Tales of the not so unexpected as Monaghan and Totten dominate a high class field
With 850 competitors participating, the Castlewellan Christmas Cracker was undoubtedly the main local sporting event of the holiday season. The scene as the athletes made their way along the Main Street towards the Drumbuck Road was truly something to behold with many festooned in festive apparel. Equally impressive was the huge crowd of spectators that lined the streets and the forest park to watch the drama unfold. This year was a vintage one with the event sold out well in advance and many of the top performers committed early to taking part. As predicted, it was going to be a close affair, with a number of pairs in contention for the win.
Youth trumps experience: It has often been said that old age and treachery will overcome youth and inexperience. This much used adage was turned upside down as Monaghan and Totten outclassed a high class and highly decorated field to finish top team out of 425 on December 28th. The young men, both with existing outstanding running pedigree, dominated from the early stages to upset the form book and deprive perennial favourites McCluskey and O’Hanlon of a third consecutive title. Annett and Lynch, themselves no slouches, were impressive in finishing third. The early stages of the race proved to be as competitive as predicted with Lennon & Whiteside, Gordon & McKee and McKinstry & Weir all in contention. The course was conducive to fast running in the early stages with 1.5 miles initially on the road. Once the Spring Gardens were negotiated, there followed a series of testing climbs, culminating in the ascent to the top of Slievenaslat mountain. This proved to be the tipping point for many as those with stronger climbing legs were able to pull away from their rivals. In an extremely clever seasonal design ploy, the course setter had strategically placed three wise men at the steepest point of the ‘ridge’ to motivate and encourage the athletes at the point of most distress.
What a Pantomime!!! A little further back McNeilly and Mathers turned in a stellar performance to win the 110-119 age category in a highly respectable 9th place overall. McNeilly, a man who inadvertently creates comedy gold for the scribe, once again failed to disappoint. When awarding the fancy dress prize in the aftermath of the racing, he, in a moment of misguided innocence, referred to the winning group as Sleeping Beauty and the Seven Dwarfs! This prompted one astute observer to quip to Deon’s daughter Sam, ‘I guess bedtime stories in your house were both interesting and unusual.’ Regrettably McNeilly was unable to authenticate this story as he was at the pantomime watching Snow White and the Beanstalk!
Equally impressive: Getting the combination right is the key to success in the mixed team event. Newcastle AC hit the jackpot with the pairing of Cross Country Captain David McNeilly and his leading lady in muddy pastures, Shalene McMurray. Both set out hard, passing through the first mile in very illustrious company in just under 5:40. Unlike some of those around them, they were able to climb efficiently and came home 13th overall to win their category commandingly. It was a very good day for NAC in the mixed pairings as Brendan Donnelly and Emma Burgess (Highgate Harriers) were second and Colm & Sinead Spartan third, just managing to hold off a late challenge from the Dromore pairing of Henderson and Murtagh! Perry & Logue of Ballydrain Harriers took the honours in the ladies race, finishing 74th overall in 68:54. They were joined on the podium by Roberts & McDonough of North Down AC and Plumb and Lindsay of North Belfast Harriers.
A big thank you: Thanks to the team of volunteers who worked tirelessly in preparing for the race, managed the entries on the day, marshalled the many checkpoints, took photographs and videos and organised the prize-giving. Thanks also to Castlewellan GAC for accommodating everyone and making sure that there was enough soup to feed the proverbial army. A special word of thanks to Marty McVeigh for designing a challenging but fair course; the suitability of the course was evidenced by the many positive messages received after the event. As part of their on-going commitment to charitable work Newcastle AC will be making a £1000 donation to the Neo-Natal Unit of the RVH in the weeks ahead.