Haugh Storms to Hill & Dale Title
And so it came to pass… Race 7 of the Hill & Dale Series is normally the Monument Race in the beautiful surroundings of Tollymore Forest Park but this year because of a much anticipated Prodigy gig in Donard Demesne, the Series’ ender, the Donard Forest Race, was brought forward to Race 7.
Keeping up? It’s about to become more complicated. Then there is the Race Organiser. Organising a Hill & Dale race has become more complex and challenging and so it’s just as well that each race has one individual who leads from the front with his or her (come to think of it, his) inimitable style. Normally Brian McBurney is the Donard Forest Race organiser and Paul Rodgers is the Monument organiser, enter Damien Brannigan the organiser of the Rocky Race (who introduced Rocky into this story? Oh yes, Damien did).
In a couple of weeks time millions of people across the European Union will vote to seat people in the European Parliament and given his unequalled organising skills Mr Brannigan (Mr B from now on to save on computer storage space and newspaper print) has volunteered to act as a guardian of democracy and put his best foot forward to help organise the local polling station. If you’re still with me, yip you guessed it, this clashes with his normal Rocky Race duties and several swaps later, Mr B popped up as the organiser of this week’s Donard Forest Race. Unfortunately, he set about the task as a dry run for his 4th June duties – conclusion? Extend normal voting hours if all the good people of Newcastle are going to be able to actually register a vote.
Despite the pre-race detailed micro-planning there were still people registering to run at the witching hour of 7.30pm in the Donard Park Pavilion and as yet another thundery shower passed, the assembled masses, another 163 souls, gathered impatiently on the grassy areas above Donard Car Park. Eventually, Mr B arrived with loudspeaker and in a grave error of judgement proceeded to give a post-electoral speech. Five minutes later, but not before the midges had eaten the gathered clan alive, at a record tardiness in the Hill & Dale’s 20+ year history, he finally set the race set off.
Turning first to Charlene Haugh, last year the story was told of the 3 Shileens-Shalenes-Charlenes and for the record, the former dived into a rabbit hole this week and broke her wrist (some teachers will go to any length not to have to mark exams), the middle one hasn’t been seen for dust and the latter one is now a historic record-breaking Hill & Dale celebrity.
Smashing records is becoming a habit for Charlene and after removing a long-standing one last week at Hen & Cock and then being practically dragged out of Saturday’s Annalong Horseshoe in a state of complete exhaustion, she popped up again this week to smash another long-standing record and in the bargain secure the Ladies Title after only Race 7. Congratulations Charlene on adding your name to an illustrious list of winners and demonstrating clearly that training with a dedicated focus actually does work.
Meanwhile, the Men’s Title chase is more open at this stage in the Series than it ever has been before. By the end of Race 6, there had been 6 different winners and Newcastle AC’s Alan McKibbin continues to valiantly defend not only his title from 2008 but also from 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 & 2007 – will he make it 7 in a row? From the start he made his intentions clear opening up a 10-metre lead as the race crossed the Glen River for the first time. Behind were all the other Series protagonists, Mourne AC’s Eddie Hanna and Stevie Cunningham, North Belfast’s Neil Carty, Newcastle AC’s David O’Flaherty and Deon McNeilly.
McKibbin must be the ultimate competitor but as the years roll by younger legs surely must eventually slip past him? Like a man possessed, McKibbin continued to lead, whilst behind, and at times some way behind, the peleton chased. 50 metres was the lead one-third of the way through the race with the order of the chasing group changing regularly. By the Quarry on the open mountain McKibbin still had a significant lead, with Hanna, Carty, McNeilly, O’Flaherty and Cunningham still chasing hard.
By the bottom of the steep and twisty drop through the depth of the forest, the young pretender, O’Flaherty had gained four places emerged in front, but McKibbin responded and again took the lead. Afterwards O’Flaherty said “he (McKibbin) took the lead again and then slowed the pace and I decided to wait my moment to pounce”. Emerging at the Glen River, pounce he did, at the top of the cobbles and had already got 10 metres by the Bridge. O’Flaherty stormed home with a valiant McKibbin coming through in 2nd. The Series is still wide open with four races to go with O’Flaherty now just edging ahead with the first person to chalk up two wins, but still no one should underestimate McKibbin’s ability to make it 7 in a row.
McNeilly in 5th gave Newcastle team victory over Mourne AC (Hanna 3rd, Cunningham 6th and Niblock 7th) this week. Attention on teams however must turn to the Real ACKC (no, not a Spanish football club). The history is well-documented about how Davy Hughes several years ago refused to make the move with the rest of his colleagues to Mourne AC and declared that at least once each year he would gather together enough mates to finish a team. This was to be his week then as Davy (149th) was joined by Liam Baron (58th) and Adrian Baron (90th) and scraped home 11th team out of 14, an excellent performance.
Title for ‘silly boy’ of the week goes to ‘Podge’ who under the guidance of, you guessed it, Mr B, was marking the forest route with a spray can the evening before. As the marking progressed Mr B noticed that despite all the clear efforts at spraying (the hissing sound was clear) there was no sign of any marks on the ground. “What is wrong Podge?” Looking down the silly boy noticed that his fingers had been covering the nozzle and that his hand had been ‘Tangoed’.
Next week’s race is the Loughshannagh Horseshoe and all runners are asked to note that the car park and registration are at Spelga Dam Car Park and there should be no parking on the mountain road. It is important that runners arrive early (registration is from 6.15pm).
And finally the last words must go to Mr B – well they had to. Comments afterwards seem to indicate that this was the most prolifically marked and marshalled course in the history of the Hill & Dale Series. There was even a marshal at a stile on the course marshalling the runners over the stile. At times there even seemed to be marshals marshalling the marshals.
At the prize giving, in the traditional fashion of identifying any Series ‘first-timers’ and awarding them a more than useful shoe bag, Mr B decided that two of the three recipients should be Alwynne Shannon and Dave Ewart who between them have probably completed more than 100 Hill & Dale races. Let’s hope for the sake of democracy across the European Union that there is no such skulduggery at the local polling station in Newcastle on the 4th June.