Healy runs away with ju­nior ti­tle

17-year-old is eye­ing up Euro­pean Cross-Coun­try in Til­burg next week

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports - Ian O’Rior­dan at Na­tional Sports Cam­pus

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 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.”

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, but maybe less pres­sure too, so just look­ing for­ward to it.”

Mageean

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 in 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 had a lit­tle more of it, run­ning away from favourite Seán 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.

“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 Seán 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 Seán 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.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: INPHO

Run­ners line up be­fore the start of the girls cross-coun­try un­der-12 race at the Na­tional Se­nior Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onships, Na­tional Sports Cam­pus, Dublin, yes­ter­day.

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