Hanna makes it back to back wins on Mill Hill

Newcastle AC notes by Bogusboy

The annual Mill Hill uphill mile race took place on Tuesday 12 September at 7:00pm. The race, which has been ran every year since 1987, with the exception of 2001, begins in Annsborough and challenges the athletes to negotiate the steep climb to just past the library in Castlewellan.  By the time the runners completed the one mile climb, they ascended a total of 90 metres at an average gradient of 6%.  At the steepest point around the halfway mark the gradient is 10%. The format of the race is simple.  Get from the big tree in Annsborough to just past the market house before anyone else; something that Deon McNeilly has managed on six different occasions, Alan McKibbin six times in a row, Robbie Bryson four times and East Down’s Liam Venney and Brendan Teer between them for six years leading up to 2015.  There was a changing of the guard in 2016 with Newcastle’s rising star, Zak Hanna winning for the first time. In all there have been 11 different winners of the race to date. 


Some notable past performances: Since the inaugural running in 1987 there have been some notable winners and some outstanding performances witnessed.  The maiden winner was Mark Kirk, the Northern Ireland Champion miler at the time, who clocked an impressive 5.28 in a race where 8 men broke the 6 minute barrier, still a record for most sub 6 minute finishers.  Robbie Bryson then recorded 4 wins in the next 8 years, punctuated by victories for Andrew Callan, Adrian Philpot, Derek Melville and the most significant of all, the first win of Deon McNeilly.  Indeed Bryson can count himself very unlucky not to have 5 wins.  The 1994 race saw Bryson finish runner up to McNeilly in a time of 5:16, the second fastest time in the history of the event.  McNeilly was at the height of his pomp at that time and had been earning a growing reputation as a quality international competitor; he still dines out on the memories!  McNeilly had competed in similar races on the mainland and still holds the record for some of these. He set an impressive record of 5 minutes dead for Mill Hill to beat Bryson convincingly.  However controversy surrounds the time as the winner claimed to have recorded 4:59 on his own watch.  Official time keeper Mickey McAlinden, an upright and conscientious member of the community, missed by us all since his passing, recorded 5:00 and so that is what the record books record.  This was verified by Frank Morgan using a few choice words when McNeilly registered his protest! McNeilly’s time is so impressive that no-one else has been within 30 seconds of it in the last 10 years!!! Deon went on to carve out 5 further victories, the last of which was in 2002.


Hanna proved too strong: As the 85 athletes – more had registered, but alas some were deterred by the heavy rain that had pounded the pavements for the vast majority of the afternoon – made their way to the start the conditions improved slightly and the rain abated, albeit temporarily. At the appointed time race starter Paul Watson had them on their way for a lung bursting effort. Hanna went straight to the front and built up a commanding lead by the time they passed the quarter mile point. A quintet of his club mates were forming a tight pack in behind and would fight it out for the minor placings. Hanna maintained his lead to halfway and extended it on the steepest point, just over 900m in. He raced to the line untroubled to retain the trophy won last year. He would be the only athlete to break the 6 minute barrier on the night. Donnelly was the best of the rest and was delighted with his second place finish – well he was delighted until the words of Chairman McNeilly stung in his ears, ‘sure there couldn’t have been too many about if Brendy finished second’ – McNeilly has been advised to pursue a career in motivational speaking. Hicks pipped O’Hare for third as the steady flow of colour began to approach the line. A few seconds later McMullan finished 5th, followed by Paul Burns, the first non-NAC athlete in 6th place. The Spartan just edged out the Cobbler in the battle for seventh and the top 10 was rounded out by James Smyth and Aidan Murray. A little further back, Ronan McVeigh was first junior home in 12th and Rebecca Nixon claimed the female overall and female junior in 17th place.

With competitor ages ranging from 8 to 65+, it was great to see such a diverse range of talent on display. All money donated in lieu of a registration fee will be donated to the official charity for the event – PIPS: £500 will be presented in the very near future.


Belfast Half Marathon: A number of NAC athletes used the Belfast half Marathon on Sunday 17 September as part of their build up for the forthcoming Dublin Marathon on 29 October. The event, now in its fifth year, has rapidly developed a reputation for being a good course for a fast time. There are not too many hills and crowds generally come out to cheer the runners on. This year over 3500 took the line at 9am on Sunday morning to challenge themselves over 21k or 13.1 miles in old money. Conditions turned out perfect and the slight drop in temperature was welcomed by those taking part. The race was comfortably won by Gideon Kipsang in 1:04:35 with Stephen Scullion second in 1:06:11. Brendan Donnelly completed his week’s holiday in NI with another fine run, completing the 13.1 miles in 1:19:32. Donnelly is a man who, by his own admission, has got marathon preparation wrong and this has been reflected in performances well below his ability. However, as he makes his final preparations for Abingdon, near Oxford in early October he can be confident that he is on track for the sub-3 hour time that has eluded him to date. Next home was Paul Carlin in 65th running an extremely steady and even paced 1:22. Not too far behind was the ‘Galloping Landlord’, Jack O’Hare, who despite feeling lethargic at training in the days leading up to the event, left nothing on the road and came home very strong (1:23). He was followed by the ever-consistent Francis Tumelty who gave all and recorded 1:24. Wonderwall had been bedevilled by the demons that haunt him in the build up to a race. In the hour before the gun, he was going out at 6:15, 7:00, 7:30 and every possible time in between. In the end he did what he does best – run on how you feel in the moment. He was rewarded by a time of 1:26 which even surprised himself! Needless to say he was a mess of blood, sweat and tears as he crossed the line; evidence as if it was needed that he leaves nothing on the road. The Prophet declared him a close runner up to Brendan Donnelly for the now mandatory man of the match award.


Support means everything: A little (no pun intended) further back Gerard McAuley was having the run of his life. The wee legs worked like pistons throughout as he recorded a massive PB of just over 1:27. Gerard would like to thank his close friend and voice of positivity Kris Fegan for all his wonderful positive encouragement and support. Ruairi Donnelly, older brother of Brendan, had a great run. This relative newcomer to racing in the red and yellow has improved exponentially in recent times and a 1:28 is another significant landmark in his progress. Higgins stuck stoically to the task of getting his charges across the line in 90 minutes. He was left by most of those he had gathered up as they pushed on having benefitted from the sage-like wisdom proffered for the first 20k! Higgins took it all in his stride and was last seen heading off towards Cavehill to feed cattle – all in a day’s work for some!


The old and the young

The older and more experienced section of the club could not match the youthful exuberance of those less advanced in years. Joe McCann started slowly and got progressively slower, before making some kind of recovery to finish in 1:35. Perhaps he was buoyed on by the hearing of the cheers for Paul Rodgers who was not too far behind at the 9 mile marker. Rodgers, recovering from injury, was home in 1:37, not too far from his nemesis. Harry Russell continues to improve and attributes this time to the tempo sessions around Maghera on a Thursday night. The most youthful athlete on parade was Kerri Valentine. Kerri at the tender age of 17 is learning her trade in long distance running and making improvements.  These will become more obvious as her strength and stamina grow.


Position Name Time
42 Brendan Donnelly 1:19:32
65 Paul Carlin 1:22:21
80 Jack O’Hare 1:23:20
89 Francis Tumelty 1:24:00
142 Noel Gallagher 1:26:54
166 Gerard McAuley 1:27:11
177 Ruairi Donnelly 1:28:28
223 Patrick Higgins 1:30:06
358 Joe McCann 1:35:12
415 Paul Rodgers 1:37:31
702 Harry Russell 1:43:00
1516 Kerri Valentine 1:56:03



Mourne Mountain Marathon: After a five year break Eamon McCrickard and Deon McNeilly decided to pair up one last time (or will they have another final go next year!), for this year’s 2 day Mourne Mountain Marathon.

Two day Mountain Marathons are one of toughest tests of all round mountain running skills, involving mountain navigation, running and overnight camp with all camping equipment being carried throughout the event.  The first day of this year’s Elite category was particularly tough, with rain and cold wind through out, beginning with a climb over Slieve Commedagh finishing many miles later, with numerous difficult checkpoints in driving rain near the Summit of Binnian. At the overnight camp International Orienteers Paul Pruzina and Mathew Vokes, led the event by over half hour with Deon and Eamon in 4th place but with only five minutes covering 2nd to 5th it was still all to play for on Day 2. Also in the Elite category from Newcastle AC, David Hicks and Neil Andrews finished day one in 11th running well but struggling with route choice. Sam McNeilly and Patricia McKibben doing well to finish after nearly 9 hours in the hills but had to withdraw as Patricia wasn’t feeling well, having received a bad cut on her leg during the run.

After a very cold night, filled with popping balloons from balloon beds, day 2 began with sun and clear sky’s so The Big Fella and the Big Fella’s Fella hit it hard, pushing all day with fastest accent of the day up the Devil’s Coach Road. The effort paid off with first Elite team home, followed shortly after by David and Neil who had a much better second day, finishing 3rd quickest on day two moving them to 7th place overall. In the C Category, Newcastle AC’s Gwenda and Joe Kenneally won the Mixed Vets. Paul and Matthew held on for the overall Elite win, with Eamon and Deon 30 years their senior taking the runners up spot.

Also competing from Newcastle AC, in the inaugural one day score event were Paulette Thomson & Eugene McCann and Colm Murtagh & Mari Troeng. Mari and Colm finishing 2nd overall, took the first Mixed Team prize as well.

Troeng by name, Strong by nature!: Historians report that Vikings landed on these shores in approximately 800AD. They quickly built up a reputation for their toughness and no more is that demonstrated than with Newcastle ACs very own Viking Mari Troeng. After running around the mountains for 5 hours on Saturday with the Spartan (Colm Murtagh, originally from the parish of Glen and now  residing in the parish of Drumaroad & Clanvaraghan, both places where they know a thing or two about being tough!), she fell and dislocated her shoulder. To us mere road warriors that would have been the end of the race, but this mountain lady is made of tougher stuff. With her running partner standing there feeling particularly useless, she popped the shoulder back in herself (a trick she had learnt after being nobbled by O’Hare on the start line of the Dublin Marathon) and got up to run home from Binnian finishing 2nd overall in the first ever Mourne Mountain Score Class as well as finishing 1st mixed team (admittedly they were the only Spartan/Viking combination!). It was a great achievement that was only slightly tarnished when on returning to the prize-giving, they discovered that the prizes had already been given out – to others! The learning point for the organisers next year – never write off the Spartan and the Viking!!!



Pulse Triathlon: Last weekend (Saturday 9th September) Luke McMullan completed at the Pulse Triathlon at Clogherhead Beach, near Drogheda.  The NAC athlete finished 12th in a field of 404 finishers. Luke now finds himself leading the National Series for the M25-29 Age Group. The series will be concluded by the end of the month and Luke will be aiming to retain his top podium spot.


Castlewellan parkrun 23 September: Saturday 23 September marks the first parkrun in Castlewellan. This event adds to the 24 that are already held each and every Saturday throughout Northern Ireland. Parkrun is a weekly timed 5k run, jog or walk and is aimed at the entire community. The organisers are looking forward to welcoming large numbers to complete the course which follows the lake path anti-clockwise and takes in a short out and back on the Crow Road to make up the 5k. Registered athletes are reminded that they must bring their barcode and unregistered are reminded to log on to the parkrun UK website and follow the simple registration process. Registration is free and taking part is free and always will be. Further information is available on both the Castlewellan parkrun website and Facebook page.