An unchallenged gun-to-tape victory for defending champion, Declan Reed, saw the superb Spartan easily retain his Provincial Masters cross country individual title at Scotstown in Monaghan on Saturday.
And the Spartan led the classy red vests “A” squad to a comprehensive team win ahead of Finn Valley and defending champions, Annadale Striders.
Individual silver medallist, Colin Roberts, Paddy Mhor Doherty (4th) and Paul McCafferty (15th), completed the successful quartet as the Spartans’ big guns simply blew away the opposition on a sticky Scotstown circuit.
The female Spartans were also on the podium, claiming double team bronze in the Intermediate and Masters championships, where they were fronted by Catherine Lilburn and Jackie McGinley respectively.
And city rivals, Foyle Valley did really well to grab team silver in the Men’s Junior championship, with Pius McIntyre and Scott Rankin their top finishers in a race won convincingly by North Belfast with Willowfield in third spot. The red vests’ challenge in this one came to nothing as they failed to finish a scoring sextet.
The big win of the day undoubtedly was Declan Reed’s majestic effort in the opening Masters 8K. In the absence of the 2011 second and third placed finishers, David Morwood of Annadale and Omagh Harrier, Stephen Duncan, the Spartan strode unchallenged to an impressive, successful defence of the title, his seemingly effortless fluency making a nonsense of the difficult, sticky underfoot conditions.
At the line he had almost a full minute to spare over the chasers, led home impressively by Colin Roberts who had too much gas on the final lap for Annadale’s Paul Carroll and took a well merited silver medal by a five second margin.
Early on, with Reed already going away, Roberts and Carroll were tracked by the in-form Paddy Mhor Doherty and Wright of Annadale. The latter then fell back as Doherty battled to stay in touch in the contest for the individual medals however, despite arguably his best performance over the country, he could never quite get close enough to threaten the outcome.
Behind the leaders, Paul McCafferty was in the mix with Eoghan Furey for the vital fourth scoring spot on the City of Derry team and it was clear from way out that the team title was being ripped away from Annadale and Belfast and heading to the North West.
Reed was in imperious isolation up front; Roberts matched Carroll’s every move and turned on the after-burners late on the last lap to clinch the runners-up spot; Doherty finished delighted for fourth and McCafferty, although under a bit of pressure with a stitch on the penultimate lap, rallied well for 15th to seal the final team medal with Furey impressing in a close up 18th.
The Spartans were comfortable team champions, led by Reed’s glorious golden individual success and their 22 points total was way, way, clear of Finn Valley’s 62 and Annadale on 68.
The Women’s races followed and both City of Derry and Inishowen AC would emerge as medal contenders in the Intermediate and Masters categories as the one 4K race accommodated both championships.
Former Spartan, Cathy McCourt was an easy individual winner for North Belfast with Inishowen Masters duo, Helena Crossan and Evelyn McGinley nailing top 10 overall finishes as the North Donegal club missed Masters team gold by just three points behind Lagan Valley.
The Derry Masters squad were missing a few key members but sparked by a good run from Jackie McGinley, well supported by Roisin Lynch (who won the F60 individual title); Una Gavin and Linda Hall, the red vests did enough to claim well deserved team bronze.
Catherine Lilburn in 11th overall led the Spartans’ Intermediate squad to a welcome team bronze behind Lagan Valley and Omagh Harriers in a hard fought contest with only eight points separating the top three teams.
Catherine found the underfoot conditions difficult but as ever she battled hard for her 11th place overall finish and fifth Intermediate; Sarah Mahon was next home, followed by Ciara Fraser and Hannah McGowan and the tired and muddy Spartans were delighted to find they were third team after a tough and demanding trek in soft conditions.
Lagan Valley got gold by three points from Omagh who were a further five clear of the local red vests. It possibly could have been better but Provincial medals are fiercely contested and the delighted Spartans were happy to bring some medals home, irrespective of colour.
Back to the Male Masters and the Spartans also had a “B” squad in action. Dermot Connolly and Sammy McAnaney showed well for 29th and 37th in the big field; Oran McBride and Philip Donaghy ran most of the distance in tandem to finish 46th and 47th and Peter Lilburn was not far behind in 52nd.
Good to see Sammy back racing after an injury enforced absence!
Christy McMonagle of course won his M65 age group championship with yet another strong run and will now target overall honours in the NI Masters Winter League and the National M65 championships in Roscommon in early February.