Report by Siobhán Grant
Cross country season got underway on Sunday in Armagh and the weather gods obviously got the memo and sent wind and driving rain, akin to that of what July had to offer this year only a bit colder.
Though this didn’t deter the local running community from rocking up to Palace Demesne in Armagh for the opening race of the Cross Country League for the TJ McElmeel Cup and with that the Newcastle Juniors fielded a sizable squad to cement their intentions for this season.
Luckily for the younger Juniors races, the rain was only threatening however the freshly cut grass made for a few more obstacles along the route. The U9 races were jammed packed full of smiling faces, proud parents along the route and a few runners on a serious mission to make their mark. For Newcastle AC Harry Flynn toed the line and made sure his presence was felt. Determination filled every step and he made some great moves over the course of the race. Sophie Kerr also put into practice some great skill and navigated the race like a pro.
All eyes were on the U11 Boys race next, as Ulster U10 XC Champion, Harry McVeigh, toed the line under the watchful eye of Coach Grant who was stepping up to allow a much needed break for the heads of McVeigh household. Approaching the race line, with the infamous gloves on, relaxed and in the knowledge that he would get to ride shotgun home, if he won, he set off at a blistering pace to lead from the front. There wasn’t even any challenge to his shadow as he was unstoppable and on a mission to prove himself from day 1 of the league. By the end of lap 1, he had made a comfortable gap of over 50m and was pushing on harder heading into lap 2.
Over the tannoy, attention was directed his way and he continued to accelerate down the finishing straight over 80m ahead of 2nd place. The onlookers were in awe at his control, drive and his own personal relentless pursuit to make a permanent mark in an age group that he’s just moved up into. Clearly Harry has set his sights on big things this year and will let nothing stand in his way to achieve them.
Up next in the U11 Girls, Emily Kerr returned to what she loves best, hills, muck and a good old battle on the grass. The course suited the youngster who is only a few weeks from her 100th parkrun. Taking advantage of tiring legs on the second lap and making up places in the final straight. With McGrady’s Financial Services Junior Cross Country Series starting next week, there are plenty of notable runs to see from this young runner.
The U13 category didn’t disappoint either with numerous unforgettable moments throughout both races. In his first race in yellow and red, Fahlin Murphy-McKibbin who last year caught the eye of one coach during schools cross country, joined Newcastle AC at the tail end of the season and is already promising to be one to watch. Taking on the 1500m, wee loop and big loop route, there were plenty of undulations to contend with and manage. He opted to take the wider line at the start to avoid the jam on the first corner and that proved to be a valuable move as he merged into the lead group, finding himself out in front, a number of times. He fought hard right to the end as even with metres to go, he wasn’t going to give up on 1st place easily. A spectacular performance and one which will set him up for the rest of the season. With more race experience, there is no doubt that he will embrace all lessons learned along the way and apply them to become one of the best in his category. Also in the U13 boys race, Connaire Og McVeigh showed the value of his summer training on the back lanes. His agile over taking and belief in his abilities to finish strong made for a top 10 finish and a great marker for the season.
Donal McDaid, who has really impressed at Castlewellan parkrun recently, also stepped up as a junior in this age category. He clearly has a love for hills as he made up ground on the undulating sections and tackled them with no fear. A great skill to have and will serve him well on the more challenging courses in the league.
The U13 girls were out in force with 5 Newcastle Juniors toeing the line. As the older girls in the category, Maisie McVeigh and Eve McNamara had swapped out their track spikes for the cross country ones and even as the rain fell heavier than monsoon season, they got off to an excellent start and avoided any traffic whilst finding their place.
Although Maisie sat in 3rd place at the end of lap 1, Eve bided her time and stuck to her pace and held strong. This paid off dividends in the closing stages of the race as she soared up the finishing straight, moving from 9th place to 5th in the closing stages. A race strategy that really paid off. Maisie held on for a top 10 finish and has taken a lot from this race to work towards in future competitions. Alana Flynn made great strides throughout the whole race. She dug in deep to keep a strong pace and finishing mid-table with a powerful finish that will stand by her next week when she toes the line in Castlewellan. Lily McNamara, a junior in this category, showed amazing flare for cross country and held her own over the 1500m. She is definitely one to watch who will flourish with more experience. Aoife Grant, who even in the pouring rain and driving wind, never fails to make cross country look like the most fun ever, ran a great race off the back of a season’s best at Parkrun the previous day.
At U15 level we welcomed Coehan Murphy-McKibbin who took the field by surprise, challenging well established club runners and All Ireland champions in his first competitive race for the club. He kept a steady pace and navigated the field with confidence. Although the 3000m distance was tough as a 3 lap route, he looked comfortable and displayed natural talent and flare for cross country running. He will definitely improve further as he gets more miles in the legs over this season.
Clara Flynn knew the task ahead was a mammoth one but on her first outing at U15 level, she demonstrated a high level of resilience as she worked her way through 3 laps of the 1km loop. Finding her stride on the flats and digging deep on the hills, she still managed a smile to supporting club mates as she set off on yet another loop. An admirable performance from this young lady.
The Under 18 men’s race was a big jump for some of our Juniors who only last year were Under 15. However it takes a lot to faze this group of runners and they embraced the challenge. With many accolades achieved recently by this close squad of runners from representing the national team on the mountains to 1st place finishes in parkrun and some notable performances on the road, they welcomed the cross country season and all the bonus wind and rain exfoliation it could offer!
Patrick Mc Daid lead the way for Newcastle making light work of the worsen conditions underfoot. Hot on his heels was Yasin Brannigan with Euan McIntosh not far from his shadow. Karim Jaidine and Callum Flynn who have been a formidable force on the race circuit this summer, showed the level of their adaptability to move from road to the muck and gutters and still turn out outstanding results.
A huge thanks to Mark and his team in Armagh. Given the knowledge of the incoming terrible weather the event ran perfectly to schedule and really showcased the best of what this upcoming XC season has to offer.