Cleary, who only joined Donore about six months ago, has been a revelation. In June, she won the Dunshaughlin 10km in an impressive time of 34 mins 52 secs and then continued to improve all summer.
In September, she finished second at the National Half Marathon, beating Barbara Sanchez, and was first master at the Gerry Farnan Cross-Country.
She showed she meant business in Belfast by racing clear of a pack that included defending champion Claire Martin of England, fellow Irish team member Julie Turley and Gladys Ganiel O'Neill of Northern Ireland.
Then came the agony. With the race almost over, Cleary misjudged the location of the finish line. Thinking she was home, she stopped running.
Martin and Turley needed no further invitation and slipped past to take the gold and silver medals, leaving Cleary with the bronze.
Jackie Carthy of Kilmore, 10th overall and third Irish, won the W40 title six years after her last appearance at these championships.
Carmel Parnell had to work hard to retain her W55 title, while Niamh O'Sullivan was fifth Irish woman home and second W50 behind defending champion Fiona Matheson of Scotland. The women's teams from W35 to W65 all finished second. In an enthralling men's M35-45 8km race, Andy Lee of England pulled clear of the leading pack on the final lap. Northern Ireland's Stephen Duncan had led early on but was passed by Ciaran Doherty for second place.
Doherty led the M35 team to victory for a sixth consecutive year -- no other nation has won this age category since it was introduced. Pauric McKinney, just two weeks after finishing first M45 at the Dublin Marathon, finished second in this age group.
Peter Matthews, overall winner for the past two years, finished seventh and fourth M40.
Deon McNeilly of Northern Ireland, with Graeme Saker of England and Ireland's Tommy Payne, set the pace in the M50-60-plus race. McNeilly tired towards the end, letting Saker take the win, with Payne third.
With Tommy Hughes seventh and Patrick O'Grady 10th, the Irish team comfortably took gold.