Champion-elect Annett puts the icing on the cake between Meels

Hill and Dale Race 10 by Bogusboy

2012 Hill and Dale champion-elect Andrew Annett, already in an unassailable lead in the series, cemented his title with yet another commanding performance in Race 10, Meelmore/Meelbeg.


The wisdom of Douglas

‘It’s raining, so it must be Thursday’, commented one astute and knowledgeable young athlete as he registered for the penultimate race of the 2012 Hill and Dale series. For the fourth consecutive week the gods of fell running were unkind and in now characteristic fashion the rains poured and the clouds descended to make the mountain tops invisible. However this did nothing to deter the many athletes who turned out in force to compete in this two peaked challenge of strength, stamina, resilience and mental toughness. With many still endeavouring to complete the 6 races, 158 runners braved the squally conditions to take another step towards their goal in completing the series.


McNeilly edges ahead in the in entries tent stakes

Since the Loughshannagh Horseshoe the portable registration vehicles have become increasingly sophisticated and this week surely topped the bill. Hamilton and McMullan had set the bar high with the Natural Wood Kitchens lorry, kitted out with a desk and the subsequent race directors have vowed not to be outdone. At Rocky, under the supervision of the Steele Brothers, there was a RV, complete with bathroom, kitchen and awning. On arrival at the race 10 registration, I was shocked to see what can only be described as a small house moored for the occasion. To add to my increasing state of wonder and awe at the quality of registration accommodation, I was greeted by the man responsible for this fine monument, Tony Steele, who welcomed me with words I thought I would never hear at a Hill and Dale race, ‘Are you ready for your coffee yet or should I wait a while.’ And then, as if that was not enough, biscuits were produced. I was tempted to decline, but that would have been rude and that’s just not me! However I did break the biscuits before eating them, thus killing all the calories and causing no damage to my virtually non-existent waistline! Coffee was regularly supplied as we processed the entries with characteristic candour. Paddy Maguire was ‘shameless’ in reminding me that he had beaten me last week, while Jim Church was ‘praying’ for an improvement in the conditions. Meanwhile Roger Pannell was complaining that the rain was ‘beating’ down on him and Tim claimed that he did not ‘Kerr’ about the conditions. Finally in this series of really bad clichés, a certain Miss Graham was keeping ‘Faith’ in her ability to navigate the mist and return in one piece.


Business as usual

The course takes in two of the 700+ metre peaks in the central Mournes with a steep climb to the summit of Meelbeg over rough conditions before a short drop on the way to the second climb. The race ends with a sharp downhill to the finish. As the race got underway there was little doubt among the ever-faithful and knowledgeable crowd about who the winner might be. The pundits were proven right as Annett was commanding once again and won as comfortably as he did at Rocky and again had two minutes to spare over his closest rivals. Such was his speed that the millions of midges who attend the race each year could not get close to him. Newcastle’s David McNeilly had a very strong run to claim second place and demote Carty from his assumed position. Carty himself had a great run and is level with Deon McNeilly in the race for the V45 title. Race 11 will see a winner takes all show-down between the two men for the V45 crown. In a short race format many would argue that Carty will be favourite to defeat his adversary. Going back to the race, Ian won the battle of the Bailey’s, narrowly pipping Garyin the scuffle for fourth and fifth, just ahead of David O’Flaherty in 6th. Johnny McCloy was seventh, making the trip from Ballymena and the expense from the student loan worthwhile. While many of his peers are availing of happy hour in the ‘Bot’ Johnny is wisely investing his money attending to his physical needs.


Is there a new partnership for the cracker?

It is unusual in Hill and Dale for competitors at the top end of the field (as defined by Shileen O’Kane as the top 20 athletes only according to Wingman, who has still not recovered from the shock of her comment) to be engaged in conversation and good mannered companionship. You can then imagine the shocked face of Martin McVeigh as he witnessed Audey McVeigh and Clive Bailey emerge larruping from the fog laughing and joking rather than dashing eyeballs out for the line. It appeared that each man was in turn stepping back to let the other claim a coveted 8th place finish. In the aftermath Audey conceded that a gentleman’s agreement had been reached on the higher reaches of the course after Clive had given him a great line through the fog and they ran side by side with McVeigh unsure of the route in the dense miasma. As the pair emerged from the worst of the conditions Bailey sensed that his new best friend was moving faster and suggested that McVeigh should push on. In characteristically Castlewellan fashion McVeigh refused, claiming that it would not be the right thing to do having been the beneficiary of such generous sportsmanship earlier in the race. And so it came to pass that they tactically tried to let each other finish 8th. Bailey’s tactics were better as he stepped aside at the last minute and McVeigh was awarded 8th place much to his chagrin, with Bailey given the same time in 9th. On hearing of this great teamwork, Mark Kendall, McVeigh’s alleged partner for the Christmas Cracker was less than pleased, fearing that a new partnership may have been inadvertently struck between two meels! Neither McVeigh nor Bailey was available for comment as they were out training together in Castlewellan!!! Eamon McCrickard completed the top 10 to remain well up the pecking order in the fiercely competitive V45 category.


Largey has both hands on the title

Ciara Largey was highly impressive in winning the ladies race in a fantastic 16th place overall and almost two minutes ahead of her nearest rival Shileen O’Kane, who regrettably finished outside the top 20 (28th) and so was not awarded a finish time. Diane Wilson continued her good run of form claiming third lady in 39th overall. The results mean that with 6 wins in 6 outings Largey has secured the ladies title for the first time and has done so in considerable style, impressing O’Kane with some top 20 finished overall!!!


Can anyone read a map?

There were one or two minor indiscretions this week. Most notable among this group was Bill Hopkins, a seasoned orienteer of considerable notoriety, who arrived at the finish with a map and whistle in hand. Unfortunately he was running in the wrong direction and in his desperation followed Mary Knight to the line – a brave decision at the best of times. Equally silly was Darren ‘The Bard of Strangford’ Swail, who, if my sources are to be believed, failed to follow the path between the two peaks and took an unorthodox route to his second ‘meel’ of the evening. Obviously map reading was not an integral part of his course at the ‘Poly’. This detour was most unfortunate as he was odds on to beat his arch-rival Declan Morgan, having convincingly overcome a much less able colleague the previous week. At the end Darren was inconsolable, but happy for his good friend Declan, even if he was victorious by default. Equally unfortunate is the fact that Swail cannot right the wrong at race 11 as the ‘Hairy Lemons’ are embarking on a world stadium tour, but Darren did say that he was confident that he would be able to overcome Morgan if he was there!!!


A word of thanks

Race organiser Billy McNeilly would like to thank all who helped make the night a success from start to finish and in particular those who marshalled on the various peaks and Jap Treanor who proved to be a more accomplished sweeper than any of those on display in Euro 2012. Thanks also to Tony Steele for providing a fine focal point for the race by willingly towing the entries ‘house’ and to the staff of the Maghera Inn for their splendid and customary hospitality which rejuvenated the athletes after a hard night in the hills.


All good things must come to an end

Next Friday, 29th June, sees the hugely successful series come to a close in Donard Forest with Damien Brannigan’s newly designed course. Brannigan has been working flat out for weeks in getting the race ready and has already secured the services of a top entries management consultant (subject to ongoing contract negotiations) to oversee events on the night. Damien reports that he is delighted with his new course and is confident that athletes will appreciate his creativity is designing the short, but testing route. The last night is traditionally a shorter race to allow the application of make up and the straightening of hair (and that’s only the Murlough men I am referring to) before the traditional prize-giving. Mark King is reminded that fancy dress is not required though his costume was appreciated by most last year! Registration, beginning at 6:20pm, will be in the grounds of O’Hare’s bar and restaurant and showers will be available in the pavilion in Donard Park after the race. The junior event postponed on 7th June has been rescheduled and will act as a curtain-raiser to the series finale. Entries open at 5:30pm and the racing for the juniors begins at 6:45pm with the primary school race followed by the post-primary race at around 7pm. Parents are reminded that children should be supervised at all times before and after the races and any help in marshalling the races will be greatly appreciated. World Transplant Games Gold Medalist, Orla Smyth, will be bringing her Olympic torch to the event and there will be an opportunity for photographs after the junior races. The night will end with the series presentation, supper and entertainment in O’Hare’s.