O’Hanlon and McCluskey follow the Star to record a second victory.
There was a real international feel to the annual Christmas Cracker race in Castlewellan on 27th December. From early morning an eclectic blend of international fell runners, triathletes and cyclists gathered to compete in the biggest race of the Christmas Holidays. Winner of the inaugural race more than 30 years ago Deon McNeilly once again took to the line and as usual gave a very good account of himself. The tradition of running fancy dress is growing and this year saw many different variations on the seasonal theme as well as the occasional dinosaur – well done to all who made the effort as this added to the sense of occasion.
It is not often that a star is followed by three wise men at the beginning of a race. However, this was very much the case for the 31st running of the Christmas Cracker. The Power Family had whole-heartedly entered into the spirit of the festive season and with bespoke running apparel (rumour has it that they will be making another journey on 6 January!) made their way to the front of the field to lead the many other wise men and women on a pilgrimage that would take them to the summit of Slieveinaslat Mountain. However, as the pace quickened after 100 metres, the wise men demonstrated their sagacity and made the prudent decision to move backwards and let the faster athletes take over. This was a challenge which young Brendan Donnelly took up with great aplomb. To ensure he got his picture in the paper, the London-based Newcastle AC man made a bold bid for home 8 miles out and was leading the field past the Market House!!! Regrettably, and much to the relief of partner Ryan Quigley, this was to prove another short-lived attempt to strike a decisive blow. As the athletes turned left onto the Drumbuck Road, Donnelly’s oil light was well and truly on and he would have to settle for 52nd place, a mere 14 minutes behind the winners! Methinks he went a bit too early!!!
O’Hanlon and McCluskey, winners in 2013, had returned to defend their title and by the Bannonstown Road were beginning to assert their authority over a high quality filed. By the time they were entering the Forest Park they had 20 seconds to spare over the in-form pairing of Lynch and Steele. The local club had packed well with O’Flaherty and Totten still in the frame in third place. Duffy and Heeny from Bailiebord were also challenging along with McMullan of Newcastle and his partner Collins, a man with no running experience, dragooned in to competing with the promise that the course was ‘reasonably flat’!!! I don’t think he’ll fall for that one again! As the race unfolded the defending champions were able to manage the challenge of their nearest competitors and came home in 52:26 with a minute to spare over Lynch and Steele. O’Flaherty and Totten completed the podium places. One of the performances of the day came from Iain Whiteside and Megan Crawford of TRIM who were convincing winners of the mixed team category in an outstanding 6th place overall recording a time of just over 57 minutes. They had a minute and a half to spare over pre-race favourites Stuart Kennedy and Cathy McCourt who would finish in 11th overall. Paul Burns and Martin Wilcox were the first East Down Duo home in 10th overall and can be very pleased with this finish given the quality of the athletes in their company. Former winners McNeilly and McCrickard produced another fine performance to finish 12th inside the 1 hour mark. Phil Hodge, paired with Dale Mathers of Newry City Runners, was the first Murlough AC athlete home in 27th place. All of the category winners are listed and well done to each paring on their success.
An event like this requires many hands to make the work lighter and the organisers would like to thank all those who helped with the entries – processing almost 750 runners in under an hour is a huge task, the members of Shimna Wheelers CC and other friends of Newcastle AC for marshalling out on the course and pipers Billy and Rab for their melodic tunes which undoubtedly lifted the spirits of the athletes. Thanks also to everyone who took and sent photos (many of these can be viewed on the Newcastle AC website – www.newcastleac.org), organised the finish, processed the results or helped out afterwards in Castlewellan GAC. As part of the club’s ongoing commitment to supporting charities a donation will be made to the Neo-Natal Unit of the RVH Belfast to add to the sum of almost £6000 donated in recent years. So, with 51 weeks to go, it is time to think about picking a partner for 2015 and get training!!!