Griggs, Murphy & Stafford lead Ireland to victory in Brussels

The victorious Ireland team in Brussels                                                    PICTURE: Sportsfile
The victorious Ireland team in Brussels PICTURE: Sportsfile

NICK Griggs, Niall Murphy and Jonas Stafford are the toast of Irish athletics after a resounding team victory in the junior men’s race at the European Cross Country Championships in Brussels. 

On a day for mudlarks in Laeken Park, Nick Griggs played a captain’s part getting into the thick of the action from the gun.

The Tyrone teenager was still matching strides with the leaders until the final lap of the 5km when eventual winner Axel Vang Christensen from Denmark and the Netherlands’s Niels Laros slipped away to fight out the gold medal which was only settled in favour of the Dane in the final few strides.

It was a fighting performance from Griggs who dug deep to hold on to that individual bronze medal, while behind him Murphy and Stafford were running the races of their young lives to finish ninth and 10th respectively. That sealed the win for Ireland over perennial rival Great Britain by just two points. City of Derry Spartan Seamus Robinson was 26th and just outside the Irish scoring trio.

Fionnuala McCormack continued to defy the laws of just about everything except gravity in the senior women’s contest. 

The 39-year-old, who gave birth to her third daughter earlier this year dug deep into the ankle-deep mud to grind out an incredible fourth place over the extended 9km distance. 

The Wicklow woman showed no sign of fatigue from the Valencia Marathon, where she qualified for her fifth Olympics, just seven days earlier and a late charge saw her fall short of the bronze medal by only 18 seconds.

Up front, Norway’s Karoline Grovdal was never seriously challenged as she scored her third consecutive win in the race, claiming her 10th medal overall. 

After taking bronze last year, Ireland were eighth in the team listings, the other scorers being Armagh AC’s Fionnuala Ross (30th) and national champion Fiona Everard (34th). Tyrone twins, Eilish and Roisin Flanagan, who both made the top dozen finishes last year, had to settle for 44th and 49th respectively.

Ireland’s senior men just missed out on a team medal after lying in the bronze position for most of the race. 

National champion Cormac Dalton ran a fine race to take eighth line and he was followed home by Keelan Kilrehill (17th) and Hugh Armstrong (20th), 13 points behind third-place Norway who finished stronger than the Irish. 

France’s Yann Schrub took the individual title, while hosts Belgium scored a convincing team victory much to the satisfaction of the home crowd.

No Irish junior women’s team has ever taken medals and that drought continued despite a huge individual performance from Anna Gardiner. 

The East Down athlete made a bold start and was in the leading 10 runners from the first lap of the 5km-race. 

Showing outstanding strength, Gardiner moved through in latter stages to finish an excellent seventh. Kirsty Maher was next home in 12th with Amy Greene completing the scoring trio in 29th. The Ireland team total of 48 was only good enough for fifth behind winner Great Britain, led by individual winner Innes Fitzgerald.

Tullamore Harrier Danielle Donegan was eighth in the women’s U23 race won by Great Britain’s Megan Keith, who finished a proverbial mile ahead of the field. Ireland finished a lowly 11th in the team listings headed by Great Britain. 

Ireland brought home three athletes from America for the men’s U23 race but still ended up 10th in the team competition. Candour Track Club’s Callum Morgan was 41st while North Belfast Harrier Matthew Lavery occupied 61st place in a race won by last year’s U20 winner Will Barnicoat, who led Great Britain to yet another team victory, their fourth in total.