… Does it? Some recent news and historical context plus statistics might help.
The 2017 Connacht Cross Country Championships finished with the final day of the three races in the league at Kiltoom on November 18. A total of 82 adult club athletes took part in the three events – 38 women and 44 men. Just nine clubs in the province entered teams. Mayo AC had two men and two women competing in two of the three legs. You had to run in all three legs to have any chance of a medal.
Paddy O’Toole (Westport AC ) Novice, Aidan McMoreland (North Sligo AC) Master.
Unlike 2017, the dates fixed for the three Connacht legs in the 2018 calendar are not conflicting with other National or local events – yet.
Some members will remember that significant numbers of Mayo AC runners competed regularly with success in cross country championships when the club was composed of just under a fifth of the current membership.
On January 14 2001 the Connacht Cross Country Championships were held at Ballinrobe racecourse following a severe overnight frost. Here’s how reporter Mike Finnerty of the Mayo News saw the finish of the Senior men’s race “… the air was thin, the ground hard and the wind crisp as the day unfolded. The races run against a picture-postcard backdrop, were uneventful – bar one. The final yards of the Senior men’s race was sport at its most primal. Stride for stride, every muscle straining and lungs gasping for air. The drama was ended by the late despairing lunge of Athenry’s Paul McNamara which gave him the narrowest of victories over Gary Thornton (GCH)”.
Almost half of Mayo AC membership at the time competed on that frosty January day. Paddy Murray was our top finisher- 6th in the men’s race and Ann Lennon won her third consecutive Connacht title in the Senior women’s race.
Paul McNamara is currently High Performance Director Athletics Ireland.
Time was when the Senior Inter Clubs and individual championships was one of the highlights of the club year.
The 2017 event took place last Sunday November 26, at Abbotstown. A total of 247 senior/u23 athletes from clubs nationwide competed – 79 women and 168 men.
Fourteen of these 247 were from Connacht clubs – three women and eleven men. There are 46 clubs in Connacht with 3,017 members currently registered. Tuam AC led by Ian Egan were the only Connacht club to compete among the nineteen club teams in the men’s race.
Selection for the European Cross Country championships in Slovakia on December 10 was based on results. Well done to US based Hugh Armstrong (Ballina) who has made the Irish team having finished third in the race.
The decline in cross country running has been well documented over the past fifteen years, from IAAF through to national athletics governing bodies. This view is from 2013 :
“Cross country used to be the breeding and learning ground for athletes before they hit the track season, giving them a unique chance to meet with runners from 1500m, all the way up the marathon.
Those days seeming to be drifting further away from us now, though. Road racing is having a massive impact, with its greater prize money and mass participation, taking athletes away from the cross country scene.
Some of the biggest names in athletics have graced the world cross country stage, including Kenesie Bekele, Tirunesh Dibaba and Paul Tergat, to name just a few. All of which have gone on to achieve phenomenal success on the track. Coincidence? I think not.
Cross country helps develop athletes, and the challenging courses provide additional strength, endurance and race-fitness that can’t always be achieved just from training”.
On November 21 2017 Athletics Ireland announced that for the first time in the Associations history “we have reached over 60,000 members” …more than doubled since 2009…we are pleased to have achieved this membership milestone and this is testement (sic) to the hard work being undertaken by our clubs at grassroots level across Ireland”.
The Novice Cross Country is the last National championship event on the Irish 2017 calendar. It’s at Waterford IT arena on Sunday December 17. Entry deadline is December 8.