McCormack leads Irish to medal haul
The large Irish team, featuring five northern athletes, enjoyed their most successful day ever in yesterday's European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon where they snatched a series of team and individual medals.
No one could have anticipated what would unfold over the difficult, hilly course where Irish athletes seemed to feed off the success of earlier races.
It all culminated in the final 8K women's event where 35-year-old Fionnuala McCormack was making her record 16th appearance in these Championships.
While Turkey's Yasmin Cann secured a record fourth win, the girls in green fought bravely from the onset to seize team medals. This was inevitably led by twice previous winner McCormack as she fought an endless battle for bronze with Swedish athlete Mengsteab who finally broke away to take a podium position by two seconds.
Fionnuala secured fourth and was supported in impressive style by Aoibhe Richardson (17th) and Portaferry's Ciara Mageean who excelled in 20th place. Armagh's Fionnuala Ross was 47th.
This was sufficient for Ireland to secure silver team medals, just ahead of Portugal, with Great Britain taking gold.
"This is the most successful day ever for Irish Cross Country," beamed McCormack.
"I tried so hard out there and there was huge Irish support. There are very positive messages from this, especially with the Euros coming to Dublin next year."
Mageean added: "I was really hurting out there, particularly on the last two laps. However, the team spirit was magnificent and the girls kept me going.
"I was determined we would hold onto silver. People don't appreciate how Cross Country runners put their hearts and soul into the sport with no financial reward."
Earlier, the Women's U23 runners showed from the gun that they would be a major threat. The backbone of the team was a trio of athletes based at Adams State University in Colorado. They were led by this year's US Collegiate champion Stephanie Cotter and ably supported by Carrickmore twins Eilish and Roisin Flanagan.
Cotter set out her stall early and adopted aggressive tactics to stay in touch with firm favourite and defending champion Emilie Moller of Denmark.
The 20-year-old was eventually dropped by a rampant Moller and then found herself running solo for the entire second half of the race.
The tough hills eventually took its toll on a battling Cotter and she was passed on the final lap by fast-finishing Jasmin Lau of the Netherlands.
Moller easily retained her title by some 39 seconds, with Cotter getting bronze six seconds behind Lau.
The Irish team exceeded all expectations with silver medals. Gold went to the Netherlands with GB taking bronze.
Eilish Flanagan was ninth and sister Roisin 17th.
A delighted Stephanie said: "I really felt I was in medal form so I went for it early on and tried to stay with Moller.
"While my altitude training helped, my legs went towards the end as the hills got to me."
In the first event, the Irish team got off to a spectacular start when 19-year-old Efrem Gidney took the bronze medal in the U20 race behind Norway's Jakob Ingebrigtsen who captured an unprecedented fourth gold medal.
There was disappointment, though, when the team was relegated from their original bronze medal position to fourth.
This did not, however, detract from double Irish Schools champion Gidey who only discovered 48 hours earlier that he could travel to Lisbon. The former Eritrean refugee, who has Irish citizenship, only received a travel visa at the last minute.
Afterwards, a delighted Gidey, who has lived in Ireland for two years, said he loved competing for Ireland and felt that his strong body coped well with the hilly, difficult course.
Gidey was well supported by Darragh McElhinney who was an impressive 12th and Thomas McStay who finished 24th, one place ahead of Keelan Kilrehill and above Jamie Battle in 28th. GB took the team award.
In the Men's U23 event, Brian Fay was 22nd followed by Jack O'Leary (25th) and Peter Lynch (26th). The Irish team finished in seventh.
In the Senior Men's 10K, Sean Tobin was 18th, while City of Derry clubman Conor Bradley was second Irish finisher in 52nd place.