A round up of a myriad of races by Bogusboy
Cross country running in Northern Ireland has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance in the last three years. This has undoubtedly been due changes to the format, the rewarding of participation and the commitment of the clubs to get their athletes to the line on race day. Newcastle AC has been at the forefront of the drive to promote cross country and have been reaping the rewards. League champions in 2014-15 and NI Senior Team winners in 2015-16 are testimony to the clubs commitment to this division of athletics. The men in red and yellow travelled to Lurgan Park on Saturday 4 March with both prizes still very much within their grasp. Firstly, with a strong squad assembled, the objective was to retain the title emphatically won in 2016. However, this would not be easy as perennial rivals City of Derry Spartans (one of Colm Murtagh’s former clubs!) and North Belfast Harriers were equally determined to lift the McAllister Trophy and arrived with teams stacked with ability. Secondly, the team knew that a third place finish or better on the day would secure the overall 2016-17 cross country league title; a title relinquished begrudgingly last year.
Top heavy with talent
The field of 125 male athletes was certainly top heavy with real racing talent and the early exchanges were fast and furious – there were also 125 ladies in the corresponding 6k event, but alas the NAC ladies were not represented. In the opening laps O’Flaherty and Lynch found themselves in a group of 6 that were shifting through the gears with considerable aplomb. Both Newcastle men would tail off slightly in the closing laps, but continued to run strong as O’Flaherty claimed an impressive 5th place and Lynch was just one place further back, comfortably clear of the 7th place man.
Aaron Doherty (City of Derry Spartans) would retain his title ahead of the fast finishing Mark McKinstry (North Belfast Harriers) who would finish second for the third year in a row. Irish National 5k champion, Conor Duffy would round off the podium positions. In the team event it was Derry who proved to have the strength in depth and with 4 finishers in the top 10 and their 5th and 6th men finishing 15th and 22nd respectively, they were simply too good for the other teams. North Belfast packed well also and would claim the second place ahead of Newcastle’s hextet who were a gallant third (O’Flaherty 5th, Lynch 6th, Hanna, 20th, Simpson 21st, McNeilly 27th and Steele 34th – arguably the best they could have achieved against two very strong teams on the day. Nonetheless the third place finish was more than enough to regain the league title; a suitable reward for being the most consistent team since the league began months ago with the Comber Cup in October.
|Pos||Bib||First name||Last name||Club||Finish|
|1||99||Aaron||Doherty||City of Derry Spartans AC||00:39:08|
|2||243||Mark||McKinstry||North Belfast Harriers||00:39:13|
|4||102||Declan||Reed||City of Derry Spartans AC||00:39:32|
|8||246||John||Black||North Belfast Harriers||00:40:43|
|9||108||Noel||Logan||City of Derry Spartans AC||00:40:50|
|10||106||John||Lenihan||City of Derry Spartans AC||00:40:54|
The top 10 Male athletes at the Ni Senior XC
|1||City of Derry Spartans AC||61|
|2||North Belfast Harriers||84|
|4||North Down AC||195|
|5||North Belfast Harriers||201|
|6||Foyle Valley AC||318|
The top 10 teams at the NI Senior XC
They all scored for the team
In now traditional fashion, 10 other athletes took the line to make sure that the team maximised the points for participation – it really is a case of every point counting. The new format of 16 athletes claiming a point for the team has worked wonders in motivating clubs to rally the troops come race day. Captain O’Flaherty has praised the many stalwarts who turn up for most races and the cross country dodgers who are prepared to make the effort once in a while for the overall good of the team. This weekend was no exception. Aidan Brown sacrificed his long marathon preparation run and was 7th scorer, narrowly missing out on a team medal for the second year in a row as he finished on the heels of Steele. Colum Campbell continued his fine form and was comfortably inside the top 50 in 42nd place. Another marathon man, Francis Tumelty replaced the flats with the spikes and ran a very steady race to finish 49th overall. Needless to say both Brown and Tumelty could not resist the challenge of a long run the following day and were spotted pounding the roads under the watchful eye of Guru Higgins Both were delighted that the road run this Sunday featured no ‘off road’ or ‘wall jumping’. Next home was Brendan McQuaid, who despite being far more at home on the tarmac turned out for the team and was 62nd overall. Grit and determination were etched all over Bob Brown’s face throughout the race. He hung tough for 6 laps and recorded a more than credible 69th place in a very good field. Evergreen Eugene McCann was next. Festooned in his now mandatory club headwear, he stoically circled the course for the good of the team and completed the tough 12k course in just under 52 minutes. Gary Cairns sacrificed his own performance to pace Wonderwall and did a magnificent job in bringing the totally spent Gallagher across the line, before helping him up after his efforts had caused his to fall to the ground totally exhausted. Stevie Rice also hung back in case Wonderwall could not keep up with Cairns as they finished 106, 107 and 108 respectively. Cross Country stalwart Declan Magee completed the scoring and earned the 16th point for the team when he crossed the line in 119th place. Declan is one of the names that the captain can always rely on for every XC outing. Surprisingly though Magee was, for once, wearing only one watch!!!
Newcastle AC positions at the NI Senior XC
Two outa three aint bad
The disappointment of the third place on the day was quickly forgotten amid the celebrations of regaining the league title. In his first year as captain O’Flaherty can be very proud of his achievements, leading the club to regain a title and put the NAC name on the trophy for the second time in the three years since its inception. In typically modest fashion, he was very quick to talk down his own performance and asked that all those athletes outside of the 16 scoring at Lurgan who also turned out for any of the previous fixtures were mentioned in the report. So well done tothe following: John ‘Hen’ Kelly, Paul Fitzpatrick, Eoghan Totten, Richard Rodgers, Patrick Higgins, Jim Patterson, Kris Fegan, Gerard McAuley, Ronnie Horrox, Joe McCann, Fergal Smithwick, Brendan Donnelly, Rory McMullan, Damian McDaid, Jack O’Hare, Barry McConville, David Hicks, Wil Owens, PJ McCrickard, Andy McMurray, Ronan Barr, Declan McElroy, Tadgh McNamara, Phil Murdock and Seamus White. Clearly this was a team effort and those who turned out and ran and scored a vital point from 5-16 for the team made a valuable contribution to the re-capturing of the title. Rumours abound that Horrox is sourcing new spikes in preparation for 2017-18 and promises to be faster and fitter to help the team retain the title.
Slieve Gullion marks the beginning of another year in the fells
The NIMRA 2017 fell running year began with season opener at Slieve Gullion just outside Newry. Although the race is not part of the NIMRA Championship, it provided the ideal opportunity for the hardy mountain men and women to get some climbing and descending in their legs before the British Championship event in Newcastle on 8th April, the Hill & Dale series and the other events that will make up the NIMRA series. The race was won by Jonny ‘The Steede’ Steede from Glens Runners (33:12). He was followed home by three athletes in red and yellow with the ever-improving Hicks second and Murtagh claiming the third podium spot. Newcastle wrapped up the team event with ease as Grant was an excellent 4th and the relatively inexperienced Barr a more than credible 23rd to give a team score of 32 points, well clear of Armagh AC (96) and BARF (99) who were second and third respectively. Mari Troeng took a break from long hard road runs to compete and was rewarded with third place on the podium. As it is lent she was unable to celebrate with craft beers or artisan coffee; she had to make do with a trip to feed the cattle! Club ‘newbie’ David McCann was next – Are the McCann’s taking over the world? That’s three in one small club, but Cousin Eugene still claims to be the main man! Samantha McNeilly was next home and based on the evidence of the photographs she took most of the mountain with her. Declan McElroy did something that the Rodgers boys have failed to do for 30 years in finishing ahead of Deon McNeilly; no doubt he will dine out on that for years to come. Declan has been approaching Tuesday sessions with renewed vigour and the evidence is there for all to see in his performance. Tadgh McNamara completed the scoring for NAC in 48th place and was delighted with his performance in his first fell race.
Newcastle AC positions at the Slieve Gullion Fell Race
Carlingford Half Marathon and 10k
The third major race of the day was the biggest of all with 351 10k competitors and 781 half Marathon finishers in Carlingford. NAC were a little thinner on the ground as many are saving themselves for the annual pilgrimage to Bohemeen on 12 March. However, this did not mean a lack of success. Patricia McKibbin continued her excellent run of form with another fine win, leading the ladies home in the 10k in 42:18, averaging 6:49 per mile. There were two athletes in the Half Marathon, Martin Duggan ran 1:41:35 and attributed his success to the invaluable advice and support he gets each and every week at the club sessions, while Megan McGreevy recorded an equally impressive 1:41:58 on a course that was officially classified as ‘lumpy’. Well done to all. As if that was not enough 336 athletes completed the 10 mile road race in Derry on the same, albeit without NAC participation.
Ben Dearg 10k
The weekend of racing locally was completed with the Ben Dearg 10k. This is a race that has grown significantly in the last three years and Sunday 5 March saw 240 competitors register for the 10k and 5k events. With a nice rucksack on offer for the first 200 competitors and a feed that would have satisfied those with a healthy appetite, the £15 entry fee was justified. Another nice touch was the watches proffered as prizes to the category winners and the top 3 male and female runners in the 10k. Joe McCann was the only Newcastle athlete to make the scenic trip around the coast to complete the out to Ballyhornan and back loop that had potential for quick times. The conditions were unexpectedly benign and the Newcastle man finished second in 37:30, 13 seconds behind race winner Finbar Keary (37:17). James Savage made a very welcome return to competitive racing and was third in 37:46. McCann’s nemesis Robin Montgomery was unable to make it due to his efforts at the XC the previous day, but sent lookalike Eric Fairfield to keep an eye on his rival. Fairfield would be rewarded with a new PB and 4th place overall.
Next weekend is a big one both at home and further afield. Locally it is Jimmy’s 10k, one of the best organised and supported events in the NI calendar. Last year there were 821 finishers with Newcastle’s Kerry O’Flaherty taking the win in the ladies race ahead of Laura Graham. Shalene McMurray completed the female podium. Many of the NAC faithful will be on the bus early for the trip to Bohermeen to complete the Meath Spring Half Marathon, an ideal sharpener for those completing a spring marathon. If 2016 is any kind of barometer then watch this space next week for an exciting report! Finally, a reminder that registration for the 2017 Hill & Dale series is NOW OPEN and athletes should register as early as possible. Registration is free and entry fees are payable on the night of the races.