East Down ‘Evenneyteerly’ claim Cracker glory
by Joe McCann
By 11.45am the function room of Castlewellan GAC was buzzing with excitement as the athletes began to arrive en masse to register for the annual 16k trek around the environs of the market town. The entry of 139 teams in 2010 was easily surpassed 45 minutes before the start time, and by 12.45pm a record breaking 191 teams were registered and the atmosphere was beginning to reach a crescendo.
Indeed a high class field had assembled and each of the teams that would finish in the top 7 had at least one international athlete in the pairing.
As confidently predicted in the last issue, Venney and Teer of East Down were going to be difficult to beat. This proved to be the case, although they did have to work extremely hard for their victory as only 19 seconds separated the top three teams. However the race is all about running with one’s partner and this proved decisive for the East Down men with Venney leading his more decorated partner to the finish to record a well-deserved victory. Brian McCrystal, an established tri-athlete and his partner, Irish international hill runner Gary O’Hanlon (sounds like an introduction form Strictly Come Dancing!) were very strong throughout and were a very close second, narrowly succumbing to the East Down duo, but just managing to hold off the strong challenge of Scots Andrew Christy and Russell White representing Corstorphine AC. Each of the top three were home within 63 minutes, impressive running on an undulating and at times muddy course. Steede and Simpson ran well to claim 4th while the teak tough team of Mathers and Travers were fifth. Perhaps the greatest surprise of the day was the fact that the ‘Davids’, O’Flaherty and McNeilly were the first team home for the host club, with almost a minute to spare over treble chasing McNeilly and McCrickard. The latter were magnanimous in defeat reflecting that it had simply not been their day. My sources later revealed that McCrickard had been suffering from a heavy cold in the days before the event, but in typical fashion did not want to let his partner down. I suspect both will be out to set the record straight in 2012!
What a mixture
A stunning performance from Briege Connolly and Jim Benson enabled them to win the mixed category in a very impressive 9th place overall. The Newcastle athletes bunched well a little further down the field with Kendall and McVeigh 13th, Brannigan and Strachan 15th, new signings Kelly and Brown (sounds almost like a building firm!) 20th, PJ and Eugene 23rd and Donnelly and McComb 29th. Well done to all on excellent performances. Brannigan was wearing one red glove and one white glove. When asked about this he replied, ‘Sure I have a pair exactly the same in the house.’ Sharp as a tack that boy!
There was however disappointment for some Newcastle athletes. Brendan Quail was deserted at the last moment by David Steele, who allegedly was so indecisive about his choice of footwear that he decided to stay at home. He tried in vain to ring around all 382 registered runners to discuss their choice of running shoe, but could not make up his mind. Quail was less than pleased! An even greater admonishment was given to Paul ‘Podge’ Rodgers. Paul was looking for a partner; up stepped Paul Fegan, who eyed him up and down before discarding him like an over-ripe banana, declaring, ‘I don’t think so Chunky.’ Fegan eventually teamed up with Stephen Knight but Rodgers had the last laugh as he and his new found running buddy Gary Kendall beat their on the day arch rivals by 7 minutes. Somewhere in between these two powerhouse teams was the Mawhirt and Laird consortium. Uncle Pol Og was displaying his usual ‘Grumpy Old man Syndrome’ as he berated those wearing headphones, claiming that this was a performance enhancing tactic. According to his research listening to Bon Jovi is uplifting and leads to an increase in performance by at least 10%. He has since borrowed my copies of ‘Slippery When Wet’ and ‘Keep the Faith’ to assist in his preparations for 2012!
Lots of tubes on You Tube!
There was some video footage of the big event taken mostly by East Down’s Neil McCartan. This is available from the Newcastle and east Down websites, but does carry a government health warning – caution chunky and unfit athletes will run by! One fine example is the rather inappropriately named Jamie Thin who partnered Jim brown. Jamie decided to discard a few layers of superfluous clothing whilst traversing the Blue Row. Regrettably he was caught on camera and the result is not a pretty sight! there is also evidence to suggest that many had not remembered the key concept underpinning the race – i.e. running with your partner. Perennial offender Brannigan was at it again, leaving the not so flying Scotsman Strachan trailing in his wake for the duration of the race. In typically apologetic fashion he commented after the race, ‘sure I felt good.’ We have all heard that one from him! The Prophet failed as soothsayer as he did not see that Pocky, his partner, was having a shocker and had to wait a long time at the end. Thankfully he had the foresight to bring a cement beg to rest on as he waited, but alas by the time Pocky arrived Jerome already needed a shave, such was his wait!
Does anyone fancy a bowl of soup?
Meanwhile as the racers returned to the warn showers of the club changing rooms the cook was under pressure to feed the masses. Such were the numbers that a 4th pot of soup was required at very short notice and there was even a shout for loaves and fishes which could be multiplied. To make matters worse cutlery and crockery were in such demand that an ace team of domesticated males were pressed into action in the kitchen. Audey, Donal, Pocky and Francie duly stepped up to the mark and saved the day, working like beavers on overtime. In fact if these men could run as well as they can wash up, Newcastle would have dominated the top 10 in the race! It is obvious that these boys are very well trained in the art of housework; congratulations to all their ladies for making such good men out of them. Hen, however, refused to help, claiming that he had been doing dishes all over Christmas and was tired! We are gratefully to all at Castlewellan GAC for their outstanding hospitality which added significantly to the success of the day.
A lot of great work for charity
Over 90 adults and children took part in the annual charity walk that has become an integral part of the Christmas Cracker experience. This year, through the very generous donations of the walkers and that of Newcastle AC, the Neo-Natal Unit of the Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast will be presented with a cheque for £1761. The organisers of the walk would like to thank all of those that contributed in any way to the success of the event.
The Annual 5 Mile Handicap
It is a long standing tradition for members to take part in the annual 5 mile handicap race in the lead up to the festive period. This year the posse braved the elements to run from the bin on King Street to the bin just opposite the Burrendale Hotel (two well established local landmarks!) via Tullybrannigan and Marguerite Park. On a mild, but damp evening the conditions were much more favourable than in 2010 and perhaps this led to a higher than usual turnout of athletes. However, there was discord within the ranks and a renegade section met for an alternative run in Tollymore Forest park and there were a few late withdrawals, some citing as their excuse leg pains brought on by extensive periods of dancing with the Murlough ladies.
McVeigh looks to defend the title
First off was defending champion Marty McVeigh, who grumbled and bemoaned the fact that he was considered the worst athlete on parade. On reflection the handicapper had not been generous enough and McVeigh trundled home in last place, having been overtaken by the entire field. However, in typically philosophical fashion, he commented that he had performed to the best of his ability and was using the event to springboard his speed training in preparation for the track season.
All ends well for Wells!
First over the line was Barry Wells, who recorded a second victory in this prestigious event. Barry had started relatively early and had few to chase along the road. However as he approached the last half mile only Marty McMullan, himself having a stormer, lay between Wells and victory. Wells put in a decisive kick as the pair passed a well known food retailer and held on to win by a few seconds.
There’s only one Damien Brannigan
The idea of the club handicap is that an official handicapper is appointed; there are usually few takers and not interviewing is required for the post. The handicapper than assesses the form of the entrants and makes decides a fair, but challenging target for each athlete. This usually works well and everyone, whether grudgingly or not accepts this decision as final. Well, that is the theory. Then Damien Brannigan comes along, claiming that he has not ran in a week, is feeling under the weather and is not capable of a fast time. ‘I’ll just run with you Joe’ was his comment when his official handicap was announced. Not wanting to cause undue grief at a time of worldwide celebration, Brannigan’s request was granted. I reminded him that I was not going well and that we were not suitably matched, but my protests fell on deaf ears. We set off and within 30 seconds Brannigan was gone. He posted a highly respectable time, not much over 30 minutes, trashed me by a minute and a half and ostensibly crossed the line in third place. Well, that was until race directors Paul Rodgers and Ross McCrickard entered a judge’s huddle and decided to re-handicap the self-handicapped Brannigan, demoting him from 3rd to 16th place. Brannigan made no protest as he was over the moon with his run. He later apologised for running away from me saying, ‘sure you know how it is when you feel good’. Unfortunately I could claim any such knowledge.
McVeigh is seeing double Dave
Dave McKibbin, who posted the fastest time of the evening was promoted from 4th to 3rd; a just reward for his highly impressive net time of 27:07. To put this in context he started 12 minutes before McVeigh and caught him before the 4 mile marker! Does this mean that he will be turning out for the cracker on 28th December? Equally impressive was club 10k champion David O’Flaherty who posted a time of 27:26 as he finished just after McKibbin. One by one the athletes came home in a steady procession which revealed that the handicappers were not too far out in their setting of the times. Recent club signings Aidan Brown and the Prophet had strong runs, vindicating their decision to join the club in search of fame and fortune. Regrettably there were no female athletes taking part, perhaps a first for the event.
A well-oiled machine
A word of thanks to Paul Rodgers (who was pleased to have an excuse for not running) and Ross McCrickard (who could be in line for the young race official of the year award, if such an award existed!) for managing the start, recording the results and processing them. Thanks also to Dave Goddard who took photos throughout on a night that was not best for camera work. The presentation was held in the comfort of the Burrendale Hotel where the athletes were treated to hot beverages and an assiette of festive sweet treats. Thanks to William for looking after us so well and ensuring that the coffee flowed steadily. All in all a great evening of running and craic which was enjoyed by all.
Junior training resumes
Junior training recommences on Monday 9th January. There is lots of fun and hard work ahead for all Newcastle AC junior athletes. 2012 racing begins on Sunday 15th January with the 5th race of the McGrady Financial Services Junior Cross Country Series at Castleward. With many of the categories still in the balance after 4 races there is still a lot to race for in the remaining fixtures. Senior members have also plenty to look forward to with many local races in the diary. Perhaps most notable of these is Jimmy’s 10k in early March. With several members securing entries for the London Marathon on 22nd April, there will be much to report on as the athletes hone their skills in preparation for the big day. Finally a happy new year to all followers of this column and be careful out there running as you could be next weeks’ headline!