Dan Mulhare claimed his eighth Laois senior cross country title in Tolerton on Sunday afternoon as he comfortably saw off a spirited challenge from James Brennan of St Abban’s.
His victory here sees Dan extend his record number of Laois titles, and from the time he hit the front midway through the first full lap, the final outcome was in little doubt. Indeed, Dan could have been put under more pressure had his brother Michael been able to race, but a twisted ankle in the warm up ruled him out.
Michael may arguably have been favourite having come second in the Irish championships over a month ago, but the two brothers will have to duel it out next year as Dan was in imperious form here.
In spite of Michael’s injury, it was a positive day overall for the Mulhare family as Mary claimed her third senior ladies title in three years with a ten second win over a fast-improving Elaine Mahony. The Ballyroan Abbeyleix and District athlete was the sole challenger to Mulhare, and despite Mary setting the pace, Mahony was never any more than ten seconds behind.
It was a quite a run for someone who has made her name on the camogie field with The Harps, and if she continues to improve at her current rate she could be a big threat to Mary Mulhare’s dominance in the years ahead.
The first major race of the day was the junior boys race, but a disappointing field of just four runners went to the tape for this one, with all four of them from St Abban’s. In testing conditions, the four brave runners all made around without too much fuss, with James Delaney the first through the ropes, 16 seconds ahead of James Moore, with Joseph Barry third and Dylan Byrne fourth.
The senior ladies race was next to set off, run over two and a half laps of Graham’s land in Tolerton. Mary Mulhare hit the front early on and Elaine Mahony gave chase, with Paula Grant and Grace McConnell contesting third spot early on. Mulhare and Mahony opened a sizeable gap between themselves and the rest of the field after that, and Grant held onto third place.
Breda Mulcahy came through to take fourth, with Ruth Hodgins (Portlaioise) fifth, Grace McConnell (Ballyroan Abbeyleix and District) sixth and Sharon Grant (Portlaoise) seventh, giving Portlaoise a comfortable win in the team event.
The senior men’s race was the top billing, and despite Dan Mulhare and Stephen Lawlor pulling well clear of the field there was a fantastic battle for third place. The early stages of the race saw the veteran Martin McDonald set the pace for the short lap, with Dan Mulhare then upping the speed and pulling away from the pack.
Tony Reilly briefly kept pace with the Portlaoise athlete but eventually fell back, and with three laps to go Mulhare now lead by 20 seconds, and barring injury he was never going to be caught. He added an extra three seconds to that lead on the third lap, with Stephen Lawlor now second and Portlaoise’s Harry Lupton third, but Lupton faded dramatically over the next few hundred metres and seemed to be out of the running.
The race for third looked to be between Aengus Burke, Tony Reilly and David Mulhare, all of whom shared the position at one stage or another, but it wouldn’t be settled until seconds from the end.
Dan Mulhare eventually sealed a comfortable win, finishing a full 40 seconds ahead of Stephen Lawlor, who himself did superbly to win silver. Mulhare then sportingly turned around and ran back down the course to encourage on his Portlaoise team mates, and he also the chance to witness a gripping finish.
The youngest of the Mulhare clan, David, looked to be all set for a first senior medal, but he was to be denied. Harry Lupton, who looked to have run himself out midway through the race, showed remarkable powers of recovery to find another gear on the home stretch and he came through to claim bronze, with David Mulhare fourth, Aengus Burke fifth and Tony Reilly sixth.
The Portlaoise mens team also regained the team title, after St Abban’s broke their stranglehold on that particular trophy last year.
See this Tuesday’s Leinster Express for extensive photographic coverage.