Ahead of today's National League opener, we asked Ned Flanagan winner Aideen Keenan to reflect on her experiences in Clonard last weekend. Having taken her win amidst a bunch of A3 and junior riders, this was to be her first road race in a purely female bunch...

The flat plains of the midlands played host to Rás Naomh Finian on Saturday 8th March, a 44km course for the ladies, who were politely turned around before the only hill on offer in the area. Myself and Ann Horan were representing the Orwellian ladies among a field of about 25, both new to the game with less than three races under our belts (between us!).

The pace started slowly – almost ridiculously so – as the ladies sussed one another out and willed each other to be the first to go, putting the less experienced of the bunch on edge. In comparison to my only other race, at which the ladies were forced to set off at a searing speed to keep up with A3 men, this was a whole different ball game; this was real racing!

It was clear from an early stage, once the pace picked up, and a few people started shooting off the side, that the bunch was not going to split easily. Anne Dalton (DID Electrical) was the first to make a break less than 6km down the road, soaring up the side of the bunch. I followed in close pursuit and we were reeled in no more than a minute later. And so it continued: a combination of competitive fight, gut instinct – and of course inexperience – compelled me stay at the front for most of the day breaking the wind, which seemed to be more of a swirling affair than the expected crosswind, and fighting off every attack like a dog chasing a stick.

Meanwhile Ann, who was blessed with more sense, stayed sheltered in the bunch keeping her powder dry for the inevitable sprint finish, taking her turn at the front a sensible number of times. By the time we took the U-turn in Rochfordbridge, just over halfway through the race, the bunch was still more or less intact and a cross tailwind kept the pace high.

Shortly after the turn, Helen Kerrane (St. Tiernan’s) took off on her own and opened up a small gap, before Anne Dalton bridged over to her with about 10km to go and propelled herself off the front in a solo break. I was starting to feel the effects of my “non-strategy” in the legs and as we approached the home straight, passing a “3km to go” sign, I found myself going backwards through the bunch as the fresh-legged among us geared up for the sprint. So that’s what everyone was waiting for! The realisation came too late as I fought to hang onto wheels.

Ann, having strategised much more cleverly and eager to put her recent sprint training into practise, took off within the final 500m and just missed out on a top ten spot. And so there it was: no placings for the Orwell ladies that day, but the learnings were immense: I have to learn not to chase any more sticks and Ann has to work on turning the noise she made as she crossed the line into one of triumph!

Best of luck to the Orwell women at the Boyne GP today. We'll post results when we get them!

Keenan after her victory in Monasterevin (photo thanks to Caroline Martinez)