The suitably billed championship showdown happened early and didn’t disappoint, Darragh McElhinney underlying his quality and class when dealing with the young challenge of Nicholas Griggs at the Sport Ireland Indoor Arena at Abbotstown.
Both McElhinney and Griggs had already broken barriers over 3,000 metres this indoor season, McElhinney taking the Irish Under-23 record to 7:45.91, while Griggs ran an Under-20 record of 7:57.38. The first Irish senior distance-running title of the year would be decided between them.
At 17, Griggs was conceding four years to McElhinney, and that seniority showed as the race progressed. After a cautious start by both athletes, McElhinney made his decisive move with five of the 15 laps remaining, and chase hard as he did, Griggs was soon detached and had to settle for second best.
McElhinney took the title in 8:02:82, the UCD student from Glengarriff holding his index finger aloft in his winning gesture, Griggs also closing fast in second in 8:05.83, a first senior medal for the Mid Ulster AC runner. Keelan Kilrehill of Moy Valley AC in Sligo, like McElhinney part of the gold medal winning Under-23 team at December’s European Cross-Country, was third in 8:12.14.
Other track highlights on day one saw Robert McDonnell produce another fine sprint to run down Marcus Lawler, the Galway City Harriers runner taking the 200m title in a new championship best of 20.86. Lawler finished second in 21.06.
Sharlene Mawdsley took the women’s 200m title, the Newport AC runner also timing her run to perfection to get past Sarah Leahy from Killarney Valley, winning in 24.05, from Leahy’s 24.31.
In the field events, Eric Favors returned from his record-breaking form in the US to take the shot put title in a new championship best performance, the big Raheny Shamrocks athlete throwing 19.48 metres.
Ellen McCartney from City of Lisburn AC won the women’s pole vault in 4.00m, while in the men’s long jump, Shane Howard of Bandon AC produced a fifth-round best of 7.47 metres to deny Leevale teenager Reece Ademola, who took second with a best of 7.40.
Earlier, in the walks, David Kenny of Farranfore Maine Valley got the better of fellow Tokyo Olympian Brendan Boyce in the 5,000m, winning by some 90 seconds in 19:35.38. Kate Veale won another 3,000m title for West Waterford, clocking 13:32.04.
Overnight in the US, Abdel Laadjel broke McElhinney’s 5,000m Under-20 indoor record. The Donore Harriers runner now representing Providence College, finished in 14:12:73, eclipsing McElhinney’s 14.13.67 from 2019.