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Saturday 24 August 2019

Richardson's family affair

Aoibhe Richardson, centre, with her mother, Niamh Richardson, right and her sister, Grace Richardson, left
Aoibhe Richardson, centre, with her mother, Niamh Richardson, right and her sister, Grace Richardson, left

Aoibhe Richardson, proudly wearing her Kilkenny City Harriers vest, was a particularly appropriate winner of Monday's Vhi Women's Mini Marathon 10km.

Richardson is a second-generation mini marathoner and proof positive of the enduring power - and romance - of this great race, which began in 1983 when an American visitor Katy Schilly led home an entry of close to 8,000 women.

With race numbers having reached 40,000 in the past and remaining at a steady 25,000, it's little wonder that top-level athletes aspire to lead home the throng at least once in their career. Niamh Murphy, a native of Westport and then a member of Mayo AC, was one of those women.

After an earlier career as a tennis interpro and intercounty camogie player, she had taken up running when she arrived in Thomond College Limerick to study PE.

She showed immediate promise and in 1988 won the Intervarsity cross-country title. A year later, she made the Irish track team for the Europa Cup and would later compete on Irish teams at two World Cross-Country Championships.

In 1991, she was at her peak when she lined out at the Women's Mini Marathon for the first time; she finished second in 34.40. A year later, she ran 11 seconds faster and finished third. In 1993, she was again the runner-up. A time of 35.01 was enough for only seventh in 1994 and in 1995, she finished fourth. Her mini marathon ambition had stalled.

By this stage, she was married to fellow Irish international athlete Noel Richardson and living in Kilkenny.

Aoibhe arrived in 1996, followed by Grace and Ella in the years following. With father working in Carlow and mother in Waterford, the family remained in Kilkenny and the girls were active in athletics both at their school Loreto Kilkenny and with local club Kilkenny City Harriers. After leaving school, Aoibhe became the first Irish athlete to take up a scholarship to the University of Portland in Oregon.

Last year proved a breakthrough year when she ran a time of 33:59.21 for 10,000m on the track and was selected to run for the Irish U23 team at the European Cross-Country last December in Tilberg, Denmark. There, she finished 25th and second Irish.

This year, she has continued that good form, running 34:10.32 for 10,000m a few weeks ago so was well prepared for the rigours of the mini marathon, even on a blustery day.

She ran a smart race, taking over from early leader Catherina Mullen (who is named for the great Catherina McKiernan) only after the halfway point.

As everyone now knows, she powered on to finish in 35 mins 35 secs, finally bringing her family a long-awaited mini marathon victory.

The good news didn't end there - Niamh, who had first run the race a mere 28 years earlier, was less than five minutes behind in 40:23 (and third W50) while younger sister Grace came home in 41.32. Had all their positions been counted, the Richardson family would have finished third team behind Dundrum South Dublin AC and Raheny Shamrock.

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