MINUTES after Darragh McElhinney produced one of the best performances of his career, his eyes were drawn to his family and friends celebrating near the finish line at the European Cross Country Championships held at the Sport Ireland Campus in Abbotstown.
After winning a superb individual silver and glorious team gold in the U23 men’s race, hometown hero McElhinney told the media he was ‘buzzing’ – and so too was his sizeable entourage.
Even though the Glengarriff man (21) expended every ounce of energy he had to clinch a sensational silver in the 8000m U23 men’s race, he summoned his reserves to run straight to his supporters. His mother and father, Breda and Tony, were there. So too was his grandmother, Oonagh. And his brothers, Eoghan, Callum and eight-year-old Iarla, who Darragh lifted high and hugged tight. Darragh’s godmother, Bríd Hurley, was there too, as were aunts and uncles, friends, cousins, former coaches (Maria Hurley, Michael Harrington and Dave McCarthy) and current coach Emmett Dunleavy. Everyone came together to celebrate McElhinney’s magical run. The West Cork man was in the hunt for a medal when it mattered. There were moments when it looked like the gold was on and times when the bronze seemed his best bet – but McElhinney, always in contention, dug deep in the final moments to race to silver, just four seconds behind the winner, Great Britain's Charlie Hicks.
He also led the Ireland U23 men’s team race to a glorious gold, with Sligo athlete Keelan Kilrehill in sixth place and Michael Power in 13th, as Ireland finished ahead of Britain and France.
‘I’m absolutely buzzing,’ McElhinney beamed.
‘We knew we were within a medal shot but that was just scandalous. I’d have loved to win it but Charles is unbelievably strong. To win team gold on home soil, you couldn’t write it. I’m buzzing.
‘Charlie made it hard, I did my best to stay with him. In the second lap I made the decision to sit back off him. Then in the second last lap I said to myself if I put it a hard lap in here, it's a medal guaranteed, so I ended up closing the gap with him, and we knew it would come down to a bit of a kick. It was a ridiculous race but I'm buzzing.’
There was more West Cork interest at the European Cross Country Championships in Dublin as Newcestown teenager Jane Buckley was on the Ireland women’s U20 team following her recent success. This was Buckley’s first time representing Ireland and her first time at a major international event, and she more than held her own with a very creditable 30th place finish in the U20 4000m race.