Report by Siobhan Grant
With recent inclement weather, there was no denying in the run up to the NI and Ulster Cross Country Uneven Championships in Donegal that it was going to be unavoidable muck, gutters and swimming pools. Though as one Athletics Coach at Athletics NI pointed out, that shouldn’t be a problem for the club with the mountain runners. And he wasn’t far wrong!
The 100 mile trip across country to Finn Valley AC at Ballybofey was undertaken by a number of our Juniors ready to stay upright and finish with both shoes on their feet, a seemingly simple aim that many failed to achieve.
Up first was Harry McVeigh in the U11 Boys race. Now a figure that other runners fear on a start line and spectators talk about with awe throughout and after the race. The on form runner set off strong and although for part of the first lap he had one young fella try to match his pace, Harry wasn’t long shaking him off and used a downhill into a very muddy section to engage his finely tuned agility and balance to pull away. He led by 10 seconds into the 2nd lap and kept driving forward maintaining that lead, letting the race unfold behind him as he cruised to a 12 second win, finishing to rapturous applause from his biggest fan, his little sister Tilly who was heard clearly over everyone shouting ‘Yay Harry!’ Coaches from other clubs went out of their way to congratulate the young champion and admired his style and undeniable talent.
As celebrations continued for Harry, attentions were turned to the U13 girls race where Eve McNamara, Maisie McVeigh and Aoife Grant toed the line for the 2000m, 2 looped course. As the largest race of the day, there was plenty of scrabbling for space and position in the early stages. Eve led the way for the Newcastle girls and found herself comfortably fighting for a top 20 spot. Stealing a few spots on the final stretch was enough to secure a fantastic 19th place. Maisie was in the thick of the race and navigated the pack well especially in the closing stages to take 31st place continuing her consistent good form. Aoife Grant, engaged her now signature race tactic of the race begins with 300m to go and picked off the runners in front, one by one, smiling every step of the way to take it home for the club. Also the club would like to extend a congratulations to local runner Hermione Sherdian who placed 8th overall in the same race with a fantastic time of 8.02.
Connaire Og McVeigh put in a tough fight in the U13 Boys race. Proving that training pays off dividends and capitalising on his recent mountain adventures to effortlessly wade through plenty of bog and increasing loose ground underfoot to finish in 42nd place. Club mate Donal McDaid, who has continued to impress this year in parkrun, dug deep around the course. Finding his cross country legs and performing on such a big platform is beginning to come together for the young lad. Finishing the 2000m race in 10.37.
It was a huge jump in distance and terrain for the U15 Boys who had 3000m to run which included 2 additional loops of a field sized paddling pool. Juniors in this race, classmates Fahlin Murphy-McKibbin and Rónán Grant who have just turned 13 and due to turn 13 next week respectively toed the line beside boys head and shoulders bigger than them and some nearly 2 years their senior. However this didn’t faze them at all. Fahlin ran a phenomenal race, it was well judged, managed and executed. Making up several places in the final two corners, he secured 8th place, beating some well established cross country runners in the process. An amazing performance as he eyes up the All Irelands in a few weeks. Rónán gave every runner and spectator a lesson in resilience and determination. The 12 year old embodied the ‘my race, my pace’ motto and was not going to be put off by the daunting task and terrain ahead. Putting faith in his legs, his training and knowing his own abilities he finished, shoes and socks indistinguishable from the mud, proud of his achievement.
With a small break in racing as the Girls U17 and U19 race took place, Euan McIntosh was well warmed up and ready to take on the U17 race of 4500m. In a very competitive race that included three full loops of the white course including all the water obstacles, Euan maintained strong form to finish in 26th place in 19.21.
Patrick McDaid, Ethan McMullan and Yasin Brannigan were wise in their warm up, after walking the course earlier in the day they took advantage of the neighbouring track to complete their warm up to keep as dry and clean as possible before embracing the 4 loops of the white course and all that accompanied it for the U19 race. With each loop, the ground worsened and the puddles grew at an exponential rate. With Ethan even commenting afterwards that he didn’t expect them to be so deep. Lucky height was on the boys side so that they didn’t disappear into the water features. With many mountain miles, dodging incoming tides along the beach and years of multi terrain race experience in their legs, it was Ethan who was the first Newcastle runner across the line in 24.18. Securing 9th place overall in the category. Not far behind Patrick, who fought hard until the very end, just missing out on catching the runner in front to finish in 25.14 and 16th place overall. Yasin kept his focus and more importantly upright throughout to slip in 2 places behind Patrick in 26.07. Fantastic performances from these young men.
Not to be outdone by the younger legs in the club and after watching both sons compete earlier in the day, Damien McDaid who is no stranger to a mucky battle out on course, pulled on his spikes and was the sole representative for the Newcastle AC Senior Men. Enduring the ups and downs, lumps and bumps, muck and gutters of the 6000m course, Damien gave a masterclass in how it should be done to finish in 28.19 and 63rd place overall in the Novice Men’s Race.
There is much to celebrate as this young cohort of runners grow in event experience and start to become seasoned participants at such prestigious large scale events. It has brought to the forefront the endless talent of our junior runners in South East Down with no less than 11 of the club runners qualifying for the All Irelands in Kilkenny as part of the Provincial and County Teams after spectacular performances at the NI & Ulster Even Age Group Cross Country Championships in Comber with many more qualifying this weekend for another road trip to Navan in December for the Uneven equivalent of the event.