The Irish Athletics team travelled to Lisbon for the Spar European Cross Country Championships and returned with two individual as well as two team medals. These are perhaps of even greater significance given that Ireland will host the 2020 staging of the Championships at the Sport Ireland National Sports Campus.
Efrem Gidey got the medal haul underway with a fine individual bronze in the men’s U20 race that was won for the fourth time by Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen. Unfortunately, it was heartbreak for the U20 men’s team finishing fourth on countback.
Then it was a super silver medal for the U23 women’s team with a brilliant individual bronze for Stephanie Cotter of the West Muskerry Athletic Club in Cork.
She was back up by her Adams State College teammates, and twins, Eilish and Roisin Flanagan in 9th and 17th followed by Fian Sweeney from Dublin City Harriers in 38th, Claire Fagan of Mullingar Harriers in 47th and Sorcha McAlister from Westport in 57th.
Finally, it was the turn of Fionnuala McCormack of Kilcoole to cap off a wonderful day of Irish performances even though they were tinged with some frustration and near misses.
McCormack was making a record 16th appearance at the Championships but just missed out on the bronze medal in fourth by a wafer-thin two seconds.
There was a literal silver lining though as the senior women finished second with Aoibhe Richardson in 17th, Ciara Mageean in 20th, Mary Mulhare in 35th, Fionnuala’s sister Una Britton in 37th and Fionnuala Ross in 47th.
Ireland placed fourth out of 21 countries on the overall table. These were Ireland’s first medals since 2015 in Hyeres, France.
The Irish team also won the second most amount of medals behind Great Britain & Northern Ireland to cap off the most successful championships in the history of the event.
The cross country was backed up by brilliant performances at the European Short Course Swimming Championships in Sweden.
Mona MacSharry has already won Bronze on Thursday and the medal tally was doubled when Shane Ryan produced an outstanding performance to repeat his 2018 Medal-winning performance finishing in third place in 23.12.
Overall through the week the group of 19 swimmers set 20 National Records (fifteen Irish Senior Records and four Irish Junior Records), competed in ten semi-finals, nine finals and took home two medals.
“These five days of racing in Glasgow have seen this group of Irish athletes very much start to come of age as a high performing international team,” said National Performance director John Rudd.
“Our impressive statistics at this Championships speak for themselves, in terms of lifetime best performances, the podiums and the finals, and the numerous ground-breaking National records that we have achieved.”
“To see two Irish relays make European finals at senior level is also exceptionally pleasing. The positivity, support and connectivity within this team is the strongest I have ever seen it and this stands us in great stead as we prepare to galvanise as a swimming nation for our Olympic Trials in Dublin in April, a further European Championships in Budapest in May, which will see us challenge to cement one or more Olympic relay berths, and, ultimately, the Tokyo Olympic Games in July.”
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Image credit: Giorgio Scala, Inpho.ie