Louise Shanahan produced a performance from the very top drawer at Saturday’s Belfast Irish Milers meeting to become only the second Irish woman ever to break the 2 minute barrier for 800m, also taking the Irish national record in the meantime. Pushed all the way to the line by fellow Olympian and previous record holder Ciara Mageean, the Leevale woman dug deep in the closing stages to edge out Mageean on the home straight, coming home in 1:59.42. The time sees Shanahan qualify for both upcoming world and European Championships this summer. The sizable crowd who made their way to a sun drenched Mary Peters track were treated to a real quality contest between Ireland’s two greatest female 800m runners. Heading into the home straight, Mageean held the narrowest of leads over Shanahan who managed to summon one last gear to edge the Portaferry native just before the line. Mageean also broke the 2 minute barrier again by running 1:59.86, her first time to do it on Irish soil. A further indication that women’s middle distance running in the country is continuing to go from strength to strength.
Shanahan’s national record came near the end of a programme that had a number of standout performances throughout the day. The 200m men and women opened proceedings, with the head to head between Marcus Lawler (Clonliffe Harriers) and Robert McDonnell (Galway City Harriers) living up to pre-race hype in a blistering start to the days action. After getting out of the blocks well, McDonnell ran a strong bend, leaving Lawler in his wake as he straightened up for home and stormed across the line in a personal best time of 20.61. In the women’s 200m, Sarah McCarthy was a convincing winner, proving a class apart from the field clocking a time of 24.71.
The women’s 5k developed into a tactical affair early on before a small group comprised of Aoife O’Cuill (St Cocas), Emma Mitchell (Clonliffe Harriers) and Nakita Burke (Lac) separated from the main pack and moved into a clear lead. It was left to the UCD duo of Danielle Donegan and Fiona McKenna to eventually drag the chase group back to the leading pack coming into the closing stages. Mitchell and Burke gradually began winding the pace up over the closing kilometre to splinter the lead group once more. Justifying pre-race favouritism, Mitchell, coached by meet organiser Eamonn Christie, lit the after burners in the last lap to ease away from the field and come home to take the win in 16:38.48.
O’Leary returns with a win
The men’s 5k saw a welcome return to racing on Irish shores for Mullingar’s Jack O’Leary. O’Leary has recently returned from the U.S after completing his studies at Iona College. O’Leary’s time in the states saw him produce some impressive performances across the NCAA circuit before being struck down with a horrific stress fracture of the sacrum which caused an extended period on the side-lines. Returning from altitude in France for Saturday’s meeting, O’Leary got on the tail of the pacemaker early on with Pierre Murchan (Dublin City Harriers) and Ben Branagh (St Malachy’s A.C) for company to share the work. Churning out the laps and looking strong, O’Leary remained comfortable at the front of the field until the closing stages, with Branagh making his presence felt and moving towards the front. O’Leary remained composed and demonstrated an impressive closing turn of foot rounding the final bend to see off both Branagh and Murchan in the closing stages, taking the win in 14:10.81 on his return. O’Leary is set to represent Ireland at the end of the month in the European 10,000m Cup in Pacé, France.
Change of pace
Action soon made its way to the stand side of Mary Peters for the 100m and 400m. Donning the yellow of UCD, current national champion over both 60m and 100m Israel Olatunde was a convincing winner in the men’s 100m clocking a new personal best time of 10.35 with Dundrum South Dublin’s Kate Doherty taking the win in the women’s race. After a massive 2021 season which saw her become an Olympian, Sophie Becker (Raheny Shamrocks) was back in action over 400m, no doubt with an eye fixed on some big championship appearances this summer. Starting the outdoor season as she ended last year, Becker was strong throughout and opened a sizable advantage down the back straight. Kicking again off the bend, she soloed home unchallenged to a personal best time of 52.24. The time saw her go fifth on the Irish all-time list for a number of hours before Rhasidat Adeleke clocked a 51.70 stateside on Saturday night, pushing Becker to sixth. The Wexford native will now look to run the European qualifying standard to book her seat on the plane to Munich later in the year.
In the men’s 400m, Marcus Lawlor was making his second appearance of the day. From lane five, he appeared to have left too much to do coming into the final straight but recovered miraculously in the closing stages to take second place. Jack Raftery (Donore Harriers) was not for catching after a strong back straight saw him put the field to the sword in 46.44.
Stars of the show
It was then the turn of Shanahan and Mageean to do battle in what turned out to be the race of the day with the crowd heavily involved in the action. There was a lot of praise for the track surface in Mary Peters throughout the day and that, combined with the perfect summer conditions, culminated in a number of fascinating battles across all grades of races at the Belfast venue.
The men’s 800m followed the women’s showpiece and had a high bar to live up to after the heroics of what went before. Going through the first 400m in 51 seconds, John Fitzsimons (Kildare A.C) was first to show when the pacemaker stepped aside. It was Kevin McGrath (Bohermeen A.C) who took on the chase and looked to be closing in the final 200m but Fitzsimons rallied down the home straight to take the win in 1:46.41 with Archie Davis (Brighton) second in 1:47.77 and McGrath third in 1:48.19.
The Griggs effect
After his standout performances over the indoor season which saw him clock the fastest time for an Irish junior over 1500m (3:43.71) and claim a new European U20 record for the mile (3:56.40) after an epic duel with Andrew Coscoran in Abbotstown, there was a buzz in the air as Nick Griggs stepped out on the track for the first time this outdoor track season. In a field stacked with quality and experience, Griggs did not hesitate going after the pace early on, quickly settling into his distinguished silky stride. A really brave run by the young Tyrone man saw him lead for a large portion of the race up until the closing metres, with Ethan Hussey of Leeds City A.C just moving around Griggs to snatch the win in 3:42.52. Before today, Griggs’ outdoor 1500m PB stood at 3:50.85 from August of last year, so today’s time of 3:42.98 is another massive personal best and step forward for the young man.
The last time Alex Bell was on Irish soil, she was collecting the gold medal for the Great Britain mixed team relay at the European Cross Country in December 2021. While the surroundings and underfoot conditions on Saturday afternoon were very different from that December Sunday in Abbotstown, the end product remained the same as the classy British athlete took the victory in the women’s 1500m in 4:10.48, almost two seconds ahead of compatriot Jenny Selman of Fife A.C to round out the days action.