An afternoon of splendid racing in the stately heart of Down
by Joe McCann
Majestically situated in the heart of the County Down countryside, Castleward, with its eccentrically elegant 18th century house that fuses classical and gothic styles is a hidden gem for runners. This truly beautiful 820 acre (I refuse to acknowledge the metric system!) walled demesne with walking trails, exotic gardens and stunning vistas was the ideal location for the penultimate race in the 2011-12 McGrady Financial Services Junior Cross Country Series.
Joe Quinn and his East Down colleagues had thoughtfully planned a ‘proper’ cross country loop that was both varied and interesting. Despite the crispness in the air in the morning the conditions in the afternoon were ideal. The sun was shining and the ground, while a little soft underfoot, was conducive to high quality racing. There was the usual buzz of excitement around the course as the 94 athletes registered and readied themselves for the challenge that lay ahead. With many of the categories delicately poised there was plenty at stake for the young runners. As usual the coaches were on hand to ensure that the runners were suitably warned up. Coach McCrickard had his young troops fired up like ninjas by the time they took to the line. In similar vein Coach Rodgers used all the wisdom and guile accumulated in a long and illustrious running career to thoroughly loosen up his charges. And so the scene was set for an afternoon of fine racing.
Those young ones sure know how to race!
The P4 and under category has been the most fiercely contested in the series to date with the youngest athletes impressing in their commitment and enthusiasm. Once again they failed to disappoint. They went for it from the moment the pea vibrated in Frank Morgan’s whistle until the line had been crossed. First home on this occasion and recording a maiden victory in the series was Ronan McVeigh who managed to out-sprint Rory Corrigan in a frenetic scramble to the line. Again the margin of victory was little more than the thickness of a vest as this category once again lived up to pre-race expectations. First girl home was another Newcastle debutant, Hannah Carson, who overcame Amy McCrickard by an equally narrow margin. There was a debut for Anna O’Flaherty in Newcastle; daughter of David and niece of Irish International and London 2012 hopeful (and part-time camper!!!) Kerry Harty, she will be closely watched in the years ahead to see if the next generation is as successful as the last. Conor Murray and Eve Kennealley made it a double for Newcastle in the P5 races, while East Down were doubly successful in the P6 races with striking victories for Caoilin Quinn and Caiomhe Grace-O’Donnell. Tim Prenter took off like the proverbial hero of a Meatloaf song and was able to sustain his initial gap to impressively win the P7 race ahead of his perennial rivals Caolan Hawkins and Gabriel Corrigan. Newcastle laid claim to all of the competitors in the P7 girls’ race with Sarah Dougherty most impressive in winning from Michaela Quinn.
The older they are, the harder they run
The rallying call before the event for all Year 8s to turn out had mixed success. While there were 11 girls (a healthy 8 from East Down) competing, there was a disappointing field of 4 in the boys’ event. East Down secured another double with Matthew Carrick and Aiofe Cochrane first to cause a fissure at the finishing tape. Honours were even in the Year 9 race with Jack Quinn Winning for Newcastle and Ellen Erskine triumphant for East Down, having clawed back Laura Gardiner who had started extremely quickly and at one point held a commanding lead. Finally Patrick Sheridan and Dearbhla Magee once again showed their class as they romped to victories in the Year 10 and above races.
Where did all the milk go?
My sources reveal that the café at Castleward ran out of milk. This unfortunate event unfolded after Eamon and the entire family went for hot chocolate! Obviously the staff were not prepared for such a capaciously voluminous on-slough and perhaps should have put up a sign saying ‘no coach parties’ as the McCrickards were spotted descending on the café. Thankfully the story has a happy ending as I had prudently bought my coffee on arrival and so was unaffected by the catastrophe!!! However a queue of customers oblivious to what was going on ahead of them ended up having their coffee sans milk!
Today’s history lesson on Tollymore for Dominic McGreevy!
Well done to everyone who competed in the races. It is clear that massive strides (pardon the pun!) are being taken by both clubs in promoting enjoyment of running; this is evident in the many smiling faces that were on display and in the encouraging performances that show how each and every runner is improving with each race. The final race of the series sees a return to the idyllic and picturesque setting of Tollymore Forest Park (a stunningly beautiful park that demonstrates the influence of the highly individualistic designer, Thomas Wright of Durham (1711-1786), a friend of Lord Clanbrassil, owner of Tollymore at that time) on Saturday 18th February at the earlier time of 11am. With some of the categories yet undecided the final race day should be quite an event. The overall series presentation night will be on Monday 12th March at 7pm in Shimna College – more details to follow.
In other club news!
There certainly has been a lot of club activity in the week that was. Newly appointed (though I’m not sure of being self-appointed counts!) forest and fells manager, coach and overall Svengali Eugene McCann has his charges on a strict diet of hills, peaks, mountains, massifs, crags, hummocks, tors, summits and crests as the club prepares for mounting a challenge to Mourne Runners in 2012. Such is the enthusiasm of this group of fine young athletes that a few recent departures in the transfer window are looking to re-join! On Saturday Eugene, one of Newcastle’s most stylish and eligible bachelors had the boys out for an early morning run that turned into a most of the day adventure. I asked Eugene to write a few words for me recounting the run and after the removal of some words, I was left with the following: Seven hardy souls appeared in Donard Park for the Saturday morning mountain run, Francie, PJ, Eamon, Brendan Quail, Jerome ‘the Prophet’, myself and Audey (sporting a pair of track bottoms for the first time since he last sat on the bench for ‘the Town’) all headed off towards the saddle at a what commentators would call a brisk pace. The posse was led out by the two McCrickards, despite being warned that we had a long run ahead! All regrouped at the saddle, some fresher than others and a few arrived with the oil light on! The next point was the top of Commedagh, where we were greeted with cloud cover and gales. Eamon wimped out and said he was heading for home, with a feeble excuse that he had things to do with the kids! (The author would like to point out at this point that he is quoting!) Francie was a bit worse for wear at this stage, but after a few jelly babies, generously donated by Audey, and a drink made a miraculous recovery and proceeded onwards and downwards and upwards with the rest of the bunch over Beg, Cove and up to the top of Lamagan, new ground for the majority of the group and the furthest point of our journey. With bright sunshine one minute, and low cloud cover and gales the next the run proved a good education for all why you have to respect the fact that the mountains can throw anything at you at a moment’s notice. From Lamagan it was a pleasant run home back from whence we came. It must be noted that some of these hardy men did not make out on Sunday; perhaps they were doing the housework that they were unable to do on Saturday as a result of Eugene’s epic!
Pole-vaulters and madmen
Not to be outdone by the granite men in the mountains, track Captain Neil McAllister is unrelenting in his attempts to nurture success by encouraging members to take up the noble art of pole-vaulting. One or two male members incorrectly thought he meant pole dancing and had signed up believing this could be a passport to bright lights and fame and fortune. They quickly withdrew their agreement when they realised that they had to run as fast as they could, plant the pole and try to get over a bar way up in the atmosphere and if successful try to go even higher! The eclectic week was completed by a well-attended hill session on Tuesday around the climb to the TV mast on Drinahilly and a 15 mile road run by Kendall, Strachan (released by Tadworth Runners for the weekend) and Brannigan, who despite the very late start (9am!!) managed to commit to the entire run (words I thought I would never type!)
Late news in
There were some great Newcastle performances at the Moira XC. Luke McMullan was a very credible 6th, a minute and a half behind winner Conor Magil of North Belfast Harriers. Well done also to Daniel O’Higgins of Newcastle AC who finished 28th. One small question, who is he? Is he another acquisition in the transfer window? I hope to find out soon so I can lambaste and harpoon him in this column in the weeks ahead. As usual Anne Sandford ran stoically in her race, finishing 13th in a highly competitive field which was led home by the in-form Julie Turley. However as usual the bus full of maybes never left the station, much to the increasing frustration of those of us who race all the time!