Home crowd play their part as Ireland secure three-medal cross-country haul

U23 promise but disappointment remains given medal count could have been greater

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The home crowd unquestionably played their part, naturally the home ground did too, and in completing a three-medal haul at the European cross-country championships the men’s under-23 team also stood atop the podium outright, shining gold to boot.

The day wasn’t without hints of disappointment given that medal haul could easily have been greater, three fourth place finishes - including both senior team races and the mixed 4x1,500m relay, where at halfway Ireland were well in front - proving home advantage doesn’t always make winning medals any easier.

It was tough out there, the purpose-built course at the Sport Ireland campus looking splendid in the occasionally breaking sunshine, the enthusiastic crowd pouring in from the early morn to ensure they didn’t miss a beat. Also short of the four-medal haul from the last time out in Lisbon 2019, it still left Ireland fifth on the overall medal table, their presence certainly felt across all seven races.

Irish athletics has been here before, the under-23 men winning team gold in 2010, the under-23 women winning silver in Lisbon, and there’s no guarantee this success is transferred to the senior stage. Still there’s no denying the style and execution of this latest gold medal win and that’s good enough for now.

Darragh McElhinney ran a superb race to nail second, for long stages battling hard to gold with Charlie Hicks, before the British runner struck for home in the final 200 metres, the 21 year-old from Glengarriff, who now runs for UCD AC, still delighted and deserving too in making the individual podium.

Not far behind in sixth was Keelan Kilrehill of Moy Valley AC, the Sligo youngster who two years ago sustained serious injuries in a cycling accident, and then came Micheal Power of West Waterford AC in 13th. That was enough to land them gold medals, the three-scoring tally of 21 just three points ahead of Great Britain, still plenty good enough for gold, with France further back in third with 36 points.

“It was a strange race, slightly different than what I expected, I thought it was going to be hard from the gun, whereas it did dawdle a bit for the first couple of laps,” said a delighted McElhinney, who like Kilrehill is also coached by Emmet Dunleavy.

“I knew I just had to stay in contention the whole way, which I did, and even with a lap to go all I was thinking of was gold. For the team too, I know how strong Keelan is, I’ve been training with him for two years, and for him to make top six in unbelievable, we’re both under-23 again next year. Michael as well, I was training with him since age 15, he’s over in Tulsa now, but I would consider him one of my closest friends in this sport, we’ve had countless sh*t days, some good days too.

“The other three too, Donal (Devane) Jamie (Battle), and Thomas (Devaney), we’d be racing together since 12, 13, and these guys are like my brothers. We’re missing a good few lads here today too.”

This is effectively the same team that lost under-20 bronze on count back in Lisbon, McElhinney admitting his latest training block had him in the form of his life: “I knew the guys were running well behind me, and in the last 250m, my legs were jelly, I was trying to take inspiration from anywhere I could, and what more could you ask for that 8,000 Irish people cheering you on. The last 100m was long, I thought that finish line would never come, but to come away with team medals, a team gold, a savage day.”

That followed the team silver medals also won by the Irish under-20 team, just one point shy of winners Great Britain, Abdel Laadjel from Donore Harriers, currently on scholarship at Providence College, showing the way here with a brilliant sixth place, followed by Dean Casey of Ennis Track, in 13th, then Nick Griggs, still only 16, coming home 16th - all three good for under-20 again next year.

Axel Vang Christensen from Denmark, just turned 17, produced a commanding performance over the 6,000m distance, scoring a gun-to-tape victory. Griggs had expectations of hunting for a medal too, admitting a stitch around halfway scuppered his chances, but that “the crowd pushed me on when I was in that dark place, a great atmosphere, and a massive thanks to the supporters who came out.”

So near and yet so far for both the senior men and senior women, both fourth in the team race, Fionnuala McCormack finishing ninth in her record 17th appearance at the event, a week after running a 2:23:58 marathon in Valencia.

European Cross-Country Championships, at Abbotstown:

Men’s Under-20 (6km)

1. Axel Vang CHRISTENSEN (DEN) (17:53)

2. Abdullah Dahir RABI (NOR) (18:18)

3. Jobel Ibler LILLESO (DEN) (18:21)

Teams

1. Great Britain & Northern Ireland 34

2. Ireland 35

3. Israel 37

Irish Placing

6th Adbdel Laadjel (18:30)

13th Dean Casey (18:38)

16th Nick Griggs (18:42)

21st Scott Fagan (18:49)

50th Sean Kay (19:22)

77th Cathal O’Reilly (20:01)

Women’s Under-20 (4km)

1. Megan KEITH (GBR) (13:41)

2. Ingeborg OSTGARD (NOR) (13:44)

3. Emma HECKEL (GER)(13:46)

Team

1. Germany 15

2. Spain 27

3. Great Britain & Northern Ireland 33

8. Ireland 77

Irish Placing:

23th Aoife MCGREEVY (14:07)

24th Emma MCEVOY (14:07)

30th Jane BUCKLEY (14:15)

38th Rebecca ROSSITER (14:22)

55th Laura MOONEY (14:36)

77th Roise ROBERTS (14:54)

Men’s Under -23 (8km)

1. Charles HICKS (GBR) (24:29)

2. Darragh MCELHINNEY (IRE) (24:33)

3. Ruben QUERINJEAN (LUX) (24:36)

Team

1. Ireland 21

2. Great Britain & Northern Ireland 24

3. France 26

Irish Placing:

2nd Darragh MCELHINNEY (24:33)

6th Keelan KILREHILL (24:42)

13th Micheal POWER (25:03)

40th Donal DEVANE (25:46)

44th Jamie BATTLE (25:51)

67th Thomas DEVANEY(26:43)

Women’s Under-23

1. Nadia BATTOCLETTI (ITA) 20:32

2 Klara LUKAN (SLO) 20:36

3 Mariana MACHADO (POR) 20:36

Team:

1. Italy 18

2. France 25

3. Great Britain 37

5. Ireland 68

Irish Placing:

5th Sarah HEALY 20:48

31st Danielle DONEGAN 22.03

32nd Aoife O’CUILL 22.06

46th Lauren TINKLER 22:34

49th Jodie MCCANN 22:48

50th Ruth HEERY 22:51

Mixed 4X 15,00M Relay:

1. Great Britain & Northern Ireland (Hannah NUTTALL, Luke DUFFY, Alexandra BELL, Benjamin WEST) 18.01

2. France (Aurore FLEURY, Azeddine HABZ, Alexa LEMITRE, Alexis MIELLET) 18.05

3. Belguim ( Elise VANDERELST, Ruben VERHEYDEN, Vanessa SCAUNET, Stijn BAETEN) 18.06

4. Ireland (Ciara MAGEEAN, Luke MCCANN, Síofra CLÉIRIGH BÜTTNER, Andrew COSCORAN) 18.06

Senior Men (10km)

1. Jakob INGEBRIGSTEN (NOR) (30:15)

2. Aras KAYA (TUR) (30:29)

3. Jimmy GRESSIER (FRA) (30:34)

Team

1. France 13

2. Spain 30

3. Norway 47

4 Ireland 51

Irish Placing:

10th Brian FAY (30:45)

13th Hiko Tonosa HASO (31:05)

28th Cormac DALTON (31:33)

44th Emmet JENNINGS (32:14)

56th Paul O’DONNELL (32:49)

58th Ryan FORSYTH (32:58)

Senior Women (8km)

1. Karoline Bjerkeli GROVDAL (NOR) (26:34)

2. Meraf BATHA (SWE) (26:44)

3. Alina REH (GER) (26:53)

Team

1. Great Britain & Northern Ireland 25

2. Germany 29

3. Sweden 38

4, Ireland 47

Irish Placing:

9th Fionnuala MCCORMACK (27:52)

15th Eilish FLANAGAN (28:39)

23rd Aoibhe RICHARDSON (28:48)

26th Roisin FLANAGAN (28:54)

38th Aoife COOKE (29:15)

46th Michelle FINN (29:34)

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