Making it look easy: Sarah Healy runs away with Irish cross-country title

The 17-year-old is eyeing up shot at upcoming European Cross-Country in the Netherlands

Sarah Healy of Blackrock AC on her way to winning the Junior women’s race in the Irish Life Health National Cross Country Championships on Sunday. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Sarah Healy of Blackrock AC on her way to winning the Junior women’s race in the Irish Life Health National Cross Country Championships on Sunday. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Sometimes the hardest part of cross-country running is to stop making it look so easy. Sarah Healy couldn’t quite manage that, winning the national junior title over a properly testing course with another of those ridiculously sublime performances which are fast becoming her trademark.

Just like she did on the track this summer in winning a European under-18 double, Healy took to the country and simply bided her time. On the last of the three laps, it was time to go, Healy promptly opening a gap before coming home 18 seconds clear. At age 17, conceding two years on some of her under-20 rivals and still junior in 2020, easy as a Sunday afternoon. 

All eyes now turn to another continental prize, Healy confirming her intention to race the European Cross Country in Tilburg, Netherlands on Sunday week – and it will take an exceptionally hard runner to stop her there.

 “Well, it wasn’t that easy, no,” said Healy, who was running for Blackrock AC. “There were some hard parts on the course, and this is my first cross-country race this season, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. So just glad it went well. But I was always better at cross country, when I was younger, so I’d never skip it.”

Hockey

Also playing hockey at school at Holy Child Killiney – “two to three days of hockey, five or six days a week running, but I don’t do the same every week” – Healy has little fear of taking on the under-20 grade in Tilburg. “Under-20 is a step up, yeah, but maybe less pressure too, so just looking forward to it.”

I’m looking forward to another day in the Irish vest, fighting hard

Also moving swiftly from the track back to the country is Ciara Mageean, who won her first national senior cross-country title after a few years of trying – if not quite as easy as Healy. Annemarie McGlynn and Fionnuala Ross both tested her over the 8km course at Abbotstown before Mageean made certain of her move inside the last kilometre, winning by just three seconds from McGlynn. The European Cross Country beckons next for her, too.

“Obviously there’s a very good cross-country runner missing this year as in Finn [Fionnuala McCormack],” said Mageean, “but I’m absolutely delighted with the win, it’s testament to the hard work I’ve been putting in this winter, and definitely felt very strong out there.

“And looking forward to another day in the Irish vest, fighting hard. I know everyone says I’m a track specialist, but I cut a couple of teeth over the cross-country, finished seventh in Europe as a junior. I was bitterly disappointed to come fourth in the Europeans [in Berlin last August], but it’s given me strength, and confidence, to know I’m still up there. This is the type of running, on the country, was always going to be a bit of a cobweb-duster, and it was, but cross-country does play a big role in the track runner.”

Pure guts

There was nothing easy or certain about the way Kevin Dooney went about winning the senior men’s title, also a first on the country to add to those won on the track and the road. This was a pure guts race – and when it came down to it, Dooney simply had a little more of it, running away from pre-race favourite Sean Tobin over the last third of the race and then just about hanging on.

Dooney duly celebrated a properly hard win – and for good reason. He led his club Raheny Shamrocks to a third successive team title, and also completed a sort of family sweep – his mother Greta Hickey was a past silver winner in the senior women, and his father Roy Dooney won senior bronze back in his day. Dooney’s brother Conor would also have been racing were it not for injury, but otherwise the perfect day in the Dooney household.

The family support has always been a big, big thing for me, and so happy to have them here

“Yeah, these are the days you dream of, over the moon about it,” said Dooney, second last year, the Yale graduate also the latest in the long line of US scholarship athletes to come home a win a senior cross country title.

“All the talk coming into the race was that Sean Tobin was the man to beat, but I knew I was in good shape, and it was just a matter of going out and seeing what I could do. I knew Sean didn’t look too comfortable going through the muddy part, so I waited a few laps, and knew if I was going to break him anywhere it was going to be there. And when then moment came I hit him hard, once, and then it was just a matter of piling it on from there, keep the screw going.

‘Phenomenal’

“Look, Sean is a phenomenal athlete, we’ve raced each other since our juvenile days, and it’s always nip and tuck. He put 36 seconds into me the last time we raced here a few weeks ago, was rightfully favourite, but myself and my coach Jerry Kiernan worked hard for this. I know Sean is a tough, tough man to beat, so delighted to get the better of him. 

“It’s sad my brother is not out here, because we train together almost every day, but the family support has always been a big, big thing for me, and so happy to have them here. I was injured at the start of the year, had a long time over the summer, coming back from injury, chipping away and building the hunger for cross-country.” 

It showed and it counted – Dooney holding off Tobin in the end by just four seconds, and Tobin’s Clonmel team mate Kevin Maunsell taking third, with Brian Fay, also from Raheny, winning the under-23 title in fourth.

No less convincing or deserving in winning the junior men’s race was Darragh McElhinney from Bantry AC, cruising home with six seconds to spare over Sean O’Leary from Clonliffe, with Jamie Battle from Mullingar in third. Next stop Tilburg for all the champions.

Irish Life Health National Cross Country Championships

Sport Ireland National Sports Campus

Senior men (10km)  1. Kevin Dooney (Raheny Shamrock) 30:07, 2. Sean Tobin (Clonmel) 30:11, 3. Kevin Maunsell (Clonmel)
Team: 1. Raheny Shamrock, 2. Clonliffe Harriers, 3. Clonmel

U23 men (10km)
1. Brian Fay (Raheny Shamrock) 30:56, 2. Paul O’Donnell (DSD) 31:18, 3. Cathal Doyle (Clonliffe Harriers) 31:21 

U20 men (6km)
1. Darragh McElhinney (Bantry) 18:21, 2. Sean O’Leary (Clonliffe Harriers) 18:27, 3. Jamie Battle (Mullingar Harriers) 18:33 
Team: 1. Clonliffe Harriers, 2 Galway City Harriers, 3 Dundrum-South Dublin

Senior women (8km)
1. Ciara Mageean (UCD) 28:02, 2. Annmarie McGlynn (Letterkenny) 28:05, 3. Fionnuala Ross (Armagh) 28:08 
Team: 1. Leevale, 2. Letterkenny, 3. North Down

U23 women (8km)
1. Fian McSweeney (Dublin City Harriers) 29:13, 2. Sorcha McAlister (Westport) 29:18, Cliona Murphy (Dublin City Harriers) 30:05  

U20 women (4km)
1. Sarah Healy (Blackrock) 13:28, 2. Emma O’Brien (Sli Cualann) 13:46, 3. Jodie McCann (Dublin City Harriers) 13:53 
Team: 1. West Waterford, 2 Dundrum-South Dublin, 3 Ennis Track Club

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