The All Ireland Schools Cross Country finals are the climax of the underage season and the 2019 version, held on a firm and flat course in the grounds of Clongowes Wood College, Kildare on Saturday, saw a number of fine Fermanagh performances, including excellent runs by Sophia Williams and Oisin Cassidy and a very good fourth place in the junior girls team competition for Mount Lourdes.

Foremost amongst the local individuals was Sophia Williams who, for the second consecutive year, finished in the top ten, this time in the Junior age group, having done the same on a very different course in the minor age group 12 months ago.

The Enniskillen Royal Grammar School pupil, a member of Enniskillen Running Club, is a gritty and determined competitor and showed all her battling qualities in taking ninth place over the 2500m race, where she was always prominent near the head of a high quality field, a position which should leave her strongly placed for international selection for the SIAB international at the end of this month.

She will no doubt also be pleased to have been third Ulster finisher having placed fifth at the provincial finals a few weeks ago.

An equally impressive performance was the 15th place finish of Oisin Cassidy in the Intermediate boys race.

Most athletics coaches and observers agree that this is the most high quality and difficult of all the races at schools level and, in the absence of a St Michael’s team at the national finals for the first time in 15 years the Derrylin athlete, who also runs with ERC, produced his best Irish schools finish to date.

He worked his way steadily through the field moving for the high 20s at half way to take the top 15 placing in a group sprint, just four seconds shy of 12th spot.

Having had a below par day at the Ulster finals, finishing 13th, this was an excellent run as he was the fifth Ulster athlete across the line.

There was also a fine team effort from the Mount Lourdes Junior girls team who finished fourth in their team competition.

This was a big improvement on their eight place finish in Waterford 12 months ago and should hopefully encourage this talented group to keep working at their athletics.

They were led home by Carla McCool, with Muireann Duffy and Cliodhna Martin the other scorers and the team was completed by Grainne Duffy and Louise Deery while in the same age group there was a fine run from Ellie McDonald representing Devenish College who was second Fermanagh finisher just behind her club mate Carla McCool.

Fourth place in Ireland is a fine effort and it may not be long before Mount Lourdes are on the podium at national level again.

This collective group of Fermanagh Junior girls are a very talented bunch and there are some excellent Mini and Minor girls coming behind them and, after the St Michael’s era of flying the Fermanagh flag at Irish level, ten national medals and three titles from 2006-2016, it looks as though it will be to the girls we look for success in the coming years, if they keep motivated and believe in the obvious talent that they possess and in their coaches at school and club.

The one disappointment of the day from a local perspective was the failure to finish of Ronain Maguire of Erne Integrated College in the Senior boys, but this as no surprise as he had been suffering from flu all week, and a lesser athlete would not even have travelled to Kildare.

Ronain has shown that he has the ability and determination to have a very successful athletics career and hopefully, unlike several talented Fermanagh boys whose career has effectively ended at schools level, he will keep on competing and progressing as he moves to third level education next year.

This brings the 2019 schools cross country season to an end, a season which has seen Ulster team titles for St Michael’s and Mount Lourdes and a host of individual talents coming to the fore, hopefully a prelude to success in the years ahead for young Fermanagh athletes at club and school level.