Family affair makes it extra special win for Fionnuala McCormack

Wicklow runner’s younger sister takes bronze at national cross-country finals

Sometimes the hardest part about winning a national cross-country title is to stop making it look so easy. Fionnuala McCormack couldn’t quite manage that, winning her ninth title with at times apparent breathlessness over the testing ground at Abbotstown, though certainly not making it look any less impressive.

If anything this ranks as one of her finest, coming just six weeks after qualifying for her fourth Olympics with her fifth place in Chicago, running 2:26:47, and also just over a year since giving birth to daughter Isla. At age 35 she’s clearly still in the business of making it look sublime and easy, going to the front from the gun and pulling away with increasing distance over the 8km race – winning by more than a minute and a half.

It will definitely rank extra special as younger sister Una Britton also ran one of the best races of her life to finish third, and for the first time in the long history of Irish cross-country running, two siblings made the same podium in the senior race. There could be more to come too, as McCormack, not requiring much time to catch her breath, immediately confirmed her intention to chase another continental prize at the European Cross-Country in Lisbon Sunday week – and it may take an exceptionally hard runner to stop her there.

It's now seven years now since McCormack became the first woman to win back-to-back European Cross-Country titles, in 2011-2012, and with her sister also on the Irish team there will be added incentive to chase a team medal too. Defending women's champion Ciara Mageean didn't race here but is also considering it.

“Getting on the podium is special any day, but this makes it really special for the family and the club Kilcoole as well,” said McCormack, who made it clear coming to Abbotstown that she was returning to her first love.

Mary Mulhare from Portlaoise AC did lead the chase for a long time, and ended up second ahead of the younger McCormack sister, with Leevale winning the team.

“Yeah, I could hear the commentary, but could hear family and friends cheering her on as well, so I knew she was behind there,” added McCormack, who between the now combined interclub and intercounty events, won eight previous titles, the last in 2015.

It clearly made Britton’s day also: “I’ve always loved cross-country, even when I was coming last or getting lapped, but when you stick with it sometimes it pays off, and I really proud moment. I suppose the last few years I was always wishing I was up here, but after a good long spell without injury the training paid off as well.”

Last year's women's under-20 champion Sarah Healy wasn't racing due to a virus, and it remains to be seen if she recovers in time to race in Lisbon, where at her best she would definitely be a medal contender. In her absence there was an impressive win for Jodie McCann from Dublin City Harriers, who improved on her third place from last year.

There was nothing easy or certain about the way Liam Brady went about winning the senior men's title, his first to go with a series of underage victories – and also a first individual senior men's champion for his club Tullamore Harriers.

This was a pure guts and determined race – Brady making a surge midway through the 10km race with the look of a man determined to make this his day. That appeared to backfire when the chasing group regained contact going into the last lap, with rising under-23 champion Brian Fay from Raheny Shamrock and last year's runner-up Seán Tobin form Clonmel poised to pounce.

Only Brady found another gear and pain threshold level to drop them again in the final sprint for home. “So delighted to win that,” said Brady, delivering a thank-you speech of Oscar-winning quality. Among those getting the credit was his new coach and former women’s champion Maria McCambridge, and also his training base at Tallaght AC in west Dublin.

“I was genuinely worried when I heard everyone cheering Brian and Seán on behind, so I just made myself hurt, buried myself, and just kept going for it. Happily I just got over the line, and it’s just pure relief now.”

Fay held on for second, Tobin for third, Clonliffe winning the team. No less convincing or deserving in winning the junior men’s race was Darragh McElhinney from Bantry, now running for UCD, who defended his title with another show of class which saw him win European Under-20 bronze over 5,000m this summer. Next stop Lisbon for all the champions.

IRISH LIFE HEALTH NATIONAL
CROSS-COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Sport Ireland National Sports Campus, Abbotstown:

MEN
Senior 10,000m:
1 Liam Brady (Tullamore Harriers) 32:50, 2 Brian Fay (U23) (Raheny Shamrock) 32:55, 3 Seán Tobin (Clonmel) 33:05. Team: Clonliffe Harriers 52, 2 Dundrum South Dublin 88,3 Raheny Shamrock 125.

U23: 1 Brian Fay (Raheny Shamrock) 32:55, 2 Cormac Dalton (Mullingar Harriers) 33:14, 3 Cathal Doyle (Clonliffe Harriers) 34:07.

U20 (6,000m): Darragh McElhinney (UCD) 19:36, 2 Keelan Kilrehill (Moy Valley) 19:43, 3 Thomas McStay (Galway City Harriers) 19:54. Team: Clonliffe Harriers 90, 2 Dundrum South Dublin 93, 3 Ennis Track 98.

WOMEN
Senior (8,000m):
1 Fionnuala McCormack (Kilcoole) 28:41, 2 Mary Mulhare (Portlaoise) 30:22, 3 Una Britton (Kilcoole) 30:32. Team: 1 Leevale 120, 2 North Down 129, 3 Mullingar Harriers 169.

U23: 1 Sorcha McAlister (Westport) 31:57, 2 Claire Fagan (Mullingar Harriers) 32:19, 3 Lauren Dermody (Castlecomer) 33:03

U20 (4,000m): 1 Jodie McCann (Dublin City Harriers) 15:06, 2 Danielle Donegan (Tullamore Harriers) 15:29, 3 Maeve Gallagher (Swinford) 15:32. Team: Waterford 61, 2 Dundrum South Dublin 119, 3 Dublin City Harriers 142.

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