BELFAST’S ODYSSEY Centre hosted the National Senior and Ulster Juvenile Indoor Championships over the weekend and proved to be a hugely rewarding venue for local athletes.
Indeed, the City of Derry Spartans claimed 22 Ulster Juvenile medals and produced a host of excellent performances over the comprehensive two day programme.
Among the highlights were the double gold and a silver from U16 star Ciara Armstrong; a cracking U16 800 metres gold from Shane McGowan; Ryan McParland’s U17 double gold and a silver and further gold plus silver efforts from U16 sprinter Jack McCloskey and U17 jumper Claire Dougherty.
The talented young Red Vests were regulars on the awards podium on both Saturday and Sunday and with a raft of other non medalling performances showed that they will be a force to be reckoned with once again this year.
A handful of local athletes contested the senior events with Connor Bradley’s impressive sixth place finish in a hotly contested men’s 3,000 metres, where he clocked an eye-catching 8m 16secs, the best showing.
For the North-West the Letterkenny 800 metres duo Mark English and Darren McBrearty were magnificent in claiming senior gold and silver, English winning in a quick 1m 51.62s from his clubmate; Finn Valley pole vaulter Tori Pena cleared 4m 10cm for gold and Tirconail jumper Mary McLoone took Triple Jump gold and Long Jump silver with Dan Mooney surprising everybody with a men’s 1,500m silver to add to the Letterkenny tally.
But back to the City of Derry performances and Ciara Armstrong was in terrific form bagging a golden sprint double with a 8.22s clocking for 60m gold followed by a storming 26.60s run for the 200m victory.
She followed up with a Long Jump silver and looks set for an outstanding outdoor season. Ryan McParland also claimed a medal treble despite not firing on all cyclinders and came away with 60m and 200m gold plus silver in the 60m Hurdles; Jack McCloskey and Claire Dougherty both won two medals, Jack took 200m gold and 60m silver while Claire continued her good form with High Jump gold and Long Jump silver.
Shane McGowan showed a clean pair of heels to the opposition in the U16 800m clocking a terrific new PB of 2m 09.59s for a facile victory and this should boost his confidence in advance of tomorrow’s Ulster Schools Cross Country Championships in Mallusk.
Connor Breslin made an encouraging debut at this level finishing in the bronze medal position. There were golds also for Lisa Bradley in the U14 Walk; Martin McGeady in the U16 High Jump and Callum Imrie in the U16 Long Jump as the medals continued to flow.
Amy Jackson went so close to U17 800m gold but was edged out on the line by a mere half a second but she too will travel to Mallusk with new found confidence tomorrow after her 2m 27s clocking.
Aoife Laverty defeated her perennial rival Clodagh O’Rielly from Annalee AC in the U15 800m but despite that, plus a 2m 28.84s time, lost gold to a Letterkenny athlete.
However, the Thornhill student will also fancy her chances in Mallusk. Victoria Boyce made her mark with a fine silver medal run in the U15 60m and Erin Gillen impressed with bronze in the U15 Walk - indeed the Walk medals may well have been the first in that discipline at Ulster level won by the Spartans - well done Lisa and Erin!
Michael Cartin did very well to win bronze in the competitive U17 6m Hurdles behind Ryan McParland and, staying with the Hurdles, brothers Jimmy and Ruaidhri O’Neill both won silver medals, at U14 and U16 levels respectively as the locals continue to show their prowess in the more technical events.
Another good return from an Ulster Championship which involved most of the young athletes travelling to Belfast on both Saturday and Sunday, contesting heats and finals and trying to keep focused throughout two very long days of competition.
Well done to the medallists for their impressive tally of ten gold, nine silver and three bronze and also to the others who competed with distinction. The second round of the Ulsters will be staged in Magherafelt on March 5th next so good luck to everyone for that!
A word on Connor Bradley and his excellent 3,000m runs over the weekend. He ran in the heats on Saturday evening, qualifying as a fastest loser after a 8m 25s clocking and returned to the track on Sunday afternoon for the final.
Considering he had been out injured for three years prior to getting back into competition late last summer and had only a 8m33s winning run at the Armagh 3K road race just a week or so before the Odyssey - and was an Indoor racing virgin - the weekend performance is simply staggering.
Against that background, making a National middle distance final was a big achievement but then to knock a further nine seconds off a new PB - he finished a strong sixth in 8m 16.13s - was a real statement!
Irish European U23 cross country team gold medallist, Dan Mulhare of North Laois won the final in 8m 05.23s ahead of established talents, Richard Corcoran of Raheny and Tomas Fitzpatrick of Tallagh so Connors effort was top drawer. He out-sprinted Annadale’s Eddie McGinley, runner-up in the NI/Ulster Senior Cross Country a week earlier and who had been targeting a big run at the Odyssey and defeated another four or five athletes with superior PBs. Great to have him back and going well!
Mallusk On Wednesday
The Mallusk playing fields tomorrow will host the combined NI Primary Schools and Ulster Schools Cross Country Championships with local schools set to be in the thick of the action and chasing honours.
Among the individual medal contenders in the Ulster Schools will be Thornhill’s Aoife Laverty, St Columb’s Shane McGowan and Oakgrove’s JP Williamson.
All have come off impressive runs in the recent District Championships and the first two excelled last weekend at the Odyssey.
JP has been going very well with Noel McMonagle’s local training group and all three should be prominent in their respective races tomorrow.