By Damian Lawlor
When the Irish Cross Country squad assembles in Dublin Airport on Thursday 7th December awaiting their flight to Brussels, the U20 Men’s team should be quietly confident that they can get on the podium in Laeken Park. The success of the Irish U20 Men’s squad in 2022, with team silver and silver and bronze individual medals, will be a tough act to follow but it definitely can be done. Ireland has an abundance of talent in the U20 age category and a proven world class performer in Nick Griggs. Expect tough competition then as young athletes will be desperate to make this squad.
U20 Men targeting European Cross Country selection
Shane Brosnan (An Ríocht AC) – Shane has been in stunning form all autumn and his 20th place finish at the Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championships was predictable considering he had already finished in the top one hundred at the Nuttycome Invite in Wisconsin. Shane’s PBs of 4:05:35 for the mile and 8:05:50 for 3000m mark him out as a serious contender for selection.
Harry Colbert (Waterford AC) – In April Harry produced a great performance on the new Dundrum South Dublin track when he ran 14:25.11 for 5000m. Less than a month later his 3000m PB was reduced to 8:22:30. At the Junioren Gala in Mannheim he gained valuable international experience as he finished 8th in a competitive 3000m. Harry finished 17th in the trials last year but the young DCU student should be closer to the front of the field in Gowran.
Billy Coogan (Kilkenny City Harriers) – Having won the Irish Schools 2000m Steeplechase in early June in a time of 6:01.1, Billy went on to finish second behind Jonas Stafford in the 3000m Steeplechase at the National U20 Championships in July. His PB for the 3000m Steeplechase of 9:13.77 is impressive as is his 14:51.89 for 5000m. Coogan looked at his ease winning the Leinster U20 Cross Country in Ballyhale and must be relishing the opportunity to race the trials in his home county too.
Padraig Corduff (Westport AC) – Padraig has started the Cross Country season in flying form and will be happy with his win in the U20 Connacht race in October. Last May in the Connacht Schools 5000m Padraig was narrowly beaten by fellow Rice College Ethan Doherty by 0.04s. In the All Ireland Schools Padraig finished 10th. Only 68th last year in the U20 trials race, he has already made big strides in the Connacht Championships. Can he repeat this at a national level?
Sean Cronin (Clonliffe Harriers) – His recent win in the Dublin U20 Cross Country shows that Sean has maintained his good form since the Autumn Open International when he was the 4th U20 to cross the finish line. Sean had a great track season in 2022, winning a fantastic bronze medal in the 1500m at the European Youth Olympic Festival in Slovakia and had the opportunity this year to travel to Boston to take part in the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix. His 1500m PB is 3:55:19 but can he make the distance in Kilkenny?
Jack Fenlon (St. Abban’s AC) – Many eighteen-year-old athletes would be envious of the PB times held by Jack. He has run 3:50.20 for 1500m and 8:15.05 for 3000m. He also has plenty of experience in international competition. This summer alone he competed in the Junioren Gala in Mannheim and finished second. Just over a month later he competed in the European Athletics U20 Track and Field Championships, again in the 3000m. He opened his Cross Country season in the Leinster U20 in Ballyhale and on a tough course and against a very competitive field finished third.
Diarmuid Fagan (Mullingar Harriers) – Over the last year Diarmuid has dealt with some injury issues and as a result probably lines up as something of a dark horse. In 2022 though as a fifth year student he won the Irish Schools Senior 5000m, the first Colaiste Mhuire, Mullingar athlete to win this race since Cormac Finnerty in 1989. Also in 2022 Diarmuid was selected to represent Ireland at the European U18 Track and Field Championships in the 1500m. He opened his Cross Country season with a tough fought second place finish in the Leinster U20 race in Ballyhale.
Nick Griggs (Candour Track Club) – It is hard to believe that Nick is still eligible for U20 competition considering the amount of success the young Tyrone man has had in the last three years. Already in 2023 Nick has won a silver medal in the 3000m race at the European U20 Track and Field Championships and this followed on from the gold he won in that event in 2021. His track PBs are outrageous for an athlete so young with times of 3:36.09, 7:53.24 and 13:36.47 for 1500m, 3000m and 5000m respectively. Nick was narrowly beaten for the gold at Euro Cross last year. He is in great shape and can win gold this year.
Sean Lawton (Durrus AC) – Sean finished 3rd in the Autumn Open International only seven seconds behind Billy Coogan. He followed this up with a great win in the Munster U20 race and is clearly in fantastic form. Sean had earlier this year won a bronze medal in the 5000m at the Irish Schools and his PB of 15:11.96 is impressive as is the 8:41:66 he has run for 3000m. Only 30th at the trials last year, but he looks set to be much further up the field 2023.
Caolan McFadden (Cranford AC) – When Caolan won the All Ireland U16 cross country title on home soil last November, the heroics of the young Creeslough athlete caught the attention of Irish athletics fans. Since then Caolan has continued to impress. Not only did he win the Tailteann Games 800m, he went on to finish second at the SIAB Schools International in Scotland. This wasn’t his first race abroad in 2023 as he had already competed in the Mile at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston in February.
Lughaidh Mallon (Lagan Valley AC) – Like Nick Griggs, Jack Fenlon and Sean Brosnan, Lughaidh has very impressive PBs, having run 3:47.45 for 1500m and 8:18.72 for 3000m. He has had championship success at a range of distances and his win in the Irish Schools 1500m this summer came as no surprise. He also has international experience having competed in both the Junioren Gala and European U20 Track and Field Championships this summer. Lugaidh opened his season in the NI & Ulster and Bobby Rea International Cross Country. He was third U20 to cross the finish line but considering that the race was 8000m in length he should relish the thought of the 5000m distance in the trials.
Niall Murphy (Ennis Track AC) – Winner of the Autumn Open International in early October by an impressive 26 seconds, Niall is continuing to mine the rich vein of form that over the summer that saw him qualify for the European U20 Track and Field Championships. Niall’s steady progress in recent years can be seen from his 3000m PB which was 8:30.47 in 2021, 8:20.84 in 2022 and was lowered again to 8:14.38 in Belfast in July. Niall finished 8th in the trials last year but has moved on significantly over the year that has followed.
Luke Purcell (Nenagh Olympic AC) – Luke has had a solid start to the Cross Country season finishing 5th in the Autumn Open International and 2nd in the Munster U20 race. Now the challenge is to repeat these performances on the national stage. Over the summer Luke won a number of All Ireland Steeplechase bronze medals as he finished third in both the Irish Schools 2000m Steeplechase and National U20 3000m Steeplechase. His 3000m PB of 8:44:88 comes from 2022 but he has definitely pushed on since then.
Jonas Stafford (Ashford AC) – Jonas is an athlete who has shown his talent across a wide range of endurance events. Last year he was selected for Euro Cross and finished a creditable 33rd. Having won the the All Ireland Schools Cross Country title in March, he will return to the muck and hills of Gowran confident that he will make the squad. As mentioned earlier he has shown great versatility, having won the National Junior Steeplechase title in July, while in August he finished 12th in the 5000m at the European Athletics U20 Track and Field Championships.
Other athletes who would be expected to also to race well in Gowran include Barry Conway (Ennis Track AC), Cian Hodgins (Nenagh Olympic AC), Daniel Ryan-Ellis (Nenagh Olympic AC), Seamus Robinson (City of Derry AC), Charlie Jones (Lagan Valley AC), Finn Diver (Beechmount Harriers), Darragh Mulrooney (Moy Valley AC), Luke O’Sullivan (Craughwell AC), Mahad Egaal (Clonliffe Harriers), Louie Woodger (Metro/St Brigid’s AC) William Verling (St. Nicholas A.C.) and Dara Donoghue (Lucan Harriers).