Newcastle top of the League for Christmas but City of Derry closing in…
Race 6 of the Athletics NI Cross-Country League took place in Gransha hosted by the City of Derry Spartans. For the first time in recent history a bus left the quiet corner of County Down packed full of athletes, would-be athletes and never will be again athletes. 2014 has been the club’s most successful year in its history over the cross-country – winning the NI Junior Team title in January in Lurgan, the Comber Cup in February and now in the current winter season the Bobby Rea Memorial team title at Jordanstown in October and the McConnell Shield at Ballyclare in November. The club headed to Derry top of the league and 8 points clear of nearest rivals City of Derry.
Three 2k laps awaited the runners and with water lying around in parts of the course it was inevitably going to be a muddy one. 233 runners made it in total to the finish line including 2 ladies from the Red & Yellows – Sam McNeilly was 180th in 27:52 and Paulette Thomson 190th in 28:42.
Having the best season of his running career, Seamus Lynch was in the bunch at the head of the field from early on. Declan Reed from the local club though was intent on controlling the race from the front and did so well to come home in 18:47. Lynch suffered badly over the last lap, paid for his early pace and slipped to 7th place in 19:40 – still a solid performance though. Behind him, David O’Flaherty was going in the other direction in the final lap and moved into the top 20 to come home 18th in 20:14. Having reached his 52nd birthday last month and also having just completed a season of Ulster Cyclo-Cross, former NI Cross-Country Champion on many occasions, Deon McNeilly was off to his usual blistering start and commented after, ‘I was able to go with the early pace alright but just couldn’t keep it going’ – pretty much what the other 232 runners in the race were probably feeling too. McNeilly came home a respectable 27th and first V50 in 20:45.
Completing the scoring 4 was Barry McConville, who has been improving this season and today was no exception coming home in 34th in 21:13. This gave Newcastle a score of 86 points. Well out in front with a score of 21 points to win was City of Derry Spartans. In second place came Springwell with 2nd, 4th, 10th and 28th for a total of 44 points. Foyle Valley runners took 9th, 25th, 30th and 31st for a total of 95 points meaning that Newcastle took 3rd place and with both City of Derry and Newcastle getting at least 12 runners home – the County Down club lost 4 points to their nearest rivals who cut the overall lead from 8 points to 4 points with 3 races remaining.
Once again, the spirit is high in the club and it was a brilliant effort to get the minimum 12 runners home (13 in all) to gain maximum participation points. Home for Christmas from college in Wales Ryan Quigley made his first appearance for the club in several years and finished 42nd in 21:40. The improving John Kellys in 46th (‘H’ in 21:59) and 69th (‘B’ in 22:52) sandwiched Brendan Quail (63rd in 22:42) and great to see hime back after two months of grief with a torn calf muscle. Paul Byrne, also making good progress this winter was in 97th (23:57) followed by the Scribe 103rd (24:15). Donal Ward in 146th (26:04) was just ahead of Stephen Rice 148th (26:14) and Martin Brogan made it 13th man home in his first cross-country outing in 197th in 29:35.
The next race is in Enniskillen on 24th January and if the club is to win the league title then it will probably have to win there – a bit of arm twisting coming up over the next few weeks.