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Dean Casey and Nick Griggs ran together for Ireland in the U20 Men's 6000m last year and fought out a tremendous finish to the U20 cross country race in Donegal on Sunday. Photograph by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Dean Casey shines on another big day for Ennis Track

Champion Chatter

Ennis athlete Dean Casey led the way on a successful day for his club at the 123.ie National Cross Country Championships on Sunday with a silver medal performance.

Along with Casey’s second place finish in the U20 competition, Ennis Track’s Junior side secured gold as they progressed through to the ECCC Cross Country Championships next February, a competition which they won earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Casey’s second placed finish helped him secure a spot on the Irish Junior team that will be competing at the European Cross Country Championships next month in Italy.

He was part of the Irish team that secured silver at these Championships last year in Dublin.

Mark Hanrahan has also been selected on the same team as he secured fourth on Sunday. The top three finishers in each age grade automatically qualified for the Irish squad but with a six-man team competing in Italy, Hanrahan’s strong showing was enough to convince the selectors that he should be on the plane to Turin.

Ennis Track coach Pat Hogan said it is a huge achievement for Casey to secure silver although he insists the focus coming in to the weekend was the performance of the team.

“Dean’s been to the European Juniors and the World Juniors so he was targeting a hard race. We wanted him to race hard for the full 6kms. We look at cross country as a team event more than an individual one. They performed very well and we were thrilled to secure the win as a team.”

Mark Hanrahan produced a brilliant run as he finished six seconds behind Jonas Stafford (Ashford A.C.) in third.

Hogan states that Mark’s performance was no surprise or fluke as he insists that the talented athlete can push on from this showing.

“Mark’s performance was a huge plus from the weekend. He always goes to great lengths to prepare, and he is really professional in his approach. He was just a little off in terms of getting the recognition he deserves but he ran a fine race on Sunday.”

“The result was just reward for the perseverance that he showed last Sunday and that he has always shown for us.”

Casey enjoyed a memorable battle with teenage sensation Nick Griggs. The 17-year-old is one of the most talked about prospects in Irish athletics with the Mid Ulster AC man edging out Casey by a mere two seconds.

It was the Ennis Track athlete that powered out to a quick start as he took control while Griggs sat closely in behind.

The pair quickly pulled away from the field with the duo battling until the finish before Griggs edged in front with 300m to go as he powered home despite a lung bursting run from Casey.

Hogan insists that Casey performed well as they sought to set the pace early and not be dragged in to a dogfight on a wet and windy afternoon.

“It was his plan to go from the front. If someone was good enough to beat him after that then fair play and on the day, Nick was, so well done to him. Dean executed his plan well and now is off to the European Championships.”

Despite Griggs’ reputation and the other top names competing against the Ennis Track athletes, Hogan states that his athletes were always focused on performing to their strengths.

“We never discuss opposition. We look at our squad and decide how we will approach the race. We held a team meeting on Saturday night in Donegal. The aim was to run to our strengths. The guys know who is in the race. For us, we wanted to leave an imprint on the race.”

Meanwhile, Niall Murphy finished in eighth place and Barry Conway secured 18th overall while Cian O’Boyle finished inside the top 25. Dylan Casey, Peter Farrell, Colin Ryan and Luke Griffin also ran well for Ennis Track.

The Ennis Track coach references the importance of providing the athlete with the tools to perform both physically and mentally.

In a sport where coaching while athletes are competing is extremely difficult, Hogan is keen to provide his athletes with the ability to make quickfire decisions under intense pressure.

“It is vital that they have the mental skills in critical moments and to have the ability to make critical decisions. We want them to have the wherewithal to make decisions and stay relaxed throughout the race.

“We looked at the course on Saturday and we analysed it. We visualise how the race will unfold and by looking at the course they can understand what they need to do in each section. For us we never looked at the idea of winning the club competition. We just want them to run to their potential so it’s very much athlete driven.”

Ennis Track enjoyed plenty of success outside the Junior grade as their U14 Girls squad secured a team Gold.

Faye Mannion secured fifth place while Sophie Maher bagged a top 10 finish. Aisling Kelly secured 11th spot while Katie Troy, Siobhan Healy and Sarah Crowe also contributed to the team’s success.

Meanwhile, Ennis Track won a Silver Team medal in the U14 Boys category with great performances Dylan Keane, Cian O’Dwyer, Oliver Mannion, Eoin Keane , Jack Barrett and Darragh Sheedy.

Ennis Track’s U18 Girls side earned a Silver Team medal as Aimee Barrett led the challenge while Holly O’Boyle, Michelle Healy, Lucy Power, Grace Rynne, Mary Ann Murray and Nicole Keane all played important roles in the success.

Hogan believes these showings come as a direct result of the work put in behind the scenes by underage coaches. He is especially enthused by the U18 Girls’ performance as the Ennis Track coach is aware of the challenges involved in keeping girls involved in sport through until adult level.

“We are really trying to develop a Girls squad. They have been very successful at regional and Munster level. They are buying in to training and there is huge work going in by coaches all the way along. It’s as pleasing as the lads’ result and cross country is all about the team, so we are delighted.

“It is phenomenal for us to be having success at underage level. We want to keep girls in sport. There is a high dropout rate once you go beyond Junior Cert age so it’s great to keep this group together. They are a wonderful group to work with and brilliant friends, so they have shown great perseverance. The team medal was the icing on the cake.”

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