O’Leary wins a classic as Hunter cruises in Cork marathon
Raheny Shamrock’s Cillian O’Leary won the Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon in a thrilling comeback today in 2:30:41 as Leevale’s Nollaigh O’Neill cruised to victory in 2:57:45 in wet and wild conditions.
Cillian O’Leary (Raheny Shamrock) was the first home winner since Michael Herlihy (North Cork) in 2009 and it was as much a case of patience as it was grit to topple long-time leader Vincent Chepyegon of Kenya in the final 800m.
“I targeted this race about a year ago,” said O’Leary afterwards who grew up on the Model Farm Road but is now a secondary school teacher in Dublin. “It’s something I trained very hard for. The weather conditions were very tough but I said that’s going to be the same for everybody. I had the local knowledge and in the last mile I had the hunger as well and once I caught him there was no way I was going to let him go.
“The hardest thing was keeping my patience in the first 16 miles or so. There was a big group of us, a lot of wind, a lot of rain and my heels got clipped a few times just because of the bunch we were running in. So the hardest thing in that race was keeping my patience. I made a break at about 16 miles. The Kenyan lad passed me at 17 miles and I didn’t see him again until about 800m to go but I suppose that was the only time I had to be ahead of him, that was over the finish line.
Chepyegon, who had to settle for second in 2:31:41, had built up a sizeable lead at the 19 mile mark but then started to fade – something O’Leary sensed as he chipped away at the lead but not quite believing a cherished home victory was on the cards until he caught.
“In running you just know when someone is fading ahead of you,” said the Raheny Shamrock athlete whose father Liam came 12th in the inaugural Cork marathon. “He wasn’t opening the gap. All you need is a sniff of it and I was after him. I was hunting him down each mile. I was getting (time) updates. It was 30 seconds, it was 20 seconds, it was 15 seconds and once you have that in your head you know you’re the one that is making progress. I still didn’t really believe it was going to happen until I caught him. And once I caught him I was gone. I was like a maniac running for the line.”
Hi father, Liam, couldn’t believe he was going to win either when he was standing at Pope’s Quay. “At 19 miles he was down 20-30 seconds but he looked comfortable I must say. I was over at Pope’s Quay and I just couldn’t believe it when I saw him coming. In the first Cork marathon I was about 12th I’d say. 2:41 is my pb. I’m delighted for him. He’s had a difficult few years with injuries and that and that’s nice now.
2007 was the revival of the marathon in the city after an absence of 21 years. Leevale’s Brian Hegarty rounded out the top three in the men’s race with a time of 2:32:29.
Nollaigh O’Neill (Leevale) ran out a convincing winner in the women’s race ahead of Joan Ennis (Grange/Fermoy) in 2:58:38 and Sorcha Kearney in 3:14:40. She was able to put aside difficult conditions and an injury-disrupted build-up to win at ease.
“I was in the lead for the whole thing no pressure,” joked Hunter afterwards. “It was comfortable. I ran steady and hard. This is a slow time for me but with the weather conditions I’d no choice.
“Everybody was in the same boat. I was behind a group for the first 10 miles so I was sheltered. It was perfect. But then I pulled away I’d a bit of an injury lately so I let them go. I had to run steady and sensibly. I was on my own which was worse. I was facing the wind which was shocking but you know what, I don’t care, I won. It’s fantastic. I love it. The last 3 or 4 miles was fabulous because the wind was behind us so it was perfect. The last few miles is my favourite part of this race. You’re on the road home.
“I mean I’d a 2:50 last year and a 2:57 this year. That’s a big difference but the weather conditions don’t suit me. I function much better in the heat and it just didn’t suit me at all. I just ran hard and steady and a bit smart and it worked. I was told forget the time today. The weather conditions don’t suit me so just concentrate on running strong and win. And I did.
“I was in the lead for the whole thing no pressure. It was comfortable. I ran steady and hard. This is a slow time for me but with the weather conditions I’d no choice. I’m from Passage West and I work for Leisureworld in Bishopstown so they’ll be really, really happy now. And thanks to The Edge (sportstore) they sponsor me.”
Sergiu Ciobanu (Clonliffe Harriers) won a tough battle in the against Bantry’s Alan O’Shea in the half marathon – 67:40 to 67:57 – while Norah Newcombe Pieterse (Mayo AC) had a facile victory in the women’s race in 81:12. The “Leevale lads” were the first relay team across the line in 2:22:02.
“A tough day to run any race I would say,” said Ciobanu afterwards. “Very windy, very wet. This was a test for all your strength and everything. I’d say Alan is in great shape now. I pushed all the way through the course and like he stuck with me until even the last mile. I could only make the break in the last mile. Probably I’ll get a good block of training before National Track and Field 10,000m. I’ll be looking to try and run a marathon in the Autumn. That’s my aim.
Newcombe Pieterse was equally please with her win. “I’m happy with that. It was tough conditions but it was good to get the win. I thought Pauline (Curley) might come down from Derry and run the half. She’s a warrior.”
Full results are on Precision Timing here