Ciaran Ó Lionáird eyes colleges gold

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Saturday, November 20, 2010, and online. By Brendan Mooney

HIS sensational victory in last Saturday’s South Regional Cross-Country Championships in Hoover, Alabama will send Leevale athlete Ciarán Ó Lionáird into Monday’s NCAAs among the medal favourites.

Ó Lionáird, a final year student at Florida State University, had a string of Kenyans behind him when he set a new PB for 10k at 30:03.34 — he had a PB for 8k two weeks earlier in the Conference meet — to claim his first major victory since going to the US on an athletic scholarship.

With a big number of African runners in the field, his Region is probably the most difficult to win but he insisted that it felt easy for him.

The Nationals will be extremely competitive, however, and a place in the top 20 in Terre Haute, Indiana, will be regarded as an outstanding achievement. They say that if you sneeze you lose 10 places.

Whether or not nine days is sufficient time to recover from a hard 10k race is another factor for consideration.

Neil Cusack won the title back in 1972 before going on to win the Boston Marathon a couple of years later, while legendary Corkman Donie Walsh was second another year.

The last Irish athlete to win the NCAA cross-country title was Drogheda man Keith Kelly, who won in Iowa in 2000 after earlier finishing 14th and 9th. Last year he lifted the Irish national senior title for the first time.

Others to perform well in recent years were Alistair Cragg, eighth in 2003, second in 2002 and third in 2001. Martin Fagan from Mullingar was fifth in 2006, while reigning national inter-counties champion Andrew Ledwith finished third behind Galen Rupp two years ago.

On Monday, Ireland will have five athletes competing in Indiana. Alongside Ó Lionáird’s performance in Alabama, Holly Knight (Finn Valley AC), coached by former Olympian and multi-record holder Mark Carroll at Auburn, finished fifth in the women’s race — just over three seconds behind the winner.

At the South Central Regional in Waco, Texas, David Rooney (Raheny Shamrocks AC) finished sixth to become the only McNeese athlete to qualify, while Craig Murphy (Togher AC), fourth in the Conference and 82nd in the Regionals, is a member of the Iona College team.

Charlotte Ffrench O’Carroll (Dundrum South Dublin AC), who finished 21st in the Northeast Regionals, will compete with Ray Treacy’s Providence College women’s team.

Treacy (Leevale), brother of two-time world cross-country champion and Olympic silver medallist John, is one of a number of Irish coaches with teams and athletes involved in the US collegiate showpiece.

Another Waterford man, Gavin Kennedy, is coach to Iona College; three-time world indoor 1,500m champion Marcus O’Sullivan is coach to Villanova and his Leevale clubmate Mark Carroll is coach at Auburn. Dubliner Mick Byrne (Clonliffe), who had five podium places from 12 NCAA appearances with Iona College to , is now coach to Wisconsin; Andy Ronan from New Ross is coach to Stony Brook; Brendan Gilroy (Sligo) is coach and Alan Foolkes (Leevale) assistant coach at McNeese State and Michelle Murphy-Scott (Carrignavar) is assistant coach at Western Kentucky.