4 Points for 4 Provinces; Mulcaire to chop the Wood at Clongowes
The Heavyweight Clash
The big draw this weekend will be the Senior Boys race which takes place at 2:40pm.
It’s an unlikely situation, this race. Two hugely talented athletes going toe to toe in front of a partisan crowd at Clongowes Wood College . Kevin Mulcaire, the Intermediate champion, winner of the 1500m and 3000m double at the schools. Multiple National titles, first Irishman home at Europeans. He has the endurance, he has the speed, and winning the national junior title last week shows he is in form. A shoe in, a no brainer, right?
In the other corner Jack O’ Leary might have an issue with such an assessment. He won in the Leinster Schools with a storming run, breaking away from Andrew Coscoran and pummelling the field, looking comfortable all the way. He has also recently run 8:20 indoors for 3,000m to show that he too has the wheels for a last-gasp battle up the home straight.
Recently I watched a documentary on Chuck Wepner, the real Rocky and it reminded me once again how cheesy but uplifting the Rocky series of films is. Here we have our Apollo Creed, Mulcaire: the champ with all the tools. O’Leary, on the other hand, is the underdog, an athlete with far more tools than an ageing Sly Stallone but with the same determination to upset the apple cart and push Mulcaire through the full 15 rounds.
Joe Ryan, O’Leary’s coach, is surely taking the role of Micky, Rocky’s Coach, in this inevitable epic.(Hat tip to John Maye for the correction) To top it all off, Clongowes Wood College will have just broken Saturday school to come out and support Jack O Leary, with Clane taking the place of Philly in this pound-for-pound battle for the ages. Four hundred students out to support one athlete will make for an incredible atmosphere, one that Mulcaire will have to ignore as he plays the role of the bad guy. He will also have to ignore his Nationals run six days earlier which will surely still be in his legs to some extent. Make no mistake, these boys will be battered and bruised by the end and that may open the door for the likes of Andrew Coscoran, Peter Lynch, Sean Collins and Jamie Fallon to sit back and steal the race in the latter stages.
Hope Springs Eternal
Hope Saunders is an overwhelming favourite for this race. Like Mulcaire in the Boys, Saunders has the credentials over the past few months to scare off any challengers .Junior title before Christmas, first woman home at the Europeans, Leinster title by a distance and finally a national title last weekend. Unbeatable on current form. It is Hope against Hope, quite simply, if she can reproduce the sort of form she has shown in the last few months, she will be Irish Schools Champion.
The issue is that her wins have, for the most part, been close-run affairs where she separated herself by small margins. Even a slight dip in form could leave the door open for the likes of Rhona Pierce, Aisling Quinn and Orlaith Moynihan. Moynihan is the athlete who has been closest to Saunders this season and produces the goods when it matters. None of those three ran last weekend and will be fresh legged and hoping against hope for the victory. Ahem Yes…I went there. Clodagh O’Reilly and Sorcha McAllister will also feature as provincial winners.
Team Battles: St. Aidans v St. Flannans v St. Michaels Enniskillen v Colaiste Mhuire Mullingar
The Team battles are often not mentioned in these build ups but they provide incredible excitement to the day. One of the major issues with this is a lack of information to race organisers so it takes an awful long time to figure out who has won what titles. One race that will surely take quite some time to decipher is the Intermediate Boys. With these three provincial winners all going well it is going to be a Mexican standoff of epic proportions. Colasite Mhuire Mulllingar looked incredibly impressive in winning the Leinster title despite difficult competition. They will have had the most difficult race of the three main teams so far. St Flannans had a facile victory in the Munster Schools and with Ennis track winning the National Clubs Cross Country, these boys are obviously in good form. With four in the top 11 they are the favourites but much can change when they step on the line. Finally, St Michaels Enniskillen took victory when these teams met on equal terms as Juniors with Knockbeg 2nd and St Aidans 3rd. Interestingly St Flannans failed to qualify. St Michaels will be hoping that they can repeat over these teams but the longer distance and the arrival of St Flannans could upset the apple cart. St. Aidans themselves as perennial powerhouses will be looking to turn Mullingar over and win the team title. I couldn’t predict a winner if I tried.
Changing of the Varsity timetable
The move to holding the schools and varsity races on the same day was an obvious one and by all accounts a forward-thinking move for so many reasons, ranging from using the same officials and the same location and facilities. One of the major positives was giving students a chance to see life beyond the Schools Cross Country. Yes, kids, there is one! The only issue was that by the time the Varsity had rolled into town, most of the schools had left and put the feet up at home! The Varsity women will now start before the Senior Boys. I’m sure there will be complaints but it will create interest in the Varsities and they deserve support as much as any other age group.