Athletics: UCD's Darragh McElhinney surges to win in Abbotstown

Britain’s Abbie Donnelly defended her title in the women’s 6,000m race

 

Eight weeks before the European Cross-Country Championships return to home ground for only the second time, Darragh McElhinney is the first to lay down a marker as one of the Irish medal hopes.

The Cork runner, now representing UCD AC, took the win at the Autumn International Cross-Country at Abbotstown on Sunday, over the same course that will stage the European event come December 12th.

McElhinney doesn’t turn 21 until next month, which means he’ll be eligible for the Under-23 race, where the Irish medal hopes may well be the strongest. Two years after winning a bronze medal over 5,000 metres at the European Under-20 Championships, it also marked further progress for McElhinney who this season had already won the Irish Inter-varsity Cross Country, also for UCD.

Staged in more late summer than autumn conditions, the ground perfect for fast running, McElhinney was to the fore throughout the men’s senior race, trailing Britain’s Tom Mortimer as the leading pack entered the final lap.

McElhinney made his one decisive move within sight of the finish to take the win over the 7.5km distance in 22:59; Mortimer held on for second place in 23:07 with Thomas McStay of Galway City Harriers also running a fine race to take third in 23.08.

In the mix in that race too was Nicholas Griggs of Mid Ulster AC, the 17-year-old who won the European Under-20 3,000m last July, before he veered off to claim the junior title over the shortened course (6,000m) in a super-fast 18.26. Scott Fagan (Metro/St. Brigid’s A.C.) took second 19:10, with Aaron Smith (Cilles A.C.) third in 19:15.

In the senior women’s 6,000m race, Britain’s Abbie Donnelly defended the title last won in 2019 win with another perfect stunning front running effort to win in a 21:04. As is her style, Donnelly went from the gun and broke away in a lead pack which included Ann Marie McGlynn from Letterkenny AC, who earlier this year just missed out on Tokyo Olympic marathon qualification.

Indeed McGlynn’s marathon stamina saw her hold the chase to take second, in doing so securing the women’s masters title in 20.58. Donnelly’s clubmate Kirsty Walker finished third, with Mary Mulhare from Portlaois AC taking fourth in 21.15 and also laying down a marker for selection come the Europeans.

Winning the junior women’s race was Jane Buckley of Leevale AC, the Cork runner finishing comfortably in front in a time of 16:98, with Celine Gavin (DCH AC) second in 16:23 and Roisín O’Reilly (Menapians AC) third. Buckley showed her intention on the final lap and had enough in reserve come the finish.

Despite it being the last chance for Irish athletes to compete on the Abbotstown course prior to the Europeans, there was some disappointment in that several other contenders on the team decided against competing. Dublin will host the European Cross Country Championships for only the second time after Santry in 2009, one year later than originally scheduled given the 2020 event was cancelled in the face of Covid-19.

The last event, staged in Lisbon in 2019, featured 602 athletes - 336 men and 266 women - from 40 countries, those 2019 championships also proving the most fruitful for Irish teams in the event, the striking thing about the four-medal haul was that it might easily have been six.

So far, however, it’s unclear just how many of the leading Irish athletes will make themselves available for selection, Sonia O’Sullivan noting in this newspaper earlier this week: “We need our best athletes to be striving for this event. This is what drives the competition to a higher level.... it’s time to show some leadership by the athletes, but also by the federation in targeting the races where we know as a country we are currently most competitive.”

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