At the various national juvenile championships this summer I’ve been stung for a tenner entrance fee for each day of competition. Whilst I know there are costs involved, the only spectators by and large are parents and coaches who already contribute their fair share to athletics. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to be able to waltz into the Morton Stadium for nothing to watch Day 1 of the national track & field championships yesterday (Sat). And excellent value it would have been at twice the price.

The first two events involved Olympic athletes. Eileen O’Keefe, returning to something like her best form after major injury, put a couple of hammer throws just a touch short of 70 metres. Next, an excellent PB in the 5000mW for Olive Loughnane, a solo effort with the three other women long since set adrift. Strangely the women’s triple jump and long jump were scheduled back-to-back. The day really came to life in the long jump with the excellent Kelly Proper twice jumping 6.68m, well in advance of her own national record but assisted illegally by the strong wind. After her fifth jump she hurried off to win the 200m title. A great competitor, crowd pleaser and a stunner to boot is Ms Proper.

The throwing events were pretty desultory affairs and showed up Ireland’s lack of strength. O’Keefe had no difficulty winning the discus with some ragged throwing. Colin Quirke (Crusaders) threw poorly but well enough to win the shot in a little over 16m. The women’s javelin, without Anita White, is best having a veil drawn over it.

But there was some spanking action on the track and this is where Ireland’s real strength currently lies. The most fiercely contested event is the men’s 800m, for which there were several heats, and Thomas Chamney and David Campbell set up today’s showpiece final at 2.15. The men’s 1500 was even more cuthroat with only the winner from each of the heats getting automatic entry to today’s final, the last event of the day. The men’s 200m saw David Gillick stepping down a distance to win a good race in 21.78 from Darragh Graham and Steven Colvert (Crusaders) who was left in the blocks. The men’s 400m saw an impressive qualification run from Brian Gregan. In a two-horse race Deirdre Byrne finally saw off the challenge of Rosemary Ryan in the 5000m.

Late in the day there was a very Celtic affair with the big guys chucking a 56lb weight (35lb for the junior men) over a bar. The technique is to stand with your back to the bar, get the weight swinging perilously between your legs before flipping it upwards and backwards. A guy that looked like he’d swallowed a beach ball was eliminated early doors but a young chap from Leevale (Cork) had the crowd on his side as he continued to push the bar upwards after he’d won the contest.

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