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Dean Casey of Ennis Track competing in the U20 men's 6000m during the SPAR European Cross Country Championships at Piemonte-La Mandria Park in Turin, Italy. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Ennis Track coach: European bronze ‘huge for Dean’

Ennis Track coach Pat Hogan has hailed the performance of Dean Casey after the Ennis youngster secured a bronze medal at the European Cross Country Championships last weekend.

Hogan freely admits that even though the focus with Casey was on producing a strong performance, the result is a huge boost for the Ennis man.

“Ultimately sport is about results. It’s a results based game. Someone picks up the paper and they look at the result first. Everything a coach does is grey but it’s black and white once you step foot on the line. On Sunday evening he was third and that’s all that matters.

“He worked his way through the race. Dean kept in the pack because it was a very challenging course before he managed to move clear on the last hill. It’s huge for him. Any performance that wins a medal is big for him.”

In what was regarded as the most competitive race of the day, the men’s U-20 race featured no fewer than five athletes who have set new European records at either U-18 or U-20 level this year.

All three medallists from last year’s race took to the starting line, but with the course proving challenging, last year’s champion Axel Vang Christensen, who won by 25 seconds last December, was forced to pull out after struggling to negotiate a tricky hill towards the end of the race.

With Casey amongst the leading pack from the outset, the European medallist was ninth after 600m before making himself at home in the top six. He made his move on the final hill with less than 1km remaining.

Hogan states that he gave Casey two simple pieces of advice before the race.

“We wanted him to stay with the fight and to be anonymous when it doesn’t matter. Then he needed to be there when it mattered most. I see too many people up there after 3km or 4kms, but then they fall apart. He needed to keep himself there and he did that well.

“I was on a separate part of the course, but by all accounts he destroyed people on the last hill. If he was a bit closer to the top two, he could have done more damage. Going down the hill maybe cost him a little bit, but how can you complain? He was third overall and the team finished second with 17 points, which would have won them gold in other years.”

Mark Hanrahan was also part of the Irish U-20 team that secured a silver medal in Italy. The Ennis Track athlete finished 53rd as he capped off a fine season by representing his country on the European stage.

“Mark ran a solid race. The course probably didn’t suit him as it was very hilly. His level of averages came up. He had a really impressive cross-country season after an excellent year for him. It was his best season so he can be proud of his achievements.”

The Ennis Track athletes were due to fly out at 2pm on Friday afternoon as they raced on Sunday morning. However, with the freezing cold weather wreaking havoc, their flight was delayed until close to midnight.

“They had a huge delay at the airport. They flew to Milan and then got a bus, so they only arrived at the hotel in the early hours. We try to ignore what is out of our control. I’m hoping it didn’t affect them. I don’t believe it did.

“We haven’t debriefed yet. That will probably happen this weekend. Their flight back was also delayed so they only got back in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

“Dean and Mark were on the course Saturday morning to inspect it, so they got very little sleep. I’m sure they were able to get naps in and make up for it. They both looked fresh on Sunday morning. We couldn’t control the flights so we just tried to control everything we could.”

With Casey jumping from 13th in last year’s race to third, Hogan states that the ascent of 10 places is not as huge as it appears on paper.

“There is not much in cross-country between the top athletes. If you look at Dean’s season it was excellent overall. He represented Ireland in Colombia (at the World U-20 Championships) while he broke the Irish 10,000m record. He won the European Club with us at the start of the year so it’s been consistent from him.

“We knew he was capable of a top six finish. Last year he went too hard, and it cost him eight seconds. That was the catalyst for how we planned and strategised. He held back a little bit. There is a serious standard of running at the top level. The margins are so fine.”

Hogan coaches the Ennis Track U-20 athletes alongside Ger Casey, Ita Hanrahan (Mark’s mother) and Marie Roche, as Clare GAA’s Strength and Conditioning coach Adrian O’Brien works with a cohort of 10 athletes within the club. Training will continue over the winter as the club travels to the ECCC Cross-Country Championships in February.

“We will take two weeks downtime and then start again. Some of them will race in Belgium in January while the younger ones will compete at the European Club Championships. With Dean we will give him some time and build him back up again. There is always something to work towards.”

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