THE day after Saints won the Grand Final at Old Trafford, another of the town’s sportsmen emerged triumphant in Manchester.

St Helens long-distance runner Matt Crehan celebrated his 30th birthday by running - and winning - the Manchester Marathon.

And his time of 02:18.26 - two minutes ahead of the runner up - opens up doors for Crehan to enter elite international races with the goal of securing qualifying time for next year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

And beyond that there is burning ambition to follow in his mum’s footsteps and run an Olympic Marathon.

Crehan explained his plan for Manchester: “There were time goals in my head – and in the back of my head was the Commonwealth games qualifying standard which is 2.14 which I tried to go for in April in my first marathon, but I blew up.

“I was always being a little bit more reserved in this one.

“There was also trying to get under 2.17 which usually ranks in the top 10 in the UK and then under 2.20 which would open the doors to qualify for a few faster races in Europe and the US.

“I had those times in mind, but winning a race is winning a race and in athletics it is the win that counts more than anything.

“I always said, go for the win and hopefully a good time would come with it.”

The St Helens Sutton athlete, winner of the St Helens 10k between 2018-20, explained how those plans swiftly changed.

And he had to do it on his own after being clear of the field after seven miles.

“My race plan went out of the window probably about three seconds into the race,” he said.

“The plan was to go out in a 5.20 mile, a nice comfy start and then pick up to a 5.14 and that would give me under 2.17.

“I saw the start list and a few were missing and others had been added and saw that Dave Barratt, the guy who finished third, and who runs for Salford.

“He had beaten me a couple of weeks ago at the Great North Run. I knew he was in great shape but he had never run a marathon before so didn’t know what he was capable of.

“He just went off quite quick with a downhill start and we went through the first mile in 4.47 – nearly 30 seconds quicker than I wanted to run

“I saw the lead car at the front with the clock and said, ‘Dave, we are doing a full marathon not a half’ and then he backed off a bit.

“But I didn’t – I knocked out 4.50 the next mile and went through 5K in 15 minutes which is under 2.10 pace and faster than I planned.”

With the cheers of the crowd, lining the city centre in the new part of the route, ringing in his ears - there was no slowing down.

Among those cheering were teammates from St Helens Sutton and St Helens Striders.

“I knew the pace would come back and bite me. Four miles in we hit the city centre and thought we would have to settle down and be sensible – but it was like a wall of sound.

“The crowd was so thick, the adrenalin kicked in and the pace went back down to 4.50 with another couple of quick miles,” Crehan said.

From the seven-mile mark he was on his own, out in front with the lead car in front of him.

A combination of fatigue and the fact nobody was alongside, pushing and competing, saw a slowing down - but he was still a clear victor.

And Crehan takes plenty of positives from only his second race at the 26.2miles distance.

“I have lots still to learn about getting the pacing right but it opens the doors to those races elsewhere.

“Net up is Seville in February - a quick course and good weather conditions and a good quality field, so hopefully I’ll get dragged round and get the Commonwealth qualifying standard of 2.14,” he said.

“I am putting everything on Seville to get the time – but then there is the trials race at Manchester.

“It is going to be a quick turnaround but I am hoping I can run the time in Seville and then go to Manchester and worry about competing rather than focussing on a time, so play a tactical game.”

He has been taking plenty of advice - and he was chatting with Geoff Smith at the Parkrun on Saturday, who passed on a few pearls of wisdom.

“Geoff was the fastest ever marathon runner from Merseyside and he is a 2.09 guy, who won the Boston Marathon. He told me to get the 5 and 10 k down a little bit.

“There is a lot of focus on distance, but he explained that if can do a 14 minute 5K then its going to make those 5 minute miles more comfortable,” he said.

As he moves forward, the long-term goal is to follow in his mum, Susan’s, footsteps who wore the GB vest at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

“The Manchester time has opened up the door to the elite fields in the elite international races abroad.

“If I can build from there for Paris in 2024 the eventual goal is to do what my mum did and get to the Olympic Marathon

“My mum was 32 when she went to the Seoul Olympics and that is the age I will be in 2024,” he said.