500 metres in 3:50.11 – with John Coghlan – yes, “son of” – taking silver in 3:51.44. Robinson thus becomes the youngest winner of the blue riband event, at least in living memory – and special mention too to Kate Veale, who won the women’s walk title at just 17.

For the Barr siblings – who hail from Dunmore East – the 400 metres hurdles is actually a second-choice event, as they both started out as high jumpers: “Well I took up the hurdles first and he copied me,” said Jessie, who at 22 won her first senior title, in 57.38. Thomas’s 50.06 again lowers his Irish junior record, for the third time this summer. Bob Tisdall, by the way, ran 51.67 when he won the gold medal at the 400 metres hurdles at the 1932 Olympics, in Los Angeles – and Barr’s 50.06 is now only bettered by the American-born Tom McGuirk, who holds the Irish record with his 49.73.

But it would be wrong to forget the old guard here either, whose primary purpose was some sharpening exercises before the World Championships, which start in far away Daegu in three weeks time. Derval O’Rourke won a ninth 100 metres hurdles title, 13.24, partly making up for a poor run in the London Diamond League on Saturday afternoon.

Rob Heffernan also won a ninth title in the 10km walk, despite only deciding to compete a few hours before as a trapped nerve in his back and a small tear in his hamstring had interrupted his training in recent weeks , yet he too will be part of the 17-strong Irish team for Daegu, to be announced today.

If Alistair Cragg maintains form he mightn’t be far off the 5,000 metres pace in Daegu, as he certainly looked exceptionally fit in defending his title in 13:48.03 – ahead of Clonliffe club mate Mark Kenneally, who won the 10,000 metres on Saturday.

With the injured David Gillick already looking to 2012, Brian Murphy made the most of his 11th successive appearance in the 400m final to win his first title: “I just hung around until they all died,” said Murphy. Joanne Cuddihy is patiently coming back to her best too, and won the women’s 400m in 52.15, inside the B-standard of 52.30 for Daegu – although she was already travelling as part of the relay.

The Performance of the Meet award went to Paul Hession, who ran the A-standard for both Daegu and the London Olympics with his 200 metre winning time of 20.51. There’s still some life in the old guard too.