A very special report from Victoria Park by Bogusboy
More Photos HERE
The Northern Ireland Road Relay Championships have enjoyed an unbelievable renaissance since Orangegrove AC took the event over 4 years ago. This year there were almost 600 athletes representing 150 teams drawn from clubs the throughout Northern Ireland. It would be remiss of me not to begin by publically recognising the great work of the host club in making this a day to remember. Their organisational skills in the build up to the event, their management of the day and the hospitality provided were second to none and deserve the highest praise. Billed as a ‘Festival of Running’, the event certainly lived up to the hype and the vast crowds in the park were treated to some outstanding performances and wonderful times in each of the four adult races. Newcastle AC had made a massive commitment to taking part and fielding as many teams as possible. This was evidenced by the 30 athletes representing 8 different teams in the male and female races. Most encouraging was the participation of two female teams – much more on them later! Other local clubs were well represented – East Down AC brought the usual hoard of athletes and Murlough AC took part for the first time. Despite Dave Fulcher’s witty observation, ‘well, that was a culture shock!’, they have promised to return with more athletes next year.
What a race!
For Newcastle AC it turned out to be another great day of celebration, akin to that in Lurgan Park when the NI Cross Country team title was secured under the leadership of David McNeilly in the spring. The Senior Ladies’ team was highly regarded in advance of the race and were billed as medal contenders and possible favourites to wrest the trophy from defending champions North Down AC. With three athletes competing the 2.1 mile distance over two laps of Victoria Park, a good start was always going to be important. Newcastle’s world championship 3000m steeplechaser and multiple Irish record holder Kerry O’Flaherty was tasked with building the platform to set up a possible victory and maybe even a tilt at the championship record. However, she did not have it all her own way in the open stages with the Banbridge AC athlete matching her step for step in the first mile. As they embarked on the second lap O’Flaherty showed all her experience, ability and tactical nous and forged ahead, establishing a significant gap very quickly. Encouraged by the support of her club mates, strategically peppered along the course, she was able to open a 23 second lead – in running 10:49, O’Flaherty would record the fastest female time of the day and be the only lady to dip under the 11 minute barrier. The Banbridge athlete held on to bring her team through second with North Belfast Harriers a further 14 seconds back in third.
She has a lead!
Joanne Mills took up the challenge on the second leg and ran a very strong 11:28 to extend the lead still further. With Banbridge fading, North Belfast took up the challenge, secure that their fastest runner was on the final leg. Mills ran a well-paced leg and handed over to Mari Troeng with a substantial lead. Thankfully Mari had received some excellent coaching on pacing over this course two weekends earlier and though nervous, knew exactly what she had to do. She ran conservatively in the first lap, enabling Briege Connolly – who would run 11:11 – to close the gap and set up the final mile as the most exciting finish of the afternoon. Treong ran the second mile gallantly and, despite sensing her potential nemesis closing in, kicked very hard in the last quarter of a mile to cross the line first by a narrow margin of 7 seconds. Mari was cheered every step of the way and Connolly, magnificent athlete as she is, deserves great credit for never giving up and chasing down what seemed an impossible cause right to the line.
Never in doubt!
As all NAC athletes embraced the winning team, Patrick Higgins caustically remarked ‘never in doubt’! A few minutes later the trio triumphantly stood on the top rung of the podium – Troeng eternally grateful for the dry run two weeks earlier and to her ‘coach’ for instilling a sense of self- belief in the latter stages of a tough race and for working on her sprint finish!!! All were rewarded with medals and the prize for smashing the existing course record. The day ended perfectly for Mari, as she took the trophy to bed with her and hugged it tightly all night long! Amid the euphoria of the victory, NAC had a second team in the race and they performed equally stoically to secure 12th place overall. Their lead out Sinead Murtagh was in contention throughout the first leg and recorded 12:12, a mere 8 seconds slower than Mari. Sam McNeilly ran a very impressive 13:09 on the second leg and attributed this to the benefits that accrue from regular strenuous workouts with the club and Rita Devlin brought the team home with a very credible 14:42. Well done to all the NAC ladies and we look forward to great performances at the Seeley Cup in November.
|Position||Team||Leg 1||Leg 2||Leg 3||Total|
|1||Newcastle AC ‘A’||Kerry O’Flaherty (10.49)||Joanne Mills (11.38)||Mari Treong (12.04)||34.30|
|12||Newcastle AC ‘B’||Sinead Murtagh (12.12)||Sam McNeilly (13.09)||Rita Devlin (14.42)||40.02|
The Senior Men fielded a strong team and finished just outside the medals in a very competitive and fast race. North Belfast Harriers proved to be the stand out team with their four athletes completing the course in a combined time of 40.29. East Down AC was among the early pace setters with Teer and McCartan both clocking 9.57. Lynch was in contention with 10.07 and O’Flaherty took up the chase with an impressive 10.19. Carlin and Melville were both under 11 minutes with identical times of 10.54 as the quartet finished in a combined time of 42.13, an improvement of two places and 1 minute from 2014 – maybe a medal hope next year? The Senior B team all turned in quality performances, coming home in 19th overall – it was great to see Patrick Sheridan competing for the first time in a long time in club colours.
|Position||Team||Leg 1||Leg 2||Leg 3||Leg 4||Total|
|4||Newcastle AC ‘A’||Seamus Lynch (10.07)||David O’Flaherty (10.19)||Paul Carlin (10.54)||Martin Melville (10.54)||42.14|
|19||Newcastle AC ‘B’||Patrick Higgins (11.15)||Patrick Sheridan (11:03)||Frank Cunningham (12.40)||Declan Magee (13.00)||47.57|
Masters in their own eyes
Earlier in the afternoon the largest number of the NAC runners (16) competed in the Male Masters race. With bragging rights at stake, everyone who is anyone was there to prove a point and support the claim that the Pocky Toner Special Tuesday Sessions were having the desired effect – Pascal himself turned out and the teak tough Townie, who’s age cannot be disclosed for technical reasons, identified one or two who will be watched during the uphill 5k on Tuesday night! Four teams set out on a mission with pride at stake. Unsurprisingly, the Masters A were first home – McNeilly, Steele, O’Hare and Gallagher – finished in a very credible 6th overall in a race won by a stacked Willowfield AC team. Further down the other Masters performed well and the Prophet would like to thank the driver of the 1977 blue Vauxhall Viva who stopped on the Airport Road and produced the jump leads to kick start his heart and pour some life into his tiring bones. Evergreen Deon McNeilly was the third fastest of the 16 NAC Masters and is in line to be promoted to the C team for next year!
|Position||Team||Leg 1||Leg 2||Leg 3||Leg 4||Elapsed|
|6||Newcastle AC ‘A’||David McNeilly (10.48)||David Steele (10.45)||Jack O’Hare (11.17)||Noel Gallagher (11.55)||44.45|
|20||Newcastle AC ‘B’||Joe McCann (11.33)||Niall Carson (12.44)||Paul Byrne (11.50)||Norman Smyth (12.15)||48.20|
|23||Newcastle AC ‘D’||Deon McNeilly (11.15)||Richard Rodgers (12:57)||Pascal Toner (12.41)||The Prophet (12.11)||49.03|
|30||Newcastle AC ‘C’||Will Owens (12.38)||Ronnie Horrox (13.00)||Philip Murdock (12.16)||Francie McAlinden (12.42)||50.35|
Soup is a dish best served cold!
Throughout the afternoon there was great excitement in the Athletes Village, an ad hoc assortment of club gazebos and tents – our thanks to David McNeilly and Brendan Quail for looking after the setting up and dismantling of our temporary home. In the true spirit of the event, everyone contributed something and there was enough food to feed a couple of Legions – had the Romans decided to set up camp! Regrettably one silly boy did not bring all the accoutrements needed to fire up the gas stove and alas there was minimum access to tay and, even worse, no chance of a bowl of the soup that another generous boy had proffered to the assembled masses. Notwithstanding these shortcomings there was an array of fine fayre on the go including Murtagh’s wheaten bread, Carson’s flapjacks, and Horrox’s hand cut roasted chicken sandwiches – the temptation would have been too much for Brannigan! All ended well in ‘soupgate’ as the tureen made its way to the relatives and the freezer of one more devious club member who was heard saying – that’s my lunch for the rest of October sorted! One galloping landlord was left shaking his head – an APB has since been issued for the missing pot which was last seen on the Middle Tollymore Road outside the house of a man with a name that sounds a lot like Ronnie Horrox!
Are you for the Armagh 10?
Despite their exertions on Saturday, the marathon crew turned out early on Sunday for the last long run before Dublin. 16 miles were completed at a fairly quick pace as the countdown reaches 21 days. Next up for this hardy bunch is the Armagh 10 – one of the lesser mentioned races during club runs. Lynch has his eye on a sub 55, though everyone is baffled as to why he would have set this target!