Hooray for Haugh!
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The recent poor weather was the determining factor as many seasoned campaigners and novices alike made their decision about competing in the sixth race of the Up and Running Hill and Dale series – Hen and Cock. Add to this a NIMRA championship race over the arduous Annalong Horseshoe less that 48 hours later and it becomes clear why a reduced number, 123 – the lowest of the series so far registered for this steep out and back course.
The weather had decided to relent, admittedly grudgingly, and the runners were spared the misery of the previous week. Well, that’s not totally true as Hen and Cock can hardly be described as an easy flat run!!!
In recent years the series has produced a wealth of female talent. Sharon McBurney, Kerry Harty and more recently Fiona Maxwell have all enjoyed sustained periods of dominance. However, even these greats have been superseded by a considerable measure by the exploits of Charlene Haugh of Mourne Runners this year. With one hand firmly on the trophy after blowing away all of her challengers in recent races, Haugh went to the start line this week knowing that the record of 36.27 set by her club mate Fiona Maxwell in 2006 was well within her reach. Despite the expectation that a new record was a distinct probability, no one could have predicted the margin by which Haugh would shatter the previous best mark for the course. Charlene made light of the heavy conditions underfoot and obliterated the record with a time of 32.43, which was good enough for 15th place overall and well ahead of many of the experienced male runners. For the record, second lady Shileen O’Kane, also broke the old record with a time of 35.10. Charlene is now in pole position having won each of the five races she has entered and only a cruel twist of fortune can deny her a much deserved title.
While the ladies’ title appears to be a foregone conclusion, the male open category is closer. The outcome of this race further clouded the issue of who will be crowned champion. The commentators curse unfortunately did for David O’Flaherty who was to finish a gallant fourth. The rumblings that he was not at his best fail to convince anyone as he was able to win the coveted Les Jones 10k the following evening. By his own admission he was beaten by three better men on the night. Having warmed himself up again and made peace with his crestfallen relatives, Eddie Hanna set the early pace perhaps attempting to redeem himself from the debacle of Moughanmore. He was carefully flanked by McKibbin, who it would appear is trying to cover the moves of all his would-be vanquishers. O’Flaherty was still in contention at the top of Hen. By the time the leaders reached the tip of Cock, O’Flaherty had been dropped and Cunningham and McNeilly were now third and fourth respectively. The decisive moment came on the descent of Cock when Cunningham cut lose and closed a considerable gap to reel in and sail past the two leaders. It was then all about Cunningham who never looked in any danger as her roared home to win by 42 seconds and become the sixth different winner in six races. Who would bet against McNeilly or Carty rolling back the years to make it seven in seven in Donard Forest next week? Hanna, despite a bad fall, held of McKibbin for second and O’Flaherty overcame a spirited and ever-competitive McNeilly for fourth place. Ironically it now seems certain that these minor placings will be instrumental in determining the destination of the title. As it stands, counting the best four finishes of the main contenders Hanna leads by a single point from O’Flaherty, McKibbin and Cunningham. The next few races will certainly be interesting and the series will more than likely be decided in Tollymore on the final night.
Young Sean Donnelly has been making exceptional progress in recent weeks. This week he faced the greatest dilemma in his fledgling running career as he had reached the summit in front of the boss (and before any of the wisecracks start, US musical legend Springsteen was not running this week!!!), Eamon McCrickard. What would he do? Would he go full tilt down the mountain, confident in the knowledge that his struggling master was still suffering from an over-exuberant performance for the ‘Old Crocks’ (I don’t think there is a letter missing) in the 125th celebrations of GAA? Eamon had been persuaded to play in this non-competitive friendly, in the knowledge that his ability to run with the ball would make him an asset and had allowed himself to get carried away with the occasion covering every blade of grass. Would Donnelly hold back and minimize the risk of an apprentice moment the following morning and the uttering of the phrase ‘You’re fired’? As it turned out McCrickard got a second wind on the long descent and scythed through the field, gaining six places and defeating the young pretender by six seconds. It turned out a ‘win – win’ situation as McCrickard retained his racing superiority and pride over his new rival and Donnelly remained unaffected by the credit crunch – well for another week at least!!! Rumour has it that Donnelly bought the ‘Telly’ on Friday for the situations vacant section. Is this optimism or reality?
There were some interesting clashes this week. Pocky Toner defeated his recent nemesis Noel Douglas in the V50 category – a case of the flyweight beating the heavyweight? Andrew Niblock convincingly won the battle of the hockey stars, leaving Mark Kendall a few thousand stick lengths in his wake! Another notable result was that of Roma McConville who finished third lady overall, having won the race no less than 15 years ago.
Hen and Cock also allows for another form of madness to be witnessed – rock jumping. This week’s most ostentatious jumper was John Adgey of Mourne Runners, who having negotiated the rocks, sacrificed his own place and time to offer his services to some young ladies as they literally stepped of the edge of the cliff. Well done John – your reward was obviously great as you finished with a big smile on your face! Fashion is an increasingly important in the series and this week Stephen Knight took it to new levels with a pretty hideous piece of headwear. Maybe it is an orienteering thing!!! Stuart Magill of BARF is the winner of this week’s ‘silly boy’ prize. His anti-social behaviour in running with an MP3 player fuelled considerable speculation as to what sounds were filling his ears. The most reasonable suggestion to date is that he was listening to the ‘Guide to Hen and Cock’ by Guru Ian Taylor, an indispensible piece of easy listening for all fell runners: to re-iterate ‘silly boy’!
For the first time in a long time there was no opportunity to purchase shoes before the race. This was a major source of consternation for James McFerran, who had driven all the way from the ‘Maiden City’ (Newcastle AC is always PC) to compete sans fell shoes and waterproof gear. What was he to do? Standing with a fistful of dollars and a burning desire to spend them he needed a hero. Enter race organiser, Frank Morgan, who handed over his bedraggled Walsh PB’s to the younger man. Those gutties were never seen to move so fast in the 20 years that Frank has owned them! In a Billy’s Boots moment Young McFerran absconded with the shoes which has resulted in the further postponement of Frank’s long-awaited comeback and a renaissance of his former mediocrity.
Race 7 of the series is in Donard Forest. Entries will be taken in the pavilion from 6.15pm onwards and competitors are reminded of the usual need to dress for the occasion and not to impress! Spectators will be guaranteed an exciting finish as all of the main protagonists should be out, trying to assert their authority on the series as the opportunities for victory become fewer.