THERE were two new names on the Johnny Jones and John Lambert Cups when James McAssey and Bronwen Kiernan were crowned champions following an absorbing day of athletics at the Carlow senior cross-country championships held in ideal weather conditions in Ballon on Sunday.
For the first time since 1996, the championships were held at the Ballon village venue and it is to the great credit of the event organisers led by Jim Hogan that the course was excellently marked and in perfect condition on the day.
The first event on the day’s programme was the Ladies 5km event over two laps of a 2.5km circuit where the Lambert Cup was at stake for the wining team. For the first time in many years there were three competing teams on the start line with favourites St Laurence O’Toole, host club Ballon/Rathoe and debut club Barrow Valley all in contention.
This race has been very keenly contested in recent times with two-time champion Mary Claire Byrne defending her title following her sprint finish win over club-mate Riona Ni Mhuirteaigh in Tinryland last year.
The opening event on the domestic senior calendar did not disappoint with the St Laurence O’Toole quartet of Mary Clare Byrne and newcomers Bronwen Kiernan, Ruth Kavanagh and Emma Furey all forming a breakaway group from the remainder of the 20-strong field inside the first 600m.
While the team contest was never in doubt at this point, the race for individual honours stepped up as the race progressed with Ruth Kavanagh leading while her St Laurence O’Toole club-mates kept in pursuit through the opening lap. As the group entered the final lap, there was no indication as to where the winner would emerge from as the leading pack kept together towards the closing stages. It was only as the four athletes came into the penultimate field that Dublin native Bronwen Kiernan took the lead and formed a narrow lead over fellow first time competitor Emma Furey with Ruth Kavanagh and Mary Clare Byrne battling it out for the final place on the podium.
In what was one of the more exciting finishes in recent years, Bronwen Kiernan produced an excellent fast-running finish to win her maiden title in a time of 21 minutes and 23 seconds, which was just three seconds ahead of the equally impressive Emma Furey with the same margin separating bronze medal winner Ruth Kavanagh from Mary Clare Byrne finishing in fourth position in 21:32, which was just nine seconds behind the winner.
In 5th was Maire Griffith with last year’s bronze medal winner Elaine Gibson of the host club in 6th position. In 7th place was the experienced Brid Long of St Laurence O’Toole with Elaine Townsend of Ballon/Rathoe in 8th ahead of Orla Thornton of St Laurence O’Toole 9th and Caitriona Murphy of first time entrants Barrow Valley in 10th position.
For the record, the complete Barrow Valley team consisted of Caitriona Murphy, Christine Stanley, Eleanor Dunphy and Muireann Ranta, most of whom were competing in their first championships on the day.
The team event was won by St Laurence O’Toole with the minimum 10 points while Ballon/Rathoe were a very creditable second with 38 points. Their scorers were Elaine Gibson, Elaine Townsend, Laura O’Donoghue (11th) and Rebecca Stanley (13th) with Barrow Valley third overall with a total of 57 points.
The second event on the race programme was the senior men’s 10km where the Johnny Jones Cup for the individual winner and the Odlum Cup for best team were up for grabs with Brian Kirwan aiming to win his sixth consecutive title and lead his club, St Laurence O’Toole, to the overall title in the process.
Alongside Brian Kirwan, other challengers for the honours included 2015 runner-up James McAssey and youngster Oran O’Flaherty, both from the Carlow town club, with Tinryland being led by Pat Byrne and Colin Payne whose father, 13-time winner Tommy Payne was a notable absentee on the day due to illness.
Besides the perennial rivals, St Laurence O’Toole and Tinryland, Ballon/Rathoe fielded a complete team for the second year in a row with other athletes representing Bagenalstown on the day.
The eagerly anticipated race finally started following John Hayden’s starting gun at 1pm with the St Laurence O’Toole quintet of Brian Kirwan, James McAssey, Oran O’Flaherty, Mick Kelly and Eamonn Murphy setting the running and forming a marginal lead over 12-time winner Pat Byrne and Colin Payne with fellow Tinryland club-mates Willie Quinlan and Fran Gahan slightly further back in the third group which also consisted of Trevor Corcoran of St Laurence O’Toole.
The positions remained broadly the same in the opening lap of the challenging 10km course with McAssey slightly ahead of Kirwan on the conclusion of the first circuit as Tinryland athletes attempted to make further inroads into the St Laurence O’Toole team lead.
The major turning point in the event came midway through the second loop when James McAssey made what was to be his decisive break away from Brian Kirwan and he quickly formed a 50-metre lead as he gathered momentum to win his first Carlow senior title, having previously won Carlow novice honours in 2014.
Following the two leaders was Oran O’Flaherty while Tinryland athletes Pat Byrne and Colin Payne gradually overhauled the St Laurence O’Toole pair of Mick Kelly and Eamonn Murphy, although at this point it was clear to the large crowd that St Laurence O’Toole were set to retain the Odlum Cup.
As the third and fourth circuits progressed, James McAssey went from strength to strength and by the final bell he was over 150 metres clear. He never yielded in the closing stages and proved to be a very popular winner, receiving a massive ovation in the final 100m as he took his first title in a time of 35 minutes 52 seconds.
The young maths and PE teacher was overjoyed to win on the day and commented afterwards that he made a conscious decision to extend his winning lead at the right stage on the second lap. He now goes one better than his father who was a silver medallist to Denis Shannon in 1977.
A very impressive runner-up and first time individual medallist was Oran O’Flaherty in 36:36 who withstood the challenge of the outgoing champion Brian Kirwan who was a further 31 seconds adrift. The result meant St Laurence O’Toole completed a 1-2-3 for the first time in some years.
In fourth place was Pat Byrne who improved significantly in the latter stages of the event but was outside the individual medals for the first time since winning his first Carlow title in Ballymoon in 2000. He deserves great credit for maintaining such a long consecutive run on the podium at these championships.
In fifth position was Colin Payne who will hopefully build on this promising performance over the coming season while Mick Kelly, Eamonn Murphy and Trevor Corcoran all placed well to complete the winning St Laurence O’Toole sextet who sealed a 27th Odlum Cup with a total of 27 points.
The runners-up team from Tinryland was completed by Carlow novice winner and GAA legend Willie Quinlan in ninth, marathon runner Fran Gahan (10th), French native Arnaud Bonvarlet (14th) and John Dillon (16th) with a total team score of 58 points.
The third placed club on 117 points were Ballon/Rathoe who continue to be a welcome addition to these championships with their scorers being Matthew English-Hayden (17th), Padraig George (18th), Paddy Doyle (19th), Damien Malone (20th), Kevin Maher (21st) and John Buggy (22nd).
While the ground was constantly challenging with very long circuits, supporters flocked to various parts of the course to give encouragement to the competitors who all deserve great credit for competing so admirably on the day.
Before the senior men’s event, county secretary PL Curran paid tribute to friends of Carlow athletics who had passed away in the previous year including recently deceased Carlow vice-president Michael ‘Mim’ Gorman.
Music was provided by Caroline Byrne while Joe Whelan sang the national anthem.
Following both races, the individual medals and team titles were presented at the finish area in front of the spectators after what was a great advertisement for cross-country athletics in Carlow.
Carlow Cross Country Championship Results
Senior Ladies 5km
1st Bronwen Kiernan (St Laurence O’Toole AC, SLOT) 21:23. 2nd Emma Furey (SLOT) 21:26. 3rd Ruth Kavanagh (SLOT) 21:29. 4th Mary Claire Byrne (SLOT) 21:32. 5th Maire Griffith (Ind) 22:28. 6th Elaine Gibson (Ballon/Rathoe) 23:34. 7th Brid Long (SLOT) 23:51. 8th Elaine Townsend (Ballon/Rathoe) 25:30. 9th Orla Thornton (SLOT) 27:35. 10th Caitriona Murphy (Barrow Valley) 28:07. 11th Laura O’Donoghue (Ballon/Rathoe) 28:52. 12th Christine Stanley (Barrow Valley) 29:29. 13th Rebecca McCaffrey (Ballon/Rathoe) 29:40. 14th Marian Dowling (Ballon/Rathoe) 30:16. 15th Eleanor Dunphy (Barrow Valley) 30:59. 16th Muireann Ranta (Barrow Valley) 32:34
Ladies teams (John Lambert Cup): 1st St Laurence O’Toole (1, 2, 3, 4) 10pts. 2nd Ballon/Rathoe (6, 8, 11, 13) 38pts. 3rd Barrow Valley (10, 12, 15, 16) 53pts.
Senior Men 10km
1st James McAssey (SLOT) 35:52. 2nd Oran O’Flaherty (SLOT) 36:36. 3rd Brian Kirwan (SLOT) 37:07. 4th Pat Byrne (Tinryland) 37:12. 5th Colin Payne (Tinryland) 37:40. 6th Mick Kelly (SLOT) 37:49. 7th Eamonn Murphy (SLOT) 37:58. 8th Trevor Corcoran (SLOT) 38:53. 9th Willie Quinlan (Tinryland) 38:58. 10th Fran Gahan (Tinryland) 40:16. 11th Seamus English-Hayden (SLOT) 41:10. 12th Ken Archbold (SLOT) 42:06. 13th David Ashmore (Bagenalstown) 42:58. 14th Arnaud Bonvarlet (Tinryland) 43:02. 15th Rock Pender (SLOT) 43:33. 16th John Dillon (Tinryland) 43:50. 17th Matthew English Hayden (Ballon/Rathoe) 44:18. 18th Padraig George (Ballon/Rathoe) 44:27. 19th Paddy Doyle (Ballon/Rathoe) 45:32. 20th Damien Malone (Ballon/Rathoe) 47:16. 21st Kevin Maher (Ballon/Rathoe) 47:38. 22nd John Buggy (Ballon/Rathoe) 52:11.
Men’s teams (Odlum Cup): 1st St Laurence O’Toole (1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8) 27pts. 2nd Tinryland (4, 5, 9, 10, 14, 16) 58pts. 3rd Ballon/Rathoe (17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22) 117pts