Woods and O’Kane tighten their grip on NIMRA titles
The form book was right for once as current Hill and Dale Champion, Slieve Donard and NIMRA Championship leader Des Woods strengthened his grip on the title with another fine performance over the tough Donard Commedagh course on Saturday in the fifth round of the Northern Ireland Championship. Despite twisting an ankle on the descent, he had 31 seconds to spare over Andrew Annett, who produced an equally fine run to keep Woods working hard and looking over his shoulder right to the end. In very good conditions for fell running, Woods returned to Donard Park in 68:25 to ensure that he remains the odds on favourite to add to his impressive roll of honour for the year. The race begins with a climb to the quarry before moving onto the open mountain. Woods and Annett were joined by City of Derry athlete Allan Bogle in the early stages and were still together at the quarry. Annett pushed Woods hard on the climb, keeping the champion elect honest all the way to the top of Donard. Bogle lost touch as the race developed, but was able to hold on to third place in a very credible 70:44 and force his way into the selectors’ minds as they make their final decisions regarding selection for the Commonwealth Championships to be held in North Wales on 24th September.
Dublin athlete Jason Kehoe of Crusaders AC made the trip north worthwhile as he out-sprinted the evergreen Neil Carty to claim 4th place. Just behind there was an equally frenetic scramble for 5th and 6th places: Dale Mathers just managed to hold off the fast finishing Sam Herron by 4 seconds. Dale had take a bit of a tumble on the way down and brought quite a bit of mud to the finish on his face; all part and parcel of a good fell race! Clive Bailey was a further minute adrift in 8th place, while Dave Ward and Brendan Quail completed the top 10. Nathan McComb had a very strong run to finish second junior and 16th overall.
Shileen O’Kane also proved the pundits correct with another victory that cements her position at the head of the Ladies’ standings. Having said that, she was pushed all the way by Diane Wilson, who finished 35 seconds behind her. In between the two leading ladies were two quality athletes that would grace any event; Jim Patterson making a rare appearance in daylight and John ‘Hen’ Kelly, who on seeing the coned area at the end was unsure if he was supposed to pass through or if the cones had been put out to deter him! Anne Sandford was strong and steady as usual and finished 3rd lady.
There was an even rarer appearance from Martin McNiff, long suffering friend of Jim Brown and Paddy Mallon. Given that Martin lives in Austraila, he finds it hard to compete in as many NIMRA events as he would like. However, either by fate or coincidence it came to pass that this former BARF stalwart was on holiday in Newcastle this weekend. Martin gave a very good account of himself finishing in 55th place in just over 106 minutes.