Sarah Healy continues brilliant summer with first senior 1,500m title

Ciara Neville enjoys success in the 100m while Ciara Mageean and Mark English take titles

 

Times they are a-changin’ – or it feels that way when the next generation of Irish athletes are stealing the spotlight at the National Championships, and none more impressively than Sarah Healy.

Seven days after winning the silver medal at the European Under-20 Championships in Sweden, Healy won her first senior 1,500 metres title in utterly convincing style, the 18-year-old hitting the front with a lap and a half to run and not once looking back.

After the proverbial crawl to 800m, Healy clocked 61 seconds for the last lap, impressive running by any standards, winning in 4:31.84 ahead of the hotly fancied Síofra Cléirigh Büttner, who simply didn’t have the legs to match Healy and took second in 4:32.26 – all the sting taken out of the rest of the field too, most several years Healy’s senior.

“Really happy to win, especially against so many good girls,” said Healy, still fresh out her Leaving Cert year at Holy Child Killiney, running here in the red of Blackrock AC. “It’s been a great week, coming home from Sweden, straight on to this. I’ve been training all year, so trying to make the most of it. I didn’t want to wait too long and leave it to the last lap, because it’s anyone’s race then, so pleased to win from the front.”

The hard way too, at 18 the youngest champion on the track all weekend, and not likely to be her last, the women’s blue riband event traditionally one of the hardest titles to win.

The race for fastest woman in Ireland also went to 20-year-old rising star Ciara Neville, from the Emerald Club in Limerick, who produced a championship best performance of 11.33 seconds to properly announce her arrival onto the senior stage.

Only Phil Healy’s Irish record of 11.28 is quicker, Healy winning the 200m here in 23.28, only for Neville it’s another clear sign of faster things to come, her 11.40 in the heats ruled out because the wind gauge wasn’t switched on.

Ciara Neville of Emerald AC in Co Limerick, centre, on her way to winning the women’s 100m, ahead of Molly Scott of St Laurence O’Toole AC, Co Carlow, left, and Joan Healy of Leevale AC, Co Cork. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Ciara Neville of Emerald AC in Co Limerick, centre, on her way to winning the women’s 100m, ahead of Molly Scott of St Laurence O’Toole AC, Co Carlow, left, and Joan Healy of Leevale AC, Co Cork. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

“I felt great in the heats on Saturday, felt even better here, so delighted to get the personal best,” said Neville, defending champion Gina Apke-Moses only managing fifth in 11.63. “I’ve been waiting for the right race all year, and I knew in the right conditions I’d drop a good time, and absolutely thrilled.”

There was a taste of the next generation in other ways too – Hiko Tonosa winning the 5,000m in 14:21.41, after a fierce last lap and despite a spike problem, the Dundrum South Dublin runner the first refugee status athlete to win an Irish senior title on the track, just two years after his arrival here from Ethiopia.

Not that all the old guard are surrendering just yet: Ciara Mageean won a hat-trick of 800m titles, moving down from her preferred event, and Mark English also made it six successive men’s 800m wins, seven in all, his 1:48.15 actually the fastest of the lot.

There is also a strength and grace about her running right now which suggests Mageean is approaching a peak, which is exciting and challenging, considering the headline event of the season – the World Championships in Doha – are still nine weeks away. After biding her time, she hit the front coming into the home stretch to win in 2:07.30, just holding off her younger rivals Katie Kirk (2:07.56) and Nadia Power (2:08.03).

“The only strategy was to win, so delighted with that,” said Mageean. “I just wanted to be up there, then kick for home, and nice to get a good run to the line. I feel like I’ve taken another step forward this season, and I’m where I want to be. I’m running 4:01, 4:03 on a day when I didn’t feel good, so it’s about staying there now.”

Indeed with Doha nine weeks away, Mageean hopes to run faster still, possibly closing in on Sonia O’Sullivan Irish 1,500m record of 3:58.85, which has stood since 1995.

“I always want to run the fastest that I can run, improve my best, it that means national records, that’s fantastic. It’s always there, not something I stress about, but things like sub-2, sub-4, these are things I do think about. I’m in the shape of my life, and Sonia’s times over a lot of distances are amazing, so knowing I’m close to that, also means I’m in the realms of a World final.”

English still needs to nail the 1:45.80 qualifying time for Doha, but having recently completed his medical studies at UCD, he’s now committed full-time to next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“The biggest aim for me now is Tokyo, and the Irish record,” said English, pressed to the line by another youngster, John Fitzsimons, who ran 1:48.24. “I had planned to qualify early, for Doha, so maybe it’s worked out better for me, with races next Cork, Birmingham, and the Morton Games. But really happy with how that went.”

With a minor calf injury denying Thomas Barr the chance to win a ninth successive 400m hurdles title, Paul Byrne from the St Abbans club in Laois was “no longer the bridesmaid”, taking a deserved win in 51.73. The 400m flat went to Chris O’Donnell in 47.05, Harry Purcell’s slightly miscued dive seeing him fall over in second, 47.09.

On the field however there was a 10th title for Denis Finegan in the men’s triple jump, with his best of 14.74m, with Sarah Buggy also adding another national title by winning the women’s event with 12.70m. Michaela Walsh from Swinford also defended her hammer title with a best of 56.14m, also adding the shot in 36.90m.

The race for Ireland’s fastest man in 2019 was won by a Jamaican, Travane Morrison, representing Tralee Harriers AC, where he’s currently studying, taking the win in 10.61, denying Paralympics star Jason Smyth title number three, a close second here in 10.63.

Leon Reid defended his 200m title in 20.62, snatching past Marcus Lawler (20.68) over the line, John Travers also defending his 1,500 title, while the longest track race on Saturday went to Stephen Scullion, who defended his 10,000m in 29:36.33 in pleasant sunshine, then confirmed his intention to run the marathon in Doha, which will start at midnight to offer some relief from the average 35 degrees Celsius in October, with 85 per cent humidity.

In winning the 5,000m in 15:51.97, Fionnuala McCormack also made it national title number 15, between the track and cross country. Times slow to change there.

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