By Aaron Doyle
A BORRIS man has created history by becoming the first Carlow athlete to win the All-Ireland intermediate cross-country championship.
Niall Sheehan, who hails from Brook Lodge, Kilcoltrim, Borris, won the championship running in the colours of Gowran AC in Tuam, Co Galway. It was something that he has worked towards since he began running for Gowran 13 years ago.
“It was a feeling of relief, delirium and also of disbelief for a couple of hours afterwards. I still can’t believe it,” said Sheehan.
He has been on the cusp of success for the last few years. “I have been in the top 10 of the intermediate and novice races. I have been close enough without medalling,” he said. “I really wanted a medal and I was doing my utmost to come home with one. I felt I was in good shape and I knew that if I was there or thereabouts at the end, I would go for it.”
It took Sheehan a while to get going in the 8km race but once he did, he felt he wouldn’t be denied this time. “At the start, I was very nervous. It took me a while to get into the race but once I was around the 2km mark, the nerves went and I was never too far from the front,” he said. “I settled my mind and I knew I would be in the mix around the end. Doing a race like this, you need to be mentally prepared as well as physically prepared.”
Being an All-Ireland champion comes with its own pressures. Sheehan sees winning the race as something that has changed his own expectations, as he is now promoted to the senior ranks.
“It has nearly changed my own perception as to how I can do in these races. It has given me more self-confidence,” said Sheehan.
Being the first Carlow man to win the Intermediate race came as a surprise to Sheehan. “I had to look it up afterwards. My neighbour, Mick Kelly from Ballymurphy, came third 12 years ago while I know Tommy Payne came second back in the ’80s but it came as a surprise to me that I was the first,” said Sheehan.
He is currently living and working as a quantity surveyor in Dublin, having lived in the UK for the last eight years. Balancing work and running is a difficult mix but having made changes in his life, he feels he can balance the two.
“It is hard but I manage to do it. I have had to curtail my social life and I have also had to lose some time with my family and friends,” he said.
Sheehan still has ties with his former club in the UK – Newham and Essex Beagles – and the next race he is preparing for is the English cross-country championships which takes place in Nottingham on 25 February. He will return to Ireland afterwards as he begins preparing for the track season in the summer.