Darragh McElhinney aiming for first National Senior Cross Country title

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It takes over seven hours to get from Glengarriff in Cork to Rosapenna in Donegal.

Darragh McElhinney will be hoping it is worth the trip for his family, who will travel in their numbers this weekend to cheer him on as he aims to win his first National Senior Cross Country title.

The 22-year-old who represents UCD AC is hoping to go one step further than his second place finish last year, where he was narrowly beaten by Hiko Tonaso (Dundrum South Dublin AC).

“I’m definitely going in there trying to win it,” he says.

“I’ve obviously raced Efrem (Gidey) and Hiko a lot and it’s always tough.

“Efrem likes to drill it from the gun as well, which is always a bit daunting because you’re going into the race, and you know it’s going to be sore.

“If you win a 5k on the track or something, there’s always a couple of lads that didn’t run who could have given you a go, in the National Senior Cross Country every distance runner in Ireland is on the line and you’re all fighting for the one spot.

“It would be great to win it and it would definitely set me up for Europeans as well.”

McElhinney comes into this weekend on the back of a shorter build-up compared to previous years. The History and Politics student finished 16th in the European 5000m final in Munich in August before taking a break and then travelling to altitude.

“If somebody had told me before the race, I was going to come 16th, I would have been absolutely fuming with myself but to be honest it just didn’t feel right to be annoyed with myself because of the way the race panned out.

“I did everything I wanted to do.

“A lot of the time you don’t end up actually pushing yourself as much as I would have that day.

“The wheels came off badly but then again if I went out and ran safe and came 10th or 11th, I don’t think I’d be any happier than I am.”

Darragh McElhinney targets double gold in Turin

McElhinney finished second in the U23 Men’s race at the European Cross Country Championships in Abbotstown last December leading the Irish team to gold and he will be looking to mount a serious challenge for the podium once again next month in Turin.

“Nothing is going to satisfy me unless I win individually and gold for the team,” he admits.

“I was second last year, and I’m still in the same age category this year, against the majority of the same lads.

“It wouldn’t make sense for me to be aspiring to do anything other than win it.

“Team wise, I think we are even stronger this year.”

McElhinney will finish his degree in May in a course he describes as being “fairly soft.” He will then turn his attention to running full-time, the prospect of which he is relishing.

“I’ve gotten a taste of that over the last couple of years, be it with remote learning or during the summer breaks.

“I go away on camp quite a lot and I definitely find that’s when I enjoy training the most; just being away and having nothing else to concentrate on.

“Hopefully from next year on and leading into the Paris Olympics I want to have nothing else to focus on.”

With only six weeks to go until the start of the new year, McElhinney has big goals for 2023. He believes he would be “doing fairly well” to make it to the World Outdoor Championships in Budapest but has his eyes firmly set on March’s European Indoors.

“I think I have a good chance of doing well in Istanbul.

“I could definitely make a final at the European Indoors and hopefully finish in the top six or eight.

“Times are something that I’m obviously focused on because every year you kind of look back and see what times you were running and how you were progressing.

“A natural progression for me would be to break 13:10 next year in the 5000m and hopefully break 7:38 or 7:37 for 3k as well, they would be my two main time aims.”

Times won’t matter tomorrow all that McElhinney will care about is leaving Donegal with a gold medal around his neck.


Cross Country star Darragh McElhinney was speaking in advance of the National Cross Country Championships which take place this Sunday, November 20th at Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort, Donegal.

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