2020 Celtic International

Celtic International

Stirling was the Scottish venue for this year’s Celtic International. In former years battles at nearby Brannock Burns, The Bridge of Allen and Stirling itself were fought between the Scots and English. Last weekend it was the turn of the Irish to battle for Cross Country honours. A battle with the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish. In fact there were three races incorporated into one; the Celtic International, the final leg of the British Cross Country Challenge and the Scottish Inter district championships. There was success for Kilkenny athletes as Ireland were 3rd in the under 17 bringing team medals back to the county.

Set in Kings Park with Stirling Castle towering over a fantastic cross country location, David Williams (St Senans) and Tadgh Connolly (St Senans) took their places at the start line for Ireland. This was Tadgh’s second International, having competed in the Celtics in Belfast last year. Stirling was David’s International debut. Both athletes were selected on the strength of their performances at All Ireland Cross Country Championships. Kilkenny has a good reputation for athletes competing in the Celtic International. Last year there were six athletes selected from five different clubs. St Senans this year had the unusual distinction of having two on the same team.

Competing in the u17 event David was two years younger than most of the competitors and Tadgh one year younger. The difference is age being accounted for the difference in age classifications in the UK and Ireland and the fact that the UK only runs juvenile events for u11, 13, 15 and 17. Every country has a different process and this works for them. There were 81 starters in the race (which was of course three races in one). Scotland unlike other countries has adopted the policy of equal distances for male and female athletes so the athletes faced the challenge of racing over distances which are much longer than they are used to. Thus Tadgh and David moved up by 2km to race the 6km distance – a challenge in itself.

With the underfoot conditions the muckiest and wettest seen in decades and persistent heavy rain all day and the day before, navigating the course itself was always going to be the biggest challenge of all. The Irish girls u17 had done very well with Emma Landers of Youghal taking second in the overall British Cross Challenge and first of the Celtic race. Ireland finished 3rd. The boys had a lot to live up to. The race traversed over two 3km laps each part of the race filled with challenges of the underfoot conditions, tight bends and at the top part of the course challenging hills. This was Scotland and this venue has long been respected as a great cross country course. Tadgh Connolly went out hard and led the Irish challenge for the first 1km before being caught by Belfast’s Jake Stafford and Joel Chambers. Up front however it was Jenson Connell from Mansfield AC in England who was forging ahead, navigating the terrain without any difficulty. David Williams started conservatively, preferring to settle into a good rhythm for this much longer distance before using his natural speed to push further up the field. With 2km completed it was Jack McCausland of Lisburn who was become the Irish athlete of note as he worked his way to become the leading Irishman. A position he retained to the end. Interestingly enough Jack was only 5th in the Nationals.

Tadgh Connolly was now racing alongside three other Irish guys with David Williams not too far behind with Myles Hewlett of Wexford and Jack Fenlon of Laois –comrades and rivals for years. At the multiple bends with almost 3km completed there were lots of slipping and sliding, in fact Archie Lowe of Middlesborough had mounted a challenge on the lead and was knocked back with not just one slide in the mud but three. This enabled Connell to gain further momentum and extend his lead even further that it had been. Jack Patton of Scotland was leading a group of 8 athletes in 3rd place.  Tadgh Connolly was holding steady 20m behind and David Williams was moving nicely through the field. Often the muddy conditions suit one athlete more than another, for Connolly who is tall and powerful, it was probably not his ideal course, whereas Williams who is slight and smaller glided easily over the terrain, his lower centre of gravity preventing any falling. At the end of the race Tadgh Connolly was 12th home in the Celtic International one second ahead of fast finishing David Williams who was in 13th. The Irish team was 3rd a great achievement, considering how young they were, with all athletes turning either 15 or 16 in 2020. By comparison Scotland and Northern Ireland’s teams all consisted of athletes turning 17 before September or 18 after September.

St Senans AC also brought 5 of their 14 and 15 year olds over for the experience. They all raced in the u15 event. Caoimhe Phelan was very impressive as she endured the tough competition to finish 16th, still being eligible for this race next year. Always a tough competitor she thrived on the challenge of completing her first 4km race and navigating the difficult course. Club mate Molly Long was 61st. In the boys u15 Gearoid Long will have gained very good experience and motivation from the 4km race, which will hopefully transfer into serious ambition for 2020. He finished 47th, with Ben Wallis have a great race in 61st and Naoise Gilmartin finishing 68th.

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