Report by Siobhan Grant
Fahlin Impresses to take Bronze at Bobby Rea XC
Even Storm Babet wasn’t enough to put a stop to the highly anticipated Bobby Rea International Cross Country in Comber on Saturday. With route changes a possibility to avoid the race becoming a duathlon due to waterlogged lands, the swift actions of Athletics Ni on Friday evening ensured the event would go ahead sprinkled with an authentic cross country feel of muck and gutters. Though even with rerouting plans in place, Saturday morning welcomed the blue skies and dry conditions that every spectator could dream of. However the runners still had a big task on their hands and many of them also had muck from a fall or two around the course.
A hardy bunch of junior runners for Newcastle AC took this as their opportunity to shine and the muckier the better became the driving motto of the day.
Even at Under 10, there was no opportunity to embrace your inner princess in the first race of the day, as Newcastle’s Aydha McKibbin will confess to. With staying on your feet and moving forward at pace the main objective, avoiding muck and wet feet was impossible. She ran an impeccable race and it was clear that this young lady has something special to offer the world of athletics. Securing 17th place in a time of 4:03, with time and experience Aydha has so much more to bring to the racing calendar.
The U12 Girls were well ready for the challenge ahead. Saorlaith McAleenan set off strong and powered up the first hill, though the saturated ground soon slowed the field down and Saorlaith put in a strong finish to finish 37th in 5:24 over the 1500m. Emily Kerr who coined track running as ‘too clean’ had all her dreams come true as the ground at Billy Neill began to break up further after the first round of races. As a small framed young lady, her stride and control around the course was flawless, even reflecting on the race as not dirty enough! She took 51st place in a time of 5:37.
Isla McMullan demonstrated her resilience running a steady race and managed the ever changing conditions underfoot well to finish, still smiling, in 90th place in 6:22. A great effort from the Under 12 girls.
Up next it was the return of Harry McVeigh to the start line. Last year, he ran a flawless race to secure the U10 Boys Ulster Title. This year however he jumped up an age category and had become the junior in this race running against not just his older brother Connaire Og, but boys head and shoulders taller than him. Moving up with him into the U12 category also was Rossa McAleenan who was in his element long before he even reached Comber. Muck and gutters was motivation for the young Laitroim lad to dig in deep and make an impression on this age group. Leading out his brother and best friend Harry engaged his go hard or go home tactics from the first step. Making space and sticking with the lead group was the plan and he faced a few traffic issues early on, dropping back into 20th at the halfway mark. However, not one to give up a fight, Harry began to pick each runner off one by one and approaching the final straight there was stopping him, crossing the line in 5th place and automatic qualification for the All Irelands. Considering the winner was two full school years ahead as a Year 8 and Harry only P6, this performance should be considered probably one of his best races to date and one to be proud off. Not too far behind Connaire Og and Rossa continued the battle mid-field. With some spectacular manoeuvres and self belief in their abilities, they both fought right to the end. Rossa, also just a Primary 6, demonstrated his talent within Cross Country running holding his own and placing in 49th place only 10 places behind Connaire Og. Of course every one of the three lads were dirty from head to toe and won the award for dirtiest ones going home!
The club fielded both an Under 14 Boys and Girls Team showing the growth of talent within this age category in the club. First up the the girls team consisted of Eve McNamara, Maisie McVeigh, Aoife Grant, Eilis Donnelly and first timers to the squad, Izzie Molloy and Freya Muckian. Eve and Maisie worked well off each other throughout the whole 2500m, 2 looped course. Eve stretched out in the final 100m to pick off runners in front to finish in 10:02 for 39th place. Maisie took a tumble on the final turn but got up and gathered herself to push right to the end for 38th place in 10:19. Izzie showed promise in her first event of this scale, she read the race well and navigated through the pack to finish in 55th place in a time of 10:38. Again with more experience within bigger race fields she will improve immensely. Eilis Donnelly had a fantastic run off the back of a huge Parkrun PB last week for 82nd place closely followed in 83rd by Freya who made positive strides throughout her race. Aoife Grant took it home for the U14 Girls Team with a strong finish in 90th place.
The Under 14 boys field was one which had plenty of drama at the front and back. Fahlin Murphy McKibbin who has exploded onto the Cross Country this year with a 2nd place finish in Armagh and a clear win at McGradys ran a spectacular race by holding tight early in the race and then let the handbrake off to command the race by mid way. He comfortably sat in the lead group and when the other runners kicked, he stretched out. With a strong ascent up the final hill he cruised over the finish line to take 3rd place in 8.24 and stand proud on the podium as the 3rd best in Ulster, qualifying automatically for the All Irelands in Kilkenny as part of the Ulster Squad. Fiachna McAleenan pulled on his cross country spikes for the first time this Cross Country season and didn’t disappoint. He ran a solid race and found his stride in the final 200m to take 39th place in 9.25. Seb McCaughey, in his first race on this stage, requested from the coach a swap in his number as he wanted 1234 and was dismayed by the allocation of numbers. However he finally accepted the number allocation process and ran a great race to finish in 90th. Hot on his heels, Donal McDaid was never too far from Seb and pushing each other on Donal secured 92nd place. Drama ensued between Rónán Grant and a member of Lagan Valley AC in the closing stages, playing cat and mouse with each other the whole race, Rónán made his move to take over the runner in front to be met with an elbow and arm flung in his way. Obviously moving the other side to take over he was met again by an outburst from the runner which led to his disqualification post race. However in the heat of the moment, it was the acceleration and passive nature of Rónán that found his way past the young man and beat him on the line to win his own race battle. Both the U14 Girls and Boys team finished 8th in the team standings and the club is delighted to have them do the club proud on an international level.
The U16 age category welcomed three runners. First up Natalie Cotton got a shock to her system as the jump from McGradys to International racing was overwhelming. However she kept herself grounded and focused. She finished in 50th place in a fantastic time of 15:46 for 3500m. Euan McIntosh returned again this year to Billy Neill another year older and plenty more experience in his legs. If it wasn’t easy to spot him on course in yellow and red, his pink spikes definitely set him apart from the crowd. He went out strong and demonstrated his strength on the hills. Over the second lap it was clear that he knew that he could push further on and began to work his way up the pack to cross the line in 12:24. Coehan Murphy-McKibbin really dug in deep on the second lap and put in a phenomenal last 300m. To be able to engage at such speed and drive after 3200m on that course is something that not even professionals can find. Crossing the line in 13:03 for 49th place.
It was mountain regulars Patrick McDaid and Yasin Brannigan who toed the line in the U18 Men’s race. The 5000m course by this stage had welcomed over 1000 pairs of feet, multiple times. Though the sun was out and memories of Storm Babet had become a distant memory. Yet the natural race line had now become a mud bath and runners were forced to take a wider line on many of the corners. They both found themselves amongst a strong and fast field but their experience was not to be overlooked. Patrick crossed the line in 20:16 in 25th Place and Yasin put in a strong finish to finish 32nd in 21:04. Exceptional times to clock on the day, especially with the ground conditions as they were.
It was pretty evident that Ethan McMullan was ready for the muck and gutters. The Irish U18 Mountain runner was confident that he would be upright and able to move at pace over the 8000m course. Paired in the same race as the Senior Men there was no room for slacking and Ethan was sure that wouldn’t happen. His work rate over the distance was something many runners wish they could bottle up and use themselves. He was relentless in his pursuit of each runner in front. Even in the closing stages, he took the wider line to lap runners and also gained a number of places as legs tired and he capitalised on it. He finished 35th overall and 9th in the U20 Category.
From Under 10 to Under 20, girls and boys, young ladies and young men, the club can only commend the fantastic turnout of our athletes at the Bobby Rea International. It can be a daunting and overwhelming experience to partake in an event on this level however the runners took it in their stride and didn’t fail to disappoint. Their performances were superb and the support they gave each other throughout the day encompasses the ethos of inclusion that this Junior squad has self built. With a number of runners now qualifying automatically for the All Irelands as part of the Ulster Team, there will also be a few more to be selected for the County Squad in the coming days.