Personal best performances and top-class racing were the order of the day for Team Ireland across athletics, swimming and cycling at the European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) in Maribor today. Both Permanent TSB Flagbearers for the Games made their debut at today’s event with Aliyah Rafferty finishing 13th in the Cycling Road Race, and Cian Crampton qualifying for the final with his first throw in the Boy’s Discus. Heptathlete Enya Silkena had a stand-out performance, with further personal bests, finishing in ninth place overall. Swimmer Brydan Byrne finished sixth in the final of the Boy’s 100m Backstroke. The EYOF runs from 23 – 29 July 2023.
In her third-ever heptathlon, Dundalk athlete Enya Silkena continued to produce personal best performances, finishing eventually in ninth place overall with 5072 points. Buzzing after the race and hungry for more, the fifteen-year-old said,
“I was just really happy to be here, I was looking around at the other people and I felt so happy that I just wanted to go over and shake everybody’s hands and help them up. I just felt amazing! I just want to get better and better. Coming ninth at my third heptathlon ever, I can just get better and better, four PBs, I’m just over the moon.”
This morning the Dundalk St. Gerard’s AC athlete threw 45.37 in the javelin, it was not only a personal best, but the furthest throw in the field. Earlier this morning she also jumped a 7cm personal best with 5.6m. Her final 800m run was 2.43.49. Speaking about her morning, Silkena said,
“I started with the long jump, and I started off a bit nervous because I didn’t know if I could get 550 (cm), which I wanted because I never get 550 in a heptathlon. But when I got 560, I was over the moon, I was so happy. For the javelin, I was really excited. In this weather normally my muscles perform better. I was doing my practice throws and I was throwing over 40m and I thought this is going great, and then on my second throw I got 45.37 and I thought no way, this is crazy. It was just amazing.”
Blackrock’s Donal Martin finished in sixth position in the final of the Boy’s 200m with a time of 21.69, his second-fastest time. This morning he clocked a personal best time, running 21.56 in the semi-final. Pleased with his day’s work, the Dublin sprinter said,
“Before you come here you are kind of looking at everyone’s time, but once you’re at the start line you know anything can happen, just run your own race, and here I am. Sixth in Europe, I can’t complain about that.”
Describing his race, he said, “Coming in the conditions were really good so I’m happy to come away with a really quick time, even from lane two which wouldn’t be particularly fast. My bend is quite strong usually, so I always go quite hard for that and just try to hold on until the end, when all the big guys usually pass me out. It’s absolutely amazing to be here to compete, and to get a PB it’s the cherry on top.”
Celebrating his sixteenth birthday, Wexford’s Michael Kent finished 8th overall in the Boy’s Long Jump with a personal best jump of 7.02. Speaking after the race, he said,
“I was saying yesterday I was hoping to get top eight and to get the extra three jumps, and I did that with a PB as well, so can’t really ask for a whole lot more, I’m delighted with it. There was great support for me today, they were getting the claps going, great support.”
Competing in this second EYOF, Cian Crampton made his intent known from the off, registering an auto-qualifying throw on his first attempt in the Boy’s Discus with a personal best of 57.65m. This qualifies him for Saturday’s Final with the third furthest throw in the field. In the competition, once you throw the qualifying standard you do not need to throw again, job done. Speaking after the event the Edenderry thrower said,
“I just relaxed through it, I knew I could do it the first time, I’ve been saying it all week I could do it. I had one thing to think about, I relaxed and accelerated through the throw, and I got through. It feels great because I know I can do more.”
Crampton was the Permanent TSB Flagbearer earlier this week, an honour that has filled him with pride, “Being a flagbearer was such a great honour for my country, I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to hold a flag for my country like that. To be able to do that, and then that throw today for my country, it’s just amazing.”
Tara O’Connor Girl’s High Jump debut was not quite what she hoped it would be, with her 1.65m not being enough to qualify for the Finals later this week. The Dundalk St. Gerard’s athletes said,
“It didn’t go my way today, it was very hot and there was a breeze there as well, coming more so at our faces. It wasn’t difficult but just not as easy to jump in.”
Lucan’s Saoirse Fitzgerald was also in action early this morning at the Poljane athletics track in the girl’s 800m heats, finishing 4th in a time of 2:11.84, not enough to progress to the final. The Lucan runner spoke about her race,
“Well, it was a tough race I think I put myself in a good position, I made the right moves but unfortunately it wasn’t my race today. I just wanted to get towards the front and track any moves that were made, and I was trying to kick in the last 200m but that didn’t go to plan today but I executed the first part of my race plan well.
She also referred to the words of encouragement from Olympian and EYOF Gold medallist Louise Shanahan gave to her before departing to Maribor,
“It’s good to see people from Ireland do well on the international stage and hopefully I’ll get there someday and just keep working to that. She (Louise Shanahan) talked to me by myself at the end and she was just saying when she came to her EYOF she was ranked 8th and she ended up getting the gold medal and that really inspired me to come out here and race my best today, she was just saying when you’re on that start line it’s a level playing field and it doesn’t matter what you’re personal best is. I really was thinking about that in my race today, but it just didn’t go to plan, she’s an inspiration to me.”
In her debut for Team Ireland at the EYOF, Derry’s Veronica O’Neill competed in the Girl’s 100m Hurdles, finishing 5th place in her heat with a time of 14.16. With the top two in each heat and the fastest two times after that progressing this wasn’t enough for her to qualify for the semi-final. The Derry runner said,
“Going into it I was nervous beforehand, but when I got out there, I was trying to focus a lot and then my start was slow, and I was trying to catch up as we were going down the track, but I just couldn’t get my legs going at all. It didn’t go to plan. I got the qualifying standard in April, I didn’t think I’d be able to get it, it was 14:15, and then I went to England and ran under 14 and was just in shock really. I got selected for this, so it’s all just experience really, and I’ll take it all on board and move onto the next.”
All three Irish cyclists were in action in the 49.8km Girl’s Road Race. Starting and finishing in Maribor city, the race was three laps of a 16.6km circuit, which included a 700m climb. From the start aggressive racing mixed with street furniture and narrow roads led to exciting racing from the 82 starters, which included plenty of crashes. Despite numerous attacks, the peloton stayed together until the final lap on the climb, when five athletes moved away and kept their gap until the line.
Competing in her second EYOF, Tyrone’s Aliyah Rafferty was the top Irish finisher, in 13th place. Killarney’s Kate Murphy was further back in the peloton in 39th place, a resilient performance considering she had a bike change 7 minutes before the start, due to a mechanical. Lawless finished at the same time in 43rd place and was competing in her third event in three days, having already raced the Time Trial and Mountain Bike this week.
Speaking after the race, Permanent TSB Flagbearer for Team Ireland, Rafferty described the drama of the race, saying,
“It was very cagey from the start, especially in the first lap. Obviously, you have 80 girls who all want to do their best and get to the front, and that leads to lots of crashes. Especially with a lot of road works on the course and street furniture. We would go from a big wide road to single lanes, so it was very hectic the whole time. You would see a crash in front of you and try to swerve it and hear crashes behind you and you were thankful it wasn’t you. It was tough to stay out of trouble.”
The race wasn’t as long as what they are used to in Ireland, which brought a different challenge,
“It wasn’t too long of a race, but the climb every lap definitely hurt, but other than that it was a quick race, a fast course because it was flat then straight up a hill and really quick back down into the village, at times it was over 60k an hour and you were just holding on for dear life down the hills.”
The Island Wheelers CC racer has stepped up with experience in her second Games, and spoke about some of the tips she took from Tokyo Olympian Louise Shanahan who spoke to the team before travelling,
“Last year I was so nervous before the races, but this year before my road race I was kind of cool and confident and ready, I knew what to expect. On the team day we had a talk from Louise Shanahan, and she spoke about how nervous she got when she went to the youth Olympics, and I was listening to her and thought how that was literally me. It was nice to hear that someone else had a similar problem and know we had something in common.”
Raced on the same circuit, the Boy’s Race was 66.4km in total, four laps of the circuit. An attack at the end of lap one by Max Hinds of Great Britain was the move of the race, and he stayed away until the finish. While the climb each lap split the peloton momentarily, the sprint for silver came from the main group, with Dungarvan’s David Gaffney being the top finisher in 25th place, Rostrevor MTB Club’s Conor Murphy finished 41st in the same group. Galway racer Philip O’Connor got caught in a crash in the opening lap which ruled him out of contention in the race, unable to get back into the main group.
Speaking after the race, Gaffney spoke through his race,
“It was a fast pace, very hard up the hill every lap, but I’m happy with my performance. There were a few crashes in lap one, and Philip was unlucky and got caught in it. It was fairly technical in the back side of the course, I didn’t think it would be. When you are in such a big bunch you really notice it when it gets narrow or twisty. It was so fast coming up the last climb and down the hill, there was no sitting up at all. There were so many attacks in the last 2km and it was really hard to fight for positions. I love racing in such a big competitive bunch, and I would love to carry on doing it in the future.”
Team Ireland’s silver medallist from the Time Trial, Conor Murphy, showed no sign of tiring in his third race in as many days and tried to attack several times early in the race, but nothing stuck. On the second lap going up the hill, his chain came off forcing him to stop and chase back into the bunch,
“The racing was amazing, just fast from the start, crashes everywhere, I just loved it. I was trying to get into a few breaks, but nothing was sticking. I dropped a chain on the second time up the climb, so it took me a few minutes to get it back on, but pretty happy I got back over to the bunch and recovered from it. I just got a bit boxed in for the sprint, but I’m happy to finish in the main bunch. My legs actually felt better than yesterday! I got a bit of physio last night so got everyone sorted and felt strong today.”
This rounds out a successful week for cycling at the EYOF for Team Ireland, with a silver medal won by Conor Murphy in the Time Trial, tenth place for Greta Lawless in the Mountain Bike Race, and today’s 13th-place finish for Aliyah Rafferty the top results.
It was a full day of action in the pool for Team Ireland, with all Irish athletes competing. Both Sean Donnellan and Ava Jones progressed to the semi-finals, after strong swims in the morning. Bangor’s Brydan Byrne finished 6th in the Boy’s 200m Backstroke with a time of 2:07.03. He was the final Team Ireland swimmer racing in the evening session at the Pristan Swimming Pool, and speaking after his race, he said,
“I took advantage of having no swim this morning and tried to get ready for this evening. I got in and did my normal warm-up, and just gave it all I could. It’s been a great experience, it’s good to have that experience in a final as well, as it helps me for the future.”
In his second semi-final of the EYOF, Sean Donnellan was in action in the pool this evening for the Boy’s 100m Butterfly. The Dubliner finished 14th overall with a time of 57.18. Donnellan was able to enjoy the race with the 100m Butterfly being his preferred event. It’s been a good experience for the Glenalbyn swimmer. Speaking after the event, Donnellan said,
“I just decided to go for it because it’s my last event of the competition. I just went for it as fast as I could. It’s great to make two semi-finals even though I’d like to go a bit quicker. It’s great to be able to compete with these lads, as it’s a pretty high level. I was really able to enjoy the 100m this evening, it was a really good atmosphere.”
Also racing in a semi-final was Dublin’s Ava Jones in the Girl’s 100m Breaststroke. Jones finished in 10th place with a time of 1:12.32, falling just off the pace in the last 10m meaning she is second reserve for tomorrow evening’s final.
Slightly disappointed with her race, the Dublin swimmer said,
“It wouldn’t be my PB, the time is a bit disappointing. I think I did my race plan well, and I’m reserve number two for the finals, so I’m okay with that. I was going into the competition hoping to get a final, but a semi-final I’m happy with.”
It was a busy morning for Gene Smyth who clocked a time of 24.89 in the Boy’s 50m Freestyle, not enough to qualify for the semi-finals. He also competed in the 200m Freestyle in a time of 1.57.29.
Galway’s Niamh Connery was also competing in the Girl’s 100m Breaststroke, finishing with a time of 1.15.19. Only one nation can qualify out of the heats for each nation, and Jones was faster in the qualifying rounds. Denis O’Brien’s 1.56.72 in the Boy’s 200m Freestyle was also not enough to progress out of the heats.
Results 27 July 2023
Enya Silkena, Heptathlon Final – 9th Overall with 5072 (Long Jump – 5.6, PB, Javelin – 45.37 PB, 800m – 2:43.49)
Donal Martin, Boy’s 200m Final – 6th Overall, with 21.69 (21.56 PB in Semi)
Michael Kent, Boy’s Long Jump Final – 8th with 7.02 (PB)
Tara O’Connor, Girl’s High Jump Qualification, 1.65m – not enough to progress to the final.
Cian Crampton, Boy’s Discus Throw Qualification – 3rd qualifier for final with57.65m (PB)
Veronica O’Neill, Girl’s 100m Hurdles Round 1, 5th with 14.16
Saoirse Fitzgerald, Girl’s 800m Heats, 4th position with 2:11.84
Girl’s Road Race
13th Place – Aliyah Rafferty
38th Place – Kate Murphy
43rd Place – Greta Lawless
Boy’s Road Race
25th Place – David Gaffney
41st Place – Conor Murphy
87th Place – Philip O’Connor
Brydan Byrne, Boy’s 200m Backstroke Final – 6th place overall – 2:07.03
Ava Jones, Girl’s 100m Breaststroke Semi-Finals – 10th place overall – 1:12.32
Sean Donnellan, Boy’s 100m Butterfly Semi-Finals – 14th overall – 57.18
Gene Smyth, Boy’s 50m Freestyle Heats – 24.89, did not qualify for SF
Niamh Connery, Girl’s 100m Breaststroke Heats – 1:15.19, did not qualify for SF
Denis O’Brien Boy’s 200m Freestyle Heats – 1.1:56.72, did not qualify for SF
Gene Smyth, Boy’s 200m Freestyle Heats – 1:57.29, did not qualify for SF