As the nights draw in and competitions and training nights get colder, it is nice to be able to have a competition in the relative warmth of the Athlone International Arena. October traditionally heralds what is the first of the years indoor competitions, with the schools combined events. The Connacht schools event was the last of the four provinces to hold their competition, and so the last 4 spots in the national final for the Minor, Junior, Inter and Senior age groups were up for grabs. Athenry AC athletes representing their schools were Sean Doggett (Colaiste an Eachreidh) in the first year boys competition, Bronagh Deeley (St Killians New Inn) and Liam Shaw (Presentation College Athenry) in the minor competition.
First year boys compete in a quadrathlon (60m Hurdles, Shot Put, Long Jump and 800m) whereas the minors add in an extra event for a pentathlon – High Jump for the girls and 200m for the boys. Sean ran an impressive 10.71s in the hurdles to finish third in his age group, this was followed by his least favourite event, shot put where he managed 5m83 for 9th and then was just shy of the 4m mark in the long jump, breaking the sand at 3m99. These results put Sean in 3rd going into the final event, the 800m, probably Seans strongest event. He put in a very intelligent performance, being towards the front from the start before eventually making his move at the 600m mark and coming home just over 3s ahead of 2nd place. The points difference was enough to lift Sean into the Gold medal spot, and his first win in the combined events with 1274 points.
Bronagh Deely found herself in a very stiff competition, containing multiple National medal winners in all the multi-event disciplines. A fantastic 5th place in the hurdles in 11.01s set her on her way and this was followed up with a 1m30 in the high jump (4th), 3m40 in the long jump (15th – probably her weakest event), and 6m98 in the shot (3rd place). Until half way through the third round of the shot put, Bronagh was leading that particular event. Finishing off the penatathlon, Bronagh did what Bronagh is good at and bossed the event completely. She trailed Caoimhe Farrell for most of the race, eventually moving up going into the final lap and then easing away to win the 800m in a time of 2:44.22. It is always a long wait at the end of a combined event whilst the scores are checked and the points are awarded. Bronagh was delighted to have broken the 2000 barrier, scoring 2006 and finishing a great 5th place.
The final Athenry AC athlete, Liam Shaw went into this knowing he was going to have to battle hard. At the recent Galway outdoor combined events Liam just edged out Matthieu Madden from GCH in a tight competition. It was obvious that Matthieu was out for revenge and this pushed both athletes to good performances. First up, Liam took to the track in the 60m Hurdles. A poor start from Liam got him to the first hurdle slightly behind everyone else, but he stormed through the field to win the heat in 9.81s. Matthieu blitzed his heat, finishing in 9.75s and holding an 11 point lead over Liam. Onto long jump and it got even closer. Liam jumped 5m19 and Matthieu 5m17, the points gap came down to just 7 points. Next came one of Matthieus stronger events, the 200m and a fine 25.40s saw him win his heat, and put some daylight between himself and Liam who clocked 27.44s – points gap now 164. What followed certainly was not expected, and something never seen before in Ireland. Shot Put is always going to be Liams event to close gaps in a multi-event competition and today was the day it really counted. On his first throw Liam put the ball out to 17m and 7cm, the first time the 17m barrier has ever been broken in Ireland with the 3Kg shot put. Matthieu came in 2nd with a valiant effort of 10m74, a throw which would have earned him 8th place in the National Indoor shot put competition so in itself was impressive. However this had a profound effect on the points with Liam turning a 164 point deficit into a 223 point advantage. As so often happens in multi event competitions it came down to a shoot out over the 800m. Matthieu has always had the advantage over Liam in 800m and is capable of a 2:15 800m which would deliver 523 points. This would mean Liam would have to run 3 seconds faster than his current 800m indoor PB to take the gold, and could afford to be no more than 17s behind Matthieu. A densely packed field took to the line, and on the gun Matthieu went to the front with a couple of other athletes. Liam settled into 5th or 6th place and let the first few laps pass by. Going into the last lap and Matthieu was 12 or 13s ahead of Liam, but after some serious shouting from the sidelines he picked up the pace. The clocked stopped for first place man Ben Clavin in 2:16.53 and Matthieu was right on his tail, a count of 1-mississippi, 2-mississippi etc put Liam about 12 mississippis behind Matthieu. Initially it was thought that Liam had lost out, but when the times came out they were Matthieu 2:17.96 (480 points) and Liam 2:30.37 (318 points) giving overall points totals of Liam 2648 points and Matthieu 2587 points, just 61 points separating them, and victory to Liam. Yet another hard-fought competition for these two fine athletes, and it required 5 PBs (plus a 6th if you count the points) for Liam to hold on for victory. In two weeks time they will do it all again at the All Ireland Schools Combined Event Finals, with the two Galway athletes taking 2nd and 3rd place rankings going into the finals.
Matthieu Madden (on left) and Liam Shaw (#854)