Business as usual for St. Michael's
St. Michael's senior boys side who claimed the gold medal.
Tony Blair and George Bush were in Downing Street and the oval office respectively, The Celtic tiger was in full roar, and Arsenal were defending a trophy (the FA cup), the last time St Michael's College failed to win a team title at the E District schools cross-country, when Holy Cross Strabane edged them out of the inter boys gold by a single point, back in 2006.
The 2012 version of these championships was held at a cold and sunny Dungannon Park last Wednesday and it was business as usual for the Enniskillen school as they again took all five team golds and added two individual titles and five other individual medals.
The 'mini' boys were first into action and this was an incredibly close race, with over a dozen athletes in contention for the individual medals with less than 200 metres remaining.
In the end the superior strength and determination of Fermanagh schools winner Ryan Breen saw him first across the line ahead of McGrinder of Drumragh Integrated, with a fine effort for Oisin McManus seeing him secure bronze for St Michael's. St Michael's took team gold comfortably from Portora for whom Alex Holder and Angus Keys, in fifth and sixth, were the leading scorers while there were fine runs from the St Mary's Irvinestown duo of Caolan Ward (seventh) and Tiarnan Allen (15th), both qualifying for the Ulster finals. St. Colman's Newry and Methody will be fancied to contest the Ulster team title but St Michael's have medalled in this age group every year since 2006, winning the Ulster title four times, and on their day the could push for another team medal in 2012. Jade Ballantine of the Collegiate was the leading Fermanagh 'mini' girl in third in a race dominated by Tyrone athletes.
The new minor age group, now in it's second year, was dominated by St Michael's who took individual gold and silver through Donal Lynam and Ryan Flanagan and had a facile team victory with an improving Omagh CBS taking silver.
However, having won the mini title at Ulster level in 2011, this group may find that the bronze medallists on that occasion, St Malachy's, have been able to focus their energies more this time around and the Antrim Road team look probably provincial champions with St Michael's looking like potential runners-up. Mount Lourdes took team silver in the minor girls with Edel Monaghan filling the same position individually, while Victoria Watterson of the Collegiate finished fourth.
The junior boys was a Fermanagh team battle bewtween Portora and St Michael's which the Drumclay lads won, but not by much, Ryan Ballentine and Conor Keys in fifth and sixth leading the Portora challange while Niall Hoy (seventh) and Oisin Murphy (ninth) were the leading St. Michael's scorers. Interestingly, Donegal and Cavan athletes filled the first four positions in this particular race, lead home by All-Ireland minor champion Daniel Gallagher of Killybegs and Tirchonnail AC and any colour of Ulster medal would be a huge ask for either of the Enniskillen schools. Sarah Britton in fourth was the leading Fermanagh junior girl as Mount Lourdes took team bronze in a race won by St Ciaran's Ballygawley.
A great Inter boys race saw Mark McGuinness, another product of the Tirchonaill AC and Killybegs Vocational, battle toe to toe with 2011 champion Ruairi Maguire of St Michael's, the Donegal lad's greater track speed seeing him edge clear in the closing metres to win by four seconds with the massively improved Garbhan Jones of St Michael's taking bronze. St Michael's won team gold but will face a huge struggle to hold off Sullivan Upper and St. Malachy's in Mallusk. Sullivan with their Lagan Valley AC contingent looking perhaps marginal favourites, although St Malachy's may pack their scorers better and the team title could go to any of the three main protagonists. Fermanagh schools winner Craig Johnson of Devenish College finished fourth in this race and helped Devenish take team bronze behing Omagh CBS.
Sarah Jane Flanagan of Mount Lourdes and Sally Burrell of the Collegiate finished second and third in the Inter girls with Enniskillen Collegiate taking the team bronze medals.
The senior boys race saw Portora's Ryan Davidson just edged out by the fast finishing Conor Myler of Omagh CBS with Denis Green of St. Michael's in third, as St. Michael's took their fifth and final team gold with the only girls gold medal to go to a Fermanagh school coming when Mount Lourdes won the senior girls team title lead by Aine McManus in fourth position.
The leading schools and individuals now head for the windswept playing fields at Mallusk on the Antrim Plateau on February 22 where any provincial medals, never mind titles, will be hard won, with the critical final work that might give that edge, and with it a place in the All-Ireland finals in Galway on March 10, being done on roads and tracks and in the forests and over the muddy fields of Fermanagh and all over Ulster over the next ten days.
St. Michael's will unarguably be best positioned of the local schools to contest for Ulster honours but they may well have to settle for a few minor medals this time around with team or individual gold unlikely this year, as they seek to add to the 11 titles they have secured in a winning sequence going back to their first title at minor level in 2006.
This article appeared in Impartial Reporter 09 Feb 12