UCD retained the men’s title in a dramatic race at the Intervarsity Road Relay Championships on Saturday November 17 in NUI Maynooth, holding off arch rivals DCU by less than a second after nine miles of racing in 41:09.
In a hectic race which saw the lead change hands three times, heroic performances from all five members of the UCD AC team - Dan King, Alan McCormack, Joe Sweeney, Christopher Johnston and Mark English - was enough to hold off the challenge of DCU and the other 24 teams in the race.
The format consists of 1, 2, 3, 2, 1 mile legs around the picturesque one mile circuit of the old Maynooth college campus. DCU were in scintillating form from the off with Joe Warne setting a very short-lived record for the mile leg of 4:15. Paul Robinson maintained the record breaking form setting a new two mile mark of 8:57.
This left DCU in command and a solid 14:01 3 mile leg by John Coghlan minimised the inevitable reduction in the gap UCD made by 2011 European Cross Country fifth-placer Joe Sweeney who ran 13:46.
It seemed as if DCU had done all the hard work, but Christopher Johnston announced himself on to the national athletics scene by running a 9:15 penultimate leg which saw him catch Darren McBrearty (9:43) and gave UCD a ten second advantage going in to the final leg.
With Mark English on the last leg - later to be announced junior athlete of the year at the AAI awards that night - it seemed like it would be a victory lap for the Southside Dublin university. Brian Kelly paid little heed to reputations though and whipped the crowd into an almighty frenzy as he cut the gap on the hottest property in Irish athletics.
Kelly had the proverbial barn-storming run and drawing on to English’s soldier on the last turn it looked like a remarkable turnaround was on the cards. The UCD man dug in to his reserves and just held on by a nose to clinch the title in dramatic scenes. Kelly had the consolation re-writing the short-lived mile record with an excellent 4:14 with his DCU team given a finishing time of 41:10. It was unquestionably the best race this Championship has ever seen. Trinity College were men of bronze in 43:15.
James Nolan was a delighted head coach of the UCD squad. “I thought we would win before the start of the race but after the first mile leg I knew we were in for a tough time of it,” said Nolan. “It was an exciting race and I’m delighted we got the win in the end and it was a real team effort and one we have been working towards for the past couple of months. It’s a great reward for the lads and the backroom team including George Patrakos (strength and conditioning) and Ciaran McDonagh (physical therapist),” he concluded.
The women’s race which preceded may not have been as dramatic as the men’s race but it was still a closely contested affair. DCU with a team consisting of Ciara Wilson, Laura Behan, Mary Mulhare and Mary Ann O’Sullivan triumphed over UCC and Trinity in 32:32.
It too was a race - 1, 2, 2, 1 mile format - that ebbed and flowed. DCU looked in command after Laura Behan (10:53) had built up a sizeable lead after the first two mile leg but Laura Crowe put UCC narrowly ahead going in to the final one mile leg with an excellent 10:32 split.
This left Mary Ann O’Sullivan (DCU) and Sally McCarthy (UCC) the challenge to bring home the honours for their respective colleges. O’Sullivan prevailed with the fastest split of the day (5:08) to ensure DCU didn’t go home empty handed. UCC finished in second in 32:42 and Trinity once again made up the podium in third spot with an overall time of 34:26.
This championships is certainly one of the most underrated races on the athletics calendar and always provides great excitement coupled with the best athletes the country has to offer on display. Long may it continue. For full results log on to www.iuaa.org