St. MICHAEL’s showed impressive form last week as they secured five sets of silver medals from seven races contested over a four day period.
The ‘blue vests’ of St Michael’s saw action in contrasting venues and conditions last week when they contested the annual DCU schools invitational cross-country and the Antrim International event, as they continue to build up towards the schools championships over the next few weeks.
On Wednesday the action was in Dublin at the DCU schools invitational, where conditions were surprisingly benign, with cold but dry weather overhead and a fairly firm course with the addition of a few ‘man made’ obstacles in the shape of some hay bales to be hurdled on each lap.
St Michael’s minor (U14) team were first off with a huge field of over two hundred facing the starter and with Oisin Cassidy and Conor Murphy always prominent in the lead group the Enniskillen lads were well positioned to get team medals. Cassidy eventually finished 5th with Murphy a few strides behind in 6th but the ‘blue vests’ had to go back to 32nd for third scorer Daire McKenna with impressive first year Cormac McCauley completing the scoring team in 34th. Colaiste Eoin from Dublin packed that bit better and, despite only having one athlete in the top ten, they edged St Michael’s by seven points for team gold with St Aidan’s CBS third just three points behind St Michael’s. Indeed the importance of fighting for every place was shown by the fact the only 17 points separated 1st from 6th.
The junior (U15) boys race was dominated by a very strong St Colman’s Newry squad who had five top 10 finishers. St Michael’s packed very well with James Cox 13th, Joe McDade 16th, Sean Murray 19th and Ben Corrigan 25th for a clear second place but if they want to contest Ulster or Irish medals they will need at least one individual in the top eight to 10 places. St Colman’s and Omagh CBS will be favourites for Ulster honours, with the final All-Ireland place probably between St Malachy’s and St Michael’s and a school ski trip next week, for almost all the team, thrown into the mix, it will be a good achievement to make it as far as the national finals where, with four more weeks to prepare, anything could happen.
One of the best performances in Dublin came from the Intermediate squad, who, while not in the medals in fifth place, had their best run as a team by far, lead by James Boyle 20th with Rory Baird 27th, Sean Vaugh 36th and Matt Nelson 37th the four scorers and, while the two Newry schools, St Malachy’s and Omagh CBS will be fancied to contest the three All-Ireland places available in three weeks time, there is always room for an outsider to slip into the medal positions and a first All-Ireland qualification for a group who, as first years finished 10th in Ulster, would be a major and deserved achievement.
St Michael’s senior squad also took silver on Wednesday behind a very powerful St Aidan’s CBS squad, the defending All-Ireland schools champions all of whom run with the famous Clonliffe Harriers club showing all their strength in depth to dominate. Jacob Britton was really the only St Michael’s athlete to compete up to his potential with a good seventh place with Jack Scallon 18th, the battling Bruce Worley 21st and the improving Conor McNally 24th the scoring quartet and it will take a fully healthy and focussed team to deny St Malachy’s a defence of their Ulster senior title.
On Saturday the IAAF international and UK Cross Challenge meeting was greeted by cold wet conditions in Antrim and a course which quickly deteriorated as smaller but high quality fields contested under age and senior races. St Michael’s took 2nd in the U13 race packing better than on Wednesday with Oisin Cassidy 9th, Conor Murphy 11th and Oliver Hughes Jordan 14th the three scorers but both the leading finishes in particular will be hopefully of improving on their finishing strength, having been within striking distance of third until the closing four hundred metres. The U15 team finished 6th in their team contest just two points behind fourth with the scoring trio Sean Vaugh, James Cox and Ben Corrigan. With almost all the team in their first year in this age group this was a solid effort.
St Michael’s U17 squad had to settle for 2nd behind DSD athletic club, the All-Ireland club champions. Jacob Britton was again St Michael’s first scorer with very good runs from both Conor McNally and James Boyle to be the other counters, but again all the indications were there that there will need to be a significant lift in team performance if that elusive second provincial senior schools title is to be attainable.
For St Michael’s this was a most beneficial work as attention turns to the country, district and provincial schools championships. If full healthy squads make it to Mallusk on February 10 they can undoubtedly be competitive in every age group and contest for titles in at least two or three categories.