Report by Siobhan Grant
Sunday past welcomed the second race in the McGrady’s Financial Services Junior Cross Country Series which took place in Dromore. The notoriously flat and fast course awaited over 150 pairs of feet throughout the day’s event from 500m to 2000m.
Rain from previous weeks, still held strong in the ground and the unwelcomed addition of more of the wet stuff falling from the sky that morning ensured that runners, big and small, would have an additional obstacle to contend with. Spectators also had to embrace the weather with wet gear and wellies a regular sight around the course.
The days proceedings kicked off with the P4 and Under race. The number of runners had nearly doubled from the first race but each individual was suited, booted and ready for the 500m of uninterrupted grit, determination and lots of smiles for the spectators.
For the Newcastle Boys, race 1 winner Ruaidhri Watson took to the line with gusto and his focus finely tuned in the direction of the finish line which he was the first one to cross on the day. Luca McIntosh showed great strength and determination as he battled for place within the main body of the race, but he didnt give up and crossed the line in 2.08 for 4th. After declaring she was retiring at the top from Cross Country after Castlewellan, Freya Savage couldn’t resist returning to the start line and brought along with her that amazing stride, staying strong throughout, she lead the girls across the line with club mate Sophie Kerr closing the gap on her to a few seconds. The Sloan and O’Hare siblings pushed each other along right to the end. The welcomed addition of Zaine Jaidane to the P4 and Under squad was one filled with determination and we are looking forward to seeing what this young man has to offer in the coming years.The famous smile of P1 Charlotte Kerr cruised around the 500m course and was able to celebrate having the best finish of the day.
The P5 race saw the return of Castlewellan race winner Cliona McAleenan fresh from an amazing Parkrun PB last week, however anything can happen on race day and although she set off well, it takes very little to knock your confidence and Cliona bowed out at 400m. This allowed Rua Gosling to embrace the fast and flat course and really stretch her wee legs to take 1st place. Sophia Sloan put in a strong race to take 3rd. Mark McDonald also continues to show improvement with a focused race to finish in 6th place.
Out to stretch his legs in the P6 race was the newly crowned U11 NI & Ulster XC Champion, Harry McVeigh, staying committed to the series that unearthed his talent and helped him grow in confidence within running. He used the opportunity to practice his race pace for next week’s All Irelands to win in 3.42. Not far behind, Rossa found himself locked in battle but recent good form prevailed again to finish in 3rd place. Not taking any prisoners was Aydah McKibbin, she hunted down the boys in front to take the win in the P6 girls race in 4.31, 11 seconds ahead of 2nd place. Ellie Moore dug deep to cross the line in joint 6th place and Aralynn O’Hare cruised over the finish line in 10th place.
Many of the P7 runners where fresh from the SEAG test the day before and this could have impacted on some performances as mental exhaustion set in. Senan Gosling was out with his game face on and he was willing to push to the bitter end as he never let go of Murloughs Harry King. It was a nail biting race but he was edged out in end though this will be a category to watch closely as the series continues. Luke McDonald was the next Newcastle runner to cross the line and is making great strides finishing in 5.50. Emily Kerr welcomed the muck and rain with open arms in the P7 girls race. Letting the P7 boys in the race push each other on, Emily glided effortlessly over the 1200m course to take 2nd place. Lily McNamara had a fantastic race and really pushed herself to secure 6th place with clubmate Isabella Sloan just in behind her.
As the day moved into the Post Primary races, the course had started to feel the effects of the earlier races and the race line was well established. The Year 8 race welcomed a few new faces to this year’s series which rekindled some previous race battles. Connaire Og McVeigh continued his good form with a well managed and executed run. Leading from the front and unchallenged for the whole race.
Saorlaith McAleenan elegantly moved up the gears in the girls race, with a strong start under her belt, maintaining her pace, earned her another 1st place in this category. Lily McMurray really pulled out the big guns and had a phenomenal race. She has found her race strategy and has streamlined it to ensure she can navigate the field and up her game at the right time. Many trips up the mountain alongside Alana Flynn and Eilis Donnelly has really paid off dividends for these Year 8 girls on race day. Mary Houston, Freya Muckian and Aoife Grant really made this an unforgettable race. This strong contingent of young ladies are striving to better themselves race on race and it is really evident as we get right into the middle of cross country season.
The Year 9 race was no different to the previous race. With a superb start to the Cross Country Season including a 3rd place at U14 and 8th at U15 in the Ulster Even and Uneven Championships respectively, Fahlin Murphy-McKibbin has clearly made himself the target to beat at this level. His unwavering focus and dedication to improving his abilities will surely only improve his race strategies. However it was never going to be an easy task as club mate and fellow ANI Rising Star Fiachna McAleenan laughed and joked with him on the startline but that friendship was put aside once the whistle went and it was game on for the next 1400m. Throwing in East Downs Jarlath Price into the race really pushed both Newcastle Boys on. With Fahlin ensuring he cruised to 1st place and Fiachna just missing out on 2nd by 1 second.
Sebastian McCaughey was on form and really settled into the race quickly finding his pace and pushing right to the finish for 7th place. Donal McDaid looked more comfortable this week after a strong run in Donegal last week for 8th. Fionn McEvoy who put in a great run at Spadestown XC last month showed how his confidence has grown to finish in 8.44. Rónán Grant, who was clearly still carrying the mud from the U15 Ulster XC Championship bogs last week on his spikes, used that experience to his advantage and continued to show improvement on very loose terrain.
In the girls race we welcomed back the on form Eve McNamara to the line beside Maisie McVeigh. Both girls are headed for Kilkenny next weekend as part of the U14 County Down squad for the All Ireland Cross Country competition and planned to use this race as an opportunity to practice pace and also enjoy a less busy field to navigate after a number of larger events in recent weeks. Eve had to fight for 1st place and it is here we saw the fruits of many weeks of racing back to back as she pipped Dromores Daisy Douglas on the line to take 1st place. Maisie had a comfortable and controlled run to secure 3rd place. With great runs from Niamh Watson and Kate Bradley in 8th and 9th place.
The 1800m awaiting the Year 10 category was fully embraced by all the Newcastle runners. Aaron O Boyle showed the class act that he is and after setting off strong and no one able to match his pace, he eased into the second half of the race to take the win in 6.38.Jamie O’Flaherty ran a strong race and had plenty of fight in him as he battled out on course to secure 3rd place.
With football season wrapping up for now, it was great to see Erin Easton return to the start line and demonstrate, as a multi talented sportsperson, that she has a natural gift for cross country though she had to find that something extra in the closing stages to finish in 1st with a mere 2 seconds between her and 2nd place. Izzy Molloy is really beginning to find her racing feet to take 3rd place. Carrie Bradley, Clara Flynn and Piera Corrigan came in 4th, 5th and 6th respectively with amazing race finishes on the day.
The final event of the day saw a growing number of Year 11+ runners take to the start line. Coehan Murphy-McKibbin was out to shake the legs out in the run up to Kilkenny next week where he will represent the U16 Down Squad at the All Irelands. He ran 2000m in 8.25 and this sets him up for next Sunday.
Oliver Corrigan who is just fresh from a broken toe, demonstrated that recovery was going well. There is another additional gear that Oliver has and when he engages it, there is no stopping him and this produced a 8.42 finish. Karim Jaidane used this race as a good training opportunity and he held steady throughout to finish in 8.44 right behind Oliver.
A great performance from all our Juniors which was helped by the fantastic organisation on the day by Dromore AC, the spectators and all the support from the families and friends who ensured the young people were all there to participate and continue to support this series. The series will take a break now until January when it will return for Race 3 in Delamont.