Donore Senior men were agonisingly 1 second off a Second National Senior Relay Title in 2 years on Sunday. It capped a day of strong Donore performances which saw 7 teams all place strongly in Men’s and Ladies Senior and Masters events. Big improvements were noted in many performances on last year and are a testament to the dedication of athletes and coaches this year…….
Donore came to the Road relays in Raheny this year having won the Men’s senior 2 years ago and the Men’s Masters last year and with 4 ladies teams all of the members had shown great improvements over the winter, so hopes were deservedly high.
A great number of coaches and supporters, relatives and friends were there to cheer on the teams and it is no exaggeration to say the overall standard this year was phenomenal and definitely the best fields assembled in all the races in recent memory. We had A and B teams in every event except the Men’s Masters which was as good a participation as only one other club.
First up the Ladies Masters. Karen Behan (A) and Rhona Duane (B) had fine lead off runs and the intense nature of the competition was evident from a significant fall right on the very first straight. Our ladies were very solid and Karen brought back memories of her Dublin Intermediate cross-country win with her fast finish. Barbara Murray (A) had superb 2 mile leg running 12min 08 Julia Hackett(B) paced her race as she always does so well to leave the teams well placed. The final flourish was down to Bronagh Eliot and Audrey Gahan who were both debuting at the relays but showed their wonderful speed to bring the team’s home in 8th and 13th in a field of 25 teams.
The Masters Men featured a brand new A team to last year and gave a superb defence to the title the Masters men won last year. Fergal Swaine in a year where he has come right back to his very best form got stuck in from go and kept the lads in good contention with sub 5 opening mile. Rossa Hurley captain fantastic of the men’s squad this year did another captains performance with a superb 2 mile leg bringing the men right into reach of the medals taking several big scalps out on his leg with a 10mins 10 secs performance of superb pacing. Donal Iremonger who was part of the silver medal senior team from 2004 showed his class over middle distance with a great run and brought the home team in 5th in the end, despite huge pressure from several other clubs.
The senior ladies were next up Sorcha Ni Dhomhnaill (A) romped the girls right in the medal contention on her first mile with a 5min 17s. Her twin sister Ide had the tough task of the all-important 2 mile and gave a great performance running an 11min 19s. The gaps had begun to emerge in the field with several internationals having done that leg in the women’s race and Sinead Lambe was never under pressure from behind and the ladies A finished a very impressive 6th in a top class field. They were second Dublin club behind UCD a point worth noting and over a minute ahead of last years A team performance. Our B team had a great run Aisling Swaine running under her usual distance with a very solid 5min 44 mile, Aisling Ni Dhomhnaill with a 12mins 2 mile and Maura Kearns with a massively improve on last year mile of 5min 24 which bodes hugely well for the track season coming up. The B ladies were a very creditable 13th.
Finally the Senior men were ready to go, all kinds of rumours were abound, Ennis had a strong team, Raheny would always be the favourites, and Letterkenny were seen as a dark horse. The legs of 2, 1, 3, 2 miles respectively are a true test of clubs distance and middle distance strengths. The Donore A team was the guts of the superb winning team of 2 years ago, so the lads knew they were right in there. Lee Van Haeften led the men out just like two years ago. He has battled injury and illness and come back strong after Christmas and although not quite the run he had two years ago he did his job superbly keeping us right in striking range after the first leg just off the lead pack. Ray Hynes stepped down and aced the mile and brought us right into the thick of it, but gaps had opened and Raheny Shamrocks in particular had made a break. Kilkenny City Harriers and DSD were also ahead of Donore at this point. Up stepped our double reigning National Indoor and Outdoor 1500m champion John Travers for the tough all-important 3 mile leg. John ran not only a course record of 14min 04 but ran a supremely maturely paced 3 laps getting us into 2nd after lap 1 and surging passed Raheny on Lap 2 and held that lead handing off to Eric Keogh with 3 second gap. Was it enough, how would it play out.
Conor Dooney of Raheny bridged the gap leaving the nervous crowd to speculate if he could break Eric, or if Eric could hang on. Playing to his strengths Eric sat coolly in behind Conor. It was a titanic struggle with Conor doing everything to break Eric and he just got away with under a half a mile to go but Eric did not give up. Flat out and his legs reeling in lactic he grimly would not be shrugged off and one last unbelievable kick up the home straight brought him within a second of snatching a famous gold. It was a thrilling race and a momentous effort from our team who ran their hearts out only to taste the bitterness of so nearly winning. The team ran faster than they did to win in 2015 and Eric ran a 9min 20 leg faster by 20 second than his finishing leg 2 years ago that brought home the gold. It can only be said they left nothing behind and the Raheny team were pushed to the very edge and deserve great credit for their fine performance.
Meanwhile our Men’s senior B team with road relay Donore debutants all, Kevin Nolan, Michael Rickard, Paul Cummins and Tristan Druet (our new joint senior men’s coach) had a fine run finishing strongly and with good individual times. They are all aiming for 1500 or lower on the track so their runs will stand to them as the season goes on.
It was noticeable that nearly everyone’s individual performance was up on last year across all the teams and given we had 7 teams and consistently featured with our A teams in all events Donore had one of the strongest representations of any club. We certainly had a huge number of supporters and their encouragement really spurred the teams on. It is a great tribute to great work from Willie Smith as Ladies coach filling the shoes of Jim McNamara this year and the hard work of all the ladies that we fielded I think our best Ladies teams in years. There was great team spirit from our men who targeted this championship and with Ciaran O’Flaherty and Tristan Druet now setting the coaching plan for the men we hope to see even more of a great squad we have down at training partaking in all the club championship events.
A fine day for Donore indeed.
Report by Iain Morrison