Report by Siobhán Grant
Hill and Dale Newcastle AC round up
On Friday evening the 2023 Hill and Dale series came to a close at the foot of Northern Ireland’s largest mountain. Race 10 at Drinnahilly is always a favourite. Maybe it’s because the terrain returns to mostly forest trails or maybe, just maybe it’s because it is the only race on a Friday night followed by a fresh cold one or few in O’Hares to toast the end of an epic 3 months of achievements.
For the Newcastle AC Juniors, who made sure there was plenty of ice in their Coke with a straw, the past 10 weeks were beyond epic and a testament to the year round dedication of these young mountain runners and their relentless training through all weathers. At times, it was the juniors who offered a masterclass in mountain running to the seniors. With both Tom Crudgington and Ethan McMullan being selected to compete for Ireland at the World Mountain Running Championships smack bang in the middle of the series, allowed for a reprieve of dominance from these two young men who regularly placed in the top 10 finishers in the races they took part in.
The emergence of the skills and resilience of Patrick McDaid came to the forefront. Missing out narrowly at the Irish trials, allowed for him to fully embrace the series and push himself on various courses with some very notable performances at Donard and Tollymore. This dedication resulted in Patrick securing 2nd place overall in the Junior Male category, completing 9 out of 10 of the races.
Yasin Brannigan, off the back of some fantastic road racing results, demonstrated his adaptability to switch to the mountains and still turn out consistently strong races, week in, week out. Completing 7 of the 10 races, he took 4th place overall in the Junior Male Category.
Ciara Savage continues to dominate the Junior Female category. Her ability to make her descent look like she is effortlessly gliding down the open mountain never fails to impress. Ensuring that she gets a solid recce of the course completed a few days before hand has proven instrumental in her performance on the night and her ability to navigationally find the best racing line on the night.
Still relatively new to mountain running. Callum Flynn strategically picked which races he would take part in to ensure that he could give his all to each event he attended and additionally break himself in for a possibly more open mountain races in the next series. A notable performance at Drinnahilly finishing within the top 50 in 26.53 proves the potential this young man has.
Sophie Neill, in amongst recent success on the track at School Districts over 1500m, gave many of the routes a rattle over the series. Her finish at Tollymore was spectacular up the final hill after motivational support on course from Angie Kerr. Another young lady with such a diverse skill set across all athletic events.
Slieve Martin is known for the fast descent from the cairn and it was a phenomenal descent from Ellen Watson as she made up several places as she meandered down through Kilbroney to finish in 1 hour 6 minutes. Sustaining a minor injury on Binnian wasn’t ideal though her determination will ensure that next year she will return to settle her score with the 3rd largest mountain in the Mournes.
The U16 category this year opened up 4 of the regular Hill & Dale races to those who wanted to tentatively dip their toes into the Hill & Dale series. It would either put them off mountain running for life or ignite a lifetime love for the trials and open mountains and everything associated with it. It has become clear that this will be a lifetime of a love hate relationship with the Hill & Dale Series for our U16s. Their baptism into the world of Hill & Dale shows that there is an abundance of up and coming talent following fast on the heels of the current Newcastle Junior mountain runners. One such young man is Euan McIntosh who has consistently produced awe inspiring times. Completing Drinnahilly in 36th place and Binnian in 66th, there is huge potential in these young legs.
Kairim Jaidaine who has also made huge gains this year throughout the Born to Run, Run Forest Run series has become very comfortable on the forest trails and this has spilled over to the more challenging undulation and terrain of the Hill & Dale series with some fantastic performances, completing Drinnahilly in 27.29.
Looking back to Race 1 of Hill & Dale, Emily McMullan was probably the most apprehensive of the whole squad about taking on Hill & Dale. Though it’s very clear now that this will be the strongest of love/hate relationships. The elation in her face once the race had finished was encouragement enough to get her to toe the line the next race before reality set in about the challenge ahead. Even hitting Binnian and getting the full wrath of mountain weather, built up the can-do attitude in this young lady and she powered around Drinnahilly in 34.54. A powerful, determined and resilient performance, a junior lady to keep an eye on in the near future. Emily has now secured her first Hill & Dale Category win of U16 lady.
So with the longer evenings and summer on the horizon, one thing is for sure, they’ll put their school books away for a few months but they will definitely not be putting away their trail shoes!