Fresh start as U23 Men chase European Cross Country spots

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By Damian Lawlor

Last year the Irish U23 Men’s team delivered on expectations at La Mandria Park, just outside Turin as they won bronze medals against very tough competition. With the British scoring 11 points and the French not far behind with 14 points, the Irish squad of Efrem Gidey (Clonliffe Harriers), Keelan Kilrehill (Moy Valley AC), Shay McEvoy (Kilkenny City Harriers), Darragh McElhinney (UCD AC), Jamie Battle (Mullingar Harriers) and Thomas McStay (Galway City Harriers) had to dig deep to finish with 29 points and earn a place on the podium.

The French phrase ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’, seems apt when considering the U23 Men’s teams prospects in 2023. Five of last year’s squad move on to the senior grade this year, while Shay McEvoy who was the vital third scorer last year, is out with injury. Despite all this when you look through the athletes hoping for selection this year, it is possible to see a squad that could make the top three teams in Europe. Many of those available will have gained valuable international experience on Irish U20 squads at the Dublin and Turin editions of the European Cross Country Championships over the last two years and at the European U23 Track and Field Championships over the summer.

Irish U23 men hunt for European Cross Country Championships places

Dean Casey (Ennis Track AC) – Dean won a brilliant bronze individual medal last year at the European Cross Country in Turin. His good form in Italy was expected. The previous May he raced at the Night of the 10.000m PB’s in Parliament Hill and his time of 28:57.32, was a stunning new Irish U20 record. Over the summer Dean did not reach the heights of 2022, but this autumn he seems to be back in the groove. An 11th place finish at the NCAA Division I South Region Cross Country Championships augurs well for the upcoming NCAA Cross Country in Virginia.

Dylan Casey (Ennis Track AC) – Dylan’s PBs speak for themselves. Having only turned twenty in July, he has already ran 8:25.87 for 3000m and 14:15.54 for 5000m. He has huge experience in Cross Country and showed good form in the Autumn Open International as he finished 9th.

Seán Donoghue (Celtic DCH) – Seán gained valuable experience this year after he qualified in the 1500m for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Austin, Texas in June. His PB for 1500m is 3:42.45. This autumn Seán has raced a number of Cross Country races, including finishing 50th at the Big East Cross Country Championships.

Tadgh Donnelly (Drogheda & District AC) – Tadgh will compete next Saturday on the Iona College squad competing in Virginia in the NCAA Cross Country. Tadgh’s 8th place finish at the MAAC Cross Country Championships probably the standout performance. His 5000m PB of 14:08.08, ran at the Penn Relays was a big step on from his previous best of 14:50.34.

James Dunne (Tullamore Harriers) – James has an impressive collection of PBs ran in recent years including 3:43.41 for 1500m, 7:54.73 for 3000m, 13:55.48 for 5000m and 8:57.48 for 3000m Steeplechase. This autumn he has matched his great form on track with some fantastic Cross Country races including an impressive 19th place finish at the NCAA Division II South Central Region Cross Country Championships in Texas. Tough to run 30:42 at 1000m altitude.

Mark Hanrahan (Ennis Track AC) – Mark has an uncanny ability to get himself on to the podium in a range of competitions. This year on the track he won the IUAA Track and Field Championships 1500m as well as the 3000m at the AAI Games. He has a great range from running 1:55.51 for 800m through to 14:46.86 for 5000m. In Gowran he has to hope he can stretch his winning ways to 9000m. He has experience in top level Cross Country having finished 53rd in the U20 race at Euro Cross last year.

Abdel Laadjel (Donore Harriers) – Most athletics aficionados would be aware of the fact that Abdel always seems to finish all his races with a beaming smile. His record setting runs in 2022 put a smile on many Irish faces. In March of that year Abdel ran 29:23.92 for 10,000m breaking Frank Greally’s 1970 U20 record. Dean Casey soon leap frogged Abdel’s mark but in December at a loose end as he was not selected for Euro Cross he ran a new U20 Indoor 3000m record of 8:05.33. This summer Abdel finished 4th in the 10,000m at the European U23’s.

Sean McGinley (Finn Valley AC) – Sean finished 12th last year in the U20 race at European Cross Country and helped the Irish team to win the silver medals not far behind the winning squad from Britain. In the Autumn Open International in October he showed he’s back in good form with a 4th place finish. On the track in 2023 Sean reduced his PBs to 3:47.86 for 1500m and 8:56.90 for the 3000m Steeplechase.

Callum Morgan (Candour Track Club) – Callum was 14th in the 5000m at the European U23 Track and Field Championships in Finland this summer. His 5000m PB of 13:57.53 was run in Belgium this May and was an improvement of 28 seconds over his previous best. He improved his 3000m PB this summer too to 8:03.92. A 10th place finish this Autumn in the NI & Ulster and Bobby Rea International Cross Country shows he’s in good form.

Michael Morgan (Sligo AC) – Michael is heading to Virginia this weekend to compete at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Michael raced that course earlier this year at the Virginia Invitational finishing 66th on the day. He followed this with a 97th place finish at the Nuttycombe Invitational in Wisconsin. Michael has also ran a 5000m PB of 14:24.41 in 2023.

Oisin Spillane (Ennis Track AC) – Oisin has been in flying form through the autumn finishing seventh in the Autumn Open International and was second to Darragh McElhinney in the 3 mile leg in the IUAA Road Relays. Oisin has impressive PBs of 14:24.13 for 5000m and 9:07.45 for 3000m Steeplechase.

Daniel Stone (Raheny Shamrocks AC) – Daniel had a great run in the recent IUAA Road Relays for DCU, finishing third on the 3 mile leg. Probably Daniel’s biggest advantage going into Gowran is his experience running 10,000m on the track. He has a PB of 30:47.77 and considering the distance and tough conditions in Gowran this will stand to Daniel on Sunday.

Others that will be in the shake up for spots include Conall McClean (St. Malachy’s AC), Michael Murphy (Tullamore Harriers AC), Paul Hartnett (East Cork AC), Oisin Murray (An Ríocht AC), Louis O’Loughlin (Donore Harriers), Scott Fagan (Metro/ St. Brigid’s AC), Cathal O’Reilly (Kilkenny City Harriers), Matthew Lavery (North Belfast Harriers) and Luke Johnston (Moy Valley AC).

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