A major weekend of competitive action is on the cards with Indoor, Road and Cross Country at venues as disperse as Athlone, Dungiven, Dublin, Lurgan and locally today at the Sports Complex.
Templemore hosts the final race in the Flavahans Primary School Cross Country League.
However, the pick of the action could well be in Lurgan Park tomorrow when local runners will vie for Provincial honours at the Masters and Junior/Intermediate cross country championships.
Both Foyle Valley and City of Derry Spartans will field in all three races on the programme with expectations of some success the order of the day.
Foyle’s male Junior/Intermediate squad is among the favourites for team honours with Keith Shields and Scott Rankin also good enough to stake claims for individual podium places.
The purple vests will travel hopeful of bringing the much coveted War Memorial trophy back home after the Spartans’ great team victory last year, meant the iconic trophy has spent the last 12 months on the banks of the Foyle.
The six to score team contest will be tough and Foyle are expected to do battle with Donegal neighbours Finn Valley for the win, with Ulster Novice champions Enniskillen Running Club and North Belfast Harriers also in the mix.
The local Spartans, with a brand new squad are saying little but may just have an outside shot at a podium spot.
Pius McIntyre is said to be carrying an injury and this may be a major factor in the Foyle Valley challenge and they will also have to ask Stephen Connor and John Collins to move up a level to ensure a sustained challenge behind their front men.
Last year Finn Valley pipped Foyle for team silver with the Spartans just grabbing gold and the Donegal boys have a strong squad out again tomorrow.
Gerard Gallagher, Mark Hoy and Paul Leck give them a good spearhead but for both Valley’s it’s all down to the last few scorers and the final few laps on the testing 10K course will be crucial.
Connor Doherty from the winning 2013 Spartans squad is eligible again and will line up in an untested line up which includes Noel Logan on his way back from injury and three teenagers Shane McGowan, Peter and Michael Melarkey.
Medalling again would be a big result for the squad but it will take big efforts all round.
Newcastle’s Eoghan Totten who ran brilliantly at the recent Antrim International could start as individual favourite with North Belfast’s Adam Boyd and Gerard Gallagher of Finn Valley, silver and bronze individual medallists last year, Enniskillen’s Conan McCaughey and Foyle’s Shields and Rankin all potential top rankers.
Women in the Frame
The Women’s 4K race incorporates both Masters and Intermediates and here again both local clubs will expect to feature in the honours chase.
Foyle Valley won the Novice team and individual championships at a canter, in Gransha last November but will face a bigger test tomorrow.
They will look to Novice champion Sarah Lindsay to front their challenge with back up from silver medallist Charlene McIntyre and on a good day could get in the team medal mix at Intermediate level.
The Spartans will miss the unavailable Amy Jackson but will look to the improving Janeen Lesse, Angeline McShane and teenager Aoife Laverty to lead their challenge at this grade.
County rivals Springwell may be the dark horses with Omagh, North Down and Finn Valley serious contenders.
In the Masters grade local runners should be prominent with Valley’s Martina McMullan and Denise McElhone and the Spartans Jackie McGinley, Hannah Shields and Roisin Lynch all expected to be competitive in their age categories.
Team-wise it looks Finn Valley’s exceptionally strong squad should battle North Belfast and North Down for the major medals.
Neither local squads are expected to mount a serious challenge for team honours in the Male Masters championship.
Both squads have had their ranks diluted by runners being selected for the War Memorial race and others opting for the National Masters in Athlone and the Axa Raheny Five miler in Dublin.
Nevertheless there are Masters League points at stake so the likes of Paul McCafferty, Dermot Connolly, Gerry Duddy and James Crampsey will work hard in their respective age categories.
Missing the M65 action will be Gerry Lynch, he has done his long suffering Achilles once again and will be in Lurgan purely as a frustrated but vocal spectator.