Newcastle secure McConnell Shield and move further ahead in Cross-Country League
The 4th race of 9 in the Athletics NI Cross-Country League, the McConnell Shield took place on Saturday in Ballyclare promoted by East Antrim Harriers. It was the 80th running of the race and 13 men (well some barely grown-up boys) and 2 women (ladies) made the trip from deepest County Down. The rain that wasn’t supposed to arrive at all set in around 11am and stayed incessantly right through the races turning the park along the Sixmilewater to mud as the hundreds of runners ended up ploughing around the 1-mile loop.
Over 170 runners set off in the 5-mile men’s race and Dromore runner Ryan McDermott, who is hoping to make the Irish U-23 team for the Euro Cross-Country Championships in Bulgaria in December, quickly hit the front and led out from St Malachy’s athlete Joe McAlister. McDermott looked like the winner and controlled the race from the front with only McAlister going with his surge in the second half of the race. Local athlete Benny Teer (25;52), benefiting from a weekend’s break from racing, finished very strongly passing McAlister (28:59) and reeling in McDermott (25:48) to only 4 seconds at the end.
The McConnell Shield is won by the club with the lowest placings total for its first four runners across the line. In the cross-country league, Newcastle had already earned 6 points in getting 13 runners to the start line and then home. Another great turn out reflecting the great team spirt that is building and setting the club apart from all others across the region. Fast-improving Seamie Lynch was once again very competitive at the front and even after his tempo run on the Red Route in Tollymore on Thursday evening (some taper and he dragged some other eejits with him) he was always in the top ten and finished strongly to come home in 8th place (26:38). Also improving quickly is Paul Carlin who caught David O’Flaherty in the latter stages but O’Flaherty is determined and he kicked clear to finish in 13th place (27:30), two seconds ahead of Carlin (27:32) in 14th. Tight packing has been the order of the season and David McNeilly wasn’t far behind in 16th (27:45). So would 51 points be enough? Back at the Sixmilewater Leisure Centre it was confirmed that it was, with North Belfast managing 2nd place with 56 points and North Down beating City of Derry into 3rd place with 79 points on count back. This was good news for the boys in Red & Yellow as it took them a further 4 points clear at the top of the league where they now lead City of Derry by 10 points.
5th Newcastle AC runner home was Barry McConville in 36th (29:57) making his debut this season on the country, followed by Marty Melville in 53rd (30:48), the Hen Kelly in 57th (30:55) who if he learned how to tie his shoelaces properly would have been even further up, PJ McCrickard also making his season’s debut in 75th (31:58), Jerome McCrickard (less than two weeks after just missing out on the 3-hour barrier in the Dublin Marathon) in 85th (32:30), the Scribe in 116th (34:24), another debut man in Donal Ward in 137th (36;20), Deccie Magee in 146th (37:01) and lucky for some, 13th man home, Gary Cairns in 147th (37:13). All very respectable running and with two more league races in December the club has set its sights on still being on top at Christmas.
As a footnote, with Movember only 8 days old, there is a clear mixture of facial hair; from those that couldn’t be bothered to shave because it was Saturday, to those who need their chest hair seen too (you know who you are), to those who make it their life’s work (Vikings Carlin, gear-carrier Quail and the Prophet McCrickard), to the it’ll soon be off if the lady has her way (McNeilly) to the George Michael-effect (O’Flah & Lynch) to the ‘let’s go with it’ (Carinsie & Ward). Maybe it’s not really the appropriate time to turn the attention to the ladies who made the trip to Ballyclare, but we will anyway.
With world-class orienteer Aileen Reid (18:12) narrowly leading home Cathy McCourt (18:15) at the front, Sam McNeilly came home with a solid performance in 50th (21:50) in a field of 136 with Rita Devlin (fresh from her excellent Dublin Marathon performance) also finishing in the top half in 65th (22:45).
Condolences go to clubman Phil Murdock whose mother sadly passed away last week.