Report by Siobhán Grant
On Thursday evening, the track and field Newcastle AC junior squad headed for South Belfast again for the Lagan Valley AC Fab 5 event. This was meet number three of five in the series and the club had already celebrated great success in the previous meets. However, as the sun yet again shone down upon Mary Peters Track, the Juniors brought their A game and were ready to make themselves the competitors to beat.
From the very first event to the final one, there was never a dull moment or someone to cheer on. The Fab Five meets have really allowed our juniors to spread their wings and embrace the field events in addition to adding to their track experience. The unwavering faith that these young athletes have in themselves and the fearless attitude on display is phenomenal to watch as there isn’t an event that they won’t try their luck at.
The evening kicked off long before the first event took place. As the Marshalls set up the Hurdles, it was the antics of Harry Mc Veigh and Rossa McAleenan who made jumping hurdles look doable. During the warmup they cleared each hurdle with ease however their technique could be more akin to a sheep jumping a ditch but with minor adjustments, there is promise in those legs as they grow. Although there was no U11 Hurdle event on the night- watching on, Maisie McVeigh had spied the boys making light work of the task ahead and with less than 3 minutes to spare, she threw the head up, pulled the spikes on and decided she was going to give it a rattle. Maisie’s sprinting ability would stand by her and the natural instinct within her would allow her to settle quickly into a 1,2,3,4 jump rhythm over the 70m stretch. A few lanes down from Maisie, Eve McNamara toed the line. Another regular at these meets who has produced some fantastic performances, narrowly missing out on a podium place. Though on the line, she stood tall, focused and determined, eyes fixated on the finish line. As the gun sounded, the girls took off and by hurdle two, where neck and neck and clearly a stride ahead of the other participants. It was awe-inspiring to watch as the girls cleared all the hurdles and dipped for the finish line. I don’t know who was more shocked at the results but there were plenty of smiles and it was a 1st and 2nd place Podium for Newcastle AC, with Maisie finishing in 13.75 and Eve on her heels in 14.00.
Celebrations were short lived as attention turned to Fiachna Mc Aleenan at the line of the U13 Boys Hurdles which was 75 m in length. Carrying a minor injury, he was reluctant to tackle any of the bigger distances on the night but felt he had this race in him. As the gun sounded, he cleared each hurdle as if he was jumping to catch a hurling ball each one and within 13.81 seconds, he crossed the line in 2nd.
Attention quickly turned to the top of the field where Fiachna had a quick change of shoes for the High Jump. Having performed well within his schools qualifying at the High Jump he had an idea of what he could clear, and the earlier heights were effortlessly cleared on the first attempt. As the competition continued and the field got smaller, Fiachna was still jumping strong. It soon became clear that he had secured a podium spot and as it became a two-horse race so to speak, on the sidelines spectators were aware that he was jumping against an U15 and had won his own age category, Fiachna was totally oblivious to this and was ecstatic when he found out he had won. Both boys maxed out at 1 metre 35cm, 10 cm ahead of the rest of the field.
Only 20 metres away from the excitement at the High Jump, Rossa and Harry were yet again entrusted with the turbo javelins along with 6 other U11 boys. Though this time, spectators had the incident free from the previous meet as reassurance that no trips to hospitals would be on the cards.
Rossa, fresh from his win last meet, had been continuing his practice in the fields at home and keeping up the longer throws. He has talked Harry into joining in too as a change to running. Rossa threw consistently and secured 2nd place with a throw of 12.80, losing out to James Delaney of Armagh AC who threw a staggering 15. 44. However as Rossa left the field he signalled across that he was 2nd and his face said it all, pure delighted that he was getting to stand on that podium again. Harry threw well and took 5th place with a throw of 8.86 however he had his eye on the 600m which followed.
Both boys headed across the field to the start of the U11 600m. There were 2 heats for this event and both Rossa and Harry had been placed in Heat Two. Heat One was the quickest of the two heats being won in 1.48.29. So although Harry had run a fantastic race and one which he looked very comfortable in, clearly winning the heat, his time across the two heat was the third fastest and Harry found himself up on the Podium again knowing that he still has another year to spare in this age group. Rossa, still on a high from his performance in the Javelin, produced a well-controlled and paced race to come 11th overall in 2.11.55.
Meanwhile, the U11 girls were testing their throwing skills down at the Shot Put. Continuing with the mantra of giving everything a go, Emily Kerr kept herself busy before her 600m and stepped up for the Shot. A large field of 21 competitors took part and Emily threw 3.20 to secure 15th place. A fantastic effort from the little lady.
Soon the U11 girls were on the track for the 600m. Young Méabh McCartan stepped up in Heat One of Three to demonstrate her resilience over the longer distance. With many years still left in this age group, she powered through her first lap and kept with the main group. The sheer gravity of the occasion hit with 200m to go and it took everything inside of Méabh to push herself on over the next 100m until she spied the finish line and took off like a rocket to cross the line in 2.59.52.
Emily was placed in Heat 3 and although she was returning to clean track running after getting her feet dirty again at parkrun, she favoured the long distance, running a tight race to take 3rd place in her heat which equated to 7th overall. Claiming afterwards that she preferred that to the 60m in previous weeks.
The U13 girls High Jump was getting underway with three of the Newcastle AC girls stepping up to the mark. Aoife Grant, fresh off the bus from her school residential, opted for just the field events given that like any 11-year-old on a school trip, was severely under-slept. She made a valiant effort at the high jump for 5th. Maisie continued with her, you only live once, motto after her Hurdles performance to take 4th place. Though after flirting with the podium in previous meets, it was going to be a 2nd trip of the night to the steps for Eve who jumped 1.10 to take 3rd place. An amazing evening for Eve who missed the official prize giving as she was shipped straight over to the track to compete in the 1000m.
The U13 Boys and Girls 1000m was definitely the staging ground of those who made the Ulster Schools Finals to stretch their legs and play with tactics. Connaire Og McVeigh, after spending most the evening as chief supporter in the stands, used his power nap earlier in the day, post school residential, to tackle the 1000m. He really put up a fight throughout the two and half laps settling into the main pack well and securing 5th place in his heat in 3.37.70. Again, another strong show from Connaire Og and great foundations laid for next year when he will be one of the older athletes in this age category.
The U13 girls’ race was a two heat affair and both Eve and Maisie, who have become somewhat of a U13 dream team, toed the line together in the second heat. Following Heat one which was a very fast heat, the girls set off strong knowing there was ground to be made up when possible. Maisie, fresh from School Districts knew this was an opportunity to play with her race tactics and showed this through strong surges mid race to create room between her and those behind as well as gain on the one girl in front nearly catching her on the final straight. Given the speed of Heat one, Maisie narrowly missed out on a podium place but was delighted with 4th place overall. Eve settled into the main pack and found herself in a hotly contested battle between six runners. Pushing hard at the end she was able to use her long, graceful strides to secure 10th place overall.
As the track became a bit quieter with the longer track runs took place, the stillness of the May evening air, carried the Shot Put throws of the U13 boys. Many of these young lads had come across one another as the evening’s events unfolded and they were all still as eager as they were during the previous events. Fiachna yet again didn’t fail to make an impression from his first throw. He completed his full collection of podium spots by taking 3rd place with a distance of 8.76.
Needless to say, Fiachna definitely has demonstrated his ability to produce medal winning performances across all three main fundamental skills of throwing, jumping and running. He also clearly shows why you should never specialise at a young age within athletics. A decorated cross-country runner who also excels in track and field events. It could be many years before he decides whether he will or will not pick a specific event. Or maybe just keep his hand in everything and be a multi-eventer. All this aside, his humble persona is refreshing for a young lad of 12 years old and alongside all the Newcastle Juniors in attendance their unwavering support of others must be commended. Nothing sounds better than hearing the shouts of your name across the track when your head plays mind games mid race, or seeing those smiling faces as you reach new heights, distances and smash PBs. Athletics is not an individualised sport; it is very much a team sport as it’s those around you that give you that little bit extra when you need it most.