‘It’s been a proper winter’, heavy rain, snow, gales, waterlogged ground, not much sun and so on. Saturday saw the Northern Ireland & Ulster Masters and Intermediate Cross-Country Championships at the Billy Neil Playing Fields between Comber and Dundonald. The 2km lap is an arduous one at the best of times taking in a fair climb and add to that the fact that there wasn’t one piece of firm ground anywhere, even the well-drained football pitches were saturated. Conditions like these bring the road speedsters back to the mudlarks and today was no exception.
Men’s Masters (8km)
Kilcoo man Ian Bailey took his biggest cross-country win of his career. Better known as Slieve Donard Classic winner and for his prowess of long, long mountain and trail races, Bailey was being tested over only 5 miles. After taking out the first half of 4 laps, he was absorbed into the leading bunch of 3 and it was a ding dong battle thereafter. Did he have the guts or didn’t he? On several occasions it looked like he had been dropped by Willowfield’s Neill Weir but every time he clawed his way back and into the final lap he made another concerted effort to break Weir but Weir was stubborn in getting back into the lead. Bailey wasn’t to be beaten and with around 500m to go he put in one final effort and developed a 10-metre gap. It was eyeballs to all the way up the final rise to the line but Bailey held on for a famous victory by just 2 seconds.
Aidy Brown, the Leitrim flyer is in the middle of marathon mileage, but he took one for the team, sorry he took two for the team – more of that later. He produced his best ever performance over the muck to come home in 13th place overall and 2nd scorer in the team. Supported by mountain specialist, another man more at home over a 3-hour race rather than a half-hour ’sprint’ Rostrevor man David Hicks ran strongly to come home in 23rd place. Colly Murtagh is from Drumaroad and overall these 4 guys put the ‘District’ in Newcastle & District AC with Murtagh home in 30th place overall to secure the silver medals in the team race for the club (with 68 points) behind Letterkenny AC (57 points) and ahead of North Belfast Harriers (76 points) – a great result out for the club with overall 13 teams fielded.
Behind the scorers were Francis Tumelty 60th, Michael Flynn in 77th & Ryan McDonald in 78th (both in their first ever cross-country race), Gerard McAuley in 101st and Stephen Rice in 112th.
|3||Dermot||Mc Elchar||M40||Finn Valley AC||00:27:59|
World Masters Mountain Racing O70 champion Jim Patterson didn’t disappoint securing the O70 title over 4km of mud – another great performance from the man who doesn’t know how to stop. Pride of place for him today was his left leg, he wasn’t happy about it, but it got him round and followed this by giving it a lot of exposure to anyone who would listen for the rest of the afternoon.
|1||Terry||Eakin||M65||North Down AC||00:16:59|
|3||Malcolm||McCausland||M65||Derry Track Club||00:19:06|
Men’s Intermediate (8km)
In the signature race of the day over 4 laps and 8km it was 19-year-old Craig McMeechan of North Down AC, currently Irish Junior Cross-Country champion, who stole the show and glided over the mud to win in 27:25. Zak Hanna, another mountain specialist, revelled in the conditions and came home an excellent 5th place in 28:36, just 1 second outside 4th. Luke McMullan, making a welcome return to racing, came home in 15th place with newbie cross-country runner JP Gartland in 16th, looking like he loved every minute of the mud. Prolific marathon runner Patrick Higgins was 24th just ahead of Paul Carlin, finally back to some consistent running after a break and… wait for it… Aidy Brown, just half an hour after running 8k in the Masters came home in 30th place to help the team secure the bronze medal behind Foyle Valley and Acorns (Magherafelt) – a brilliant performance by the team and a massively resilient performance from Brown who headed home with silver and bronze team medals and 10 miles of speedy mud running under his belt.
Behind Brown for the club was Wonderwall Noel Gallagher in 41st place (he had just come down with Brown to ‘watch’ having covered 10 miles in the morning including the Castlewellan ParkRun and borrowed gear to run because the ‘mud looked like so much fun’) and everyone’s favourite local landlord fresh from the sun in 51st place.
|1||Craig||McMeechan||North Down AC||00:27:25|
|2||Chris||McGuiness||Foyle Valley AC||00:28:05|
|3||Scott||Rankin||Foyle Valley AC||00:28:19|
|4||Roy||McGilloway||Foyle Valley AC||00:28:35|
|16||John Paul||Gartland||Newcastle AC||00:30:22|
It was a first ever team finish for the club women in the Masters with Donna Daly looking strong and leading the team out in 37th place. Catherine McIntosh was next home on 50th, Rita Devlin in 61st and Patricia Shields making up the score team in a fine 66th.
|1||Rebecca||Wallace||Lagan Valley AC||00:16:55|