Bantry AC’s rising star races to 16th place at European Cross-Country
HE lay in the muck, on the flat of his back and couldn’t get up. He could barely move, fighting for the next breath, his legs burning.
Darragh McElhinney spent the next 20 minutes getting sick – but it was all worth it.
He’d just finished 16th in the U20 men’s race at the European Cross-Country Championships in Tilburg. This was a marked improvement on his previous two European cross-country experiences when he finished 39th on both occasions.
Ahead of last Sunday week, Darragh had told The Southern Star that, ‘If I die, I die, but I don’t want to find myself running in 40th again.’
The Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí student did much better than that as he secured the top 20 finish he had aimed for.
Even better, over the 6,300 metres, he proved to himself that he is good enough to compete with the best.
‘If I was told before the race that I’d come 16th I would have been happy but I wouldn’t have been over the moon. But after the race I was over moon because it was the first time in a while that I felt I was mixing it with the best,’ Bantry AC runner Darragh said.
‘The main feeling when I came over the line, and fair enough I was 16th, was that I can compete with those lads and that I am as good as those lads.
‘I’ve proved that to myself, that I am as good as the best there is out there, and that’s why I’m so happy with how it went.’
Darragh set off at the head of the field, keen to keep himself with the leaders. That was his plan.
‘For the first 400 metres it was a narrow course and I knew there wouldn’t be too much passing out so if you wanted to be in contention, you needed to be up near the front,’ the Glengarriff teenager said.
‘I found myself at the front of the race, which I didn’t expect, so I tried to keep that tempo up. As it went on, I fell back a bit, to 12th, 13th, and I was down to 18th around the middle of the race, but I felt good, there was a lot left in the tank so I started to pick it up.
‘I picked off a few more bodies and I was really happy with the final placing of 16th because the top 20 was my aim.’
Despite a fall, Darragh was the first Irish runner home in the U20 men’s race in a time of 18 minutes and 53 seconds, and led Ireland to a fifth place overall finish.
But it’s the confidence the recently crowned All-Ireland U20 cross-country champion will take from this performance that will stand to him heading into 2019.
‘That was huge for me,’ he said.
‘You need to be ambitious and you need to be in touch with the best athletes in Europe, and I was on Sunday. You can be in the top five or six in Ireland but then be very easily found out when you go to Europe, and I was in the past.
‘This year my number one priority was winning the All-Ireland but I wanted to prove that just because I am from a smaller country like Ireland that it doesn’t mean I am at a disadvantage against athletes from bigger countries.
‘It was satisfying that the All-Ireland win translated into a respectable finish. I felt I was rubbing shoulders with the best and I didn’t feel out of my league.’
That sprint finish took it out of him, he admits.
‘With one lap to go I found myself with more energy than I expected so I really pushed myself to the limit. There was a fella from Belgium and I found myself in a battle with him coming down the home straight and we left it all out there. After I came over the line I could barely move. I was getting sick for around 20 minutes after the race. There is a sense of satisfaction in a way to come over the line and feel so wrecked,’ he said.
This week is about resting and letting his body recover from continuous training since August and his next target is a cross-country team relay event in Stirling, Scotland on January 12th where he will compete with the European team.
Meanwhile, Bandon AC’S Laura Nicolson finished 60th in the women’s U20 race on Sunday while West Muskerry AC’s Stephanie Cotter finished 25th.