Superb performances all round at the IAAF International Cross-Country race at CAFRE, Greenmount Campus, near Antrim by the boys in red and yellow saw the club retain the leadership of the Athletics NI Cross-Country League with one fixture to go. The International Cross-Country race was celebrating its 40th anniversary – the event starting in 1978 at the Mallusk Playing Fields before eventually moving to Stormont Estate and finally on to its current location a few years ago. NAC reached Christmas at the top of the table four points ahead of North Belfast Harriers with only two fixtures to go.
As well as getting four men home as soon as possible with the winners earning 12 league points there is also 16 points available for getting 16 runners home. There was a fantastic response from the active runners in the club with 21 making the finish line to guarantee maximum points. These included Jim Patterson (143rd in 37:03), making his first league appearance of the season having become the fastest 70-year old in these Islands having won the Irish & British International in Glasgow in November . Also appearing was Bob Brown (131st in 36:22), whose day job takes him to NHS Management in the northeast of England, home for the weekend and making his debut appearance alongside other debut appearances for the ‘Downpatrick 2’ of Gerard McAuley (152nd in 37:34) and Kris Kristofferson Fegan (154th in 37:44), speedsters on the road but tending to get bogged down in the muck.
Even the BunRun leader, McCann (130th in 36:18) and his Protector Horrox (180th in 40:18, officially in the results as Ronnie Morrow), took one for the team – it’s safe to say that mud and hills are not among their favourite things in life but their points were well received. Then there were the other guys running ‘in cognito’ – in the official results ’Stephanie Nice’ was actually in the correct race as it was really Stevie Rice (164th in 38:44 – is there more to this than meets the eye?) and Richard Rudford (93rd in 33:53) who we’re guessing was Rodgers. And then there were the men who decided not to declare themselves as NAC runners, Deccy Magee (187th in 40:55), who made another welcome appearance despite struggling with his knee problems, the ever-present Gary Cairns (162nd in 38:38) and the improving Rory McMullan (110th in 35:31). Joe’s cousin Eugene trucked down in his SPV with only one for company despite there being plenty of room for many more and had a solid run in 123rd (35:59).
John Kelly who has been struggling with injury since the Cracker, ran solidly for 89th in 33:24 and solicitor come Swedish wannabe Patrick Higgins, blighted by illness this winter so far came home in 86th in 33:13. Francis Tumelty continued his busy winter season with a solid 78th in 32:43 just behind Colum Campbell in 73rd in 32:33 running his first cross-country race of the season.
At the sharp end Aidan Brown is showing a significant improvement of form and was the 5th Newcastle man home in 43rd in 30:09 just behind David McNeilly who was NAC’s final scorer in 41st place in 29:55. McNeilly is training well and this should feed into his racing in the next while or so – as for Brown, he’s significant untapped potential. The top three NAC runners on the day had without doubt the best races of their life in Antrim. First home was Seamy Lynch in 13th place overall and 2nd NI man home and 3rd Irish man overall in 27:00. Looking back at last year Lynch came home in 21st overall and just over 3 minutes (3:09) behind the winner, this year he was just under two and a half minutes (2:24) behind the winner, who is the current Olympic Steeplechase Champion from Rio in August. 21-year-old Zak Hanna continues to improve coming home in 17th overall in 27:41 and will race next weekend for Ulster at the Celtic U23 International Cross-Country in Cardiff. Just behind Hanna in 20th place was David O’Flaherty (27:49) – he was 33rd last year and over 5 minutes behind the winner and this year was just over 3 minutes behind illustrating the fantastic improvement he has made over the past 12 months.
The NAC team easily took the team title with 91 points for their first 4 runners ahead of Springwell (Coleraine) 2nd with 145 points importantly ahead of North Belfast in 3rd with 152 points.
The final league race is also the one-off NI & Ulster Cross-Country Championships at Lurgan Park on the 4th March where Newcastle & District AC will look to retain the championship title it won in 2016 and regain the league title it won on 2015.
PHOTOS courtesy of nirunning.com
40th IAAF Cross-country Permit Meeting in Antrim
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