The Golden Girls

SUNNY and dry Stranorlar was the venue for the weekend’s N. IrelandI/Ulster Senior Cross Country Championships where, in the opening race, a surprise but thoroughly merited women’s team gold medal set the scene perfectly for City of Derry Spartans.

However, a unique Championship team ‘double’ success was cruelly denied when a late charge by the defending champions, St. Malachy’s, relegated the male ‘red vests’ to yet another runners-up finish in these Championships.

In an intense duel with old rivals Lagan Valley, Aileen Morrison superbly led the female Spartans to a hard fought two point victory in the 6 kms. race to ensure that the Bobby Rea Memorial Cup was brought to Foyleside for the first time in recent years.

Aileen was a worthy individual silver medallist behind Abbey A.C.’s impressive Gladys Ganiel O’Neill and ably backed up by Marina Campbell 7th, Jackie McGinley 10th, Bridgeen Byrne 13th and non scorer, Catherine Lilburn 15th, secured the Provincial Championship team title.

However, two points was also the deciding margin between the male Spartans and Belfast outfit St. Malachy’s in the men’s 12 kms. Championship race.With six to score here a real battle of attrition ensued between the local squad and the 2009 and 2010 champions, Belfast clubs Annadale Striders and St. Malachy’s respectively, before a late, late show from St. Malachy’s speedy duo of Joe McAlaistar and Michael McKillop pushed them into the gold team medals and consigned the Spartans to their third runners up spot in a row.

There was a surprise individual winner in this one as Abbey AC’s Paul Pollock made it a double individual gold with a stylish run, seven seconds ahead of pre race favourite, Annadale’s Eddie McGinley with another Abbey man, Andrew Agnew, a further 20 plus seconds further back in bronze.

Declan Reed, in 6th, led home the scoring Spartans with Greg Roberts 8th, Diarmuid Grant 10th, Emmet McGinty 17th, Colin Roberts 18th and Aaron Doherty 19th. Despite the winners sixth scorer being back in 26th place, their superior early packing -fourth, fifth, twelfth, thirteenth and sixteenth - just gave them the edge as it finished St. Malachy’s 76 points, City of Derry 78 and Annadale 87.

Understandly the locals had mixed feelings - delighted with their women’s squad win - a golden podium place to break the Senior Championship drought of recent years but acute disappointment at losing out yet again in the Men’s Championship and thus also missing out on an unique Championship team double.

Both squads gave their all on the day. Aileen Morrison may have taken individual gold but for the time lost to a recent Achilles injury and Declan Reed, Gregory Roberts and Aaron Doherty also were recent casaulties, but the future beckons and the year is still in its infancy so its on to the next challange for all concerned.

Female Gold

Saturday’s women’s team success in an admittidly small field, missing 2010 champions North Belfast and, amazingly, with only Inishowen AC representing Donegal athletics, was nevertheless a hard fought affair between the Spartans and the Lagan Valley squad who boast an impressive Championship pedigree

With Aileen Morrison battling away up front despite being very conscious of her dodgy Achilles on the extremely bumpy surface, the Spartans had the perfect talisman and the top triathlete did not disappoint. She found the inform Glady Ganiel-O’Neill too hot to handle for individual gold but wih a storming final lap she blew away the stubborn challenge of Dromore’s up and coming Julie Turley to claim second spot.

Marina Campbell and Jackie McGinley, meantime, were involved in a grim battle with Inishowen’s Teresa Doherty and Lagan Valley pair Wendy Davis and Roma Harkness all chasing a top six finish. Bridgeen Byrne and Catherine Lilburn were further back in support as the team race quickly came down to the ‘red vests’ versus Lagan Valley.

Marina Campbell, who left for Australia yesterday, gave herself the perfect leaving present with a brilliant run for 7th place, just missing out on 6th as Teresa Doherty got to the line just two seconds ahead. Vitally she relegated the Lagan Valley pair to 8th and 9th with their leading scorer in 5th and a gallant 10th place run from Jackie McGinley, who almost gave up with 2 kms to go, consolidated the Spartans position.

The vasty experienced Bridgeen Byrne was involved in a tussle with the final Lagan Valley scorer and hung on grimly to finish 13th, one place behind her rival and seal the team win for the Spartans - 32 pts. to 34 pts. - with Inishowen third on 53 pts. Catherine Lilburn had run the Armagh 3 kms. on the previous night but closed in the local finishers in 15th spot.

Silver Lining Again For Men

The story of the ‘red vests’ male silver medals has already been outlined but what of the individual performances!

Declan Reed made light of his troublesome calf problem and led the local challange superbly, only losing out to a late charge from Joe McAlaistair in the latter stages of the 12 kms. but his 6th place finish marks his major improvement this winter. Greg Roberts was 8th, a battling effort after his season was impaired by injury some weeks ago and Diarmuid Grant in 10th improved on his early season form to show signs of his old self. Emmet McGinty was 17th and produced perhaps his best cross country run in a while, getting into a competitive group midway through and hanging on well in a sprint to the line.

Colin Roberts 18th and Aaron Doherty 19th were unhappy with their runs, the latter turned out despite a long standing foot problem which restricted his effort considerably and the elder Roberts finished behind a few Annadale guys he had beaten in Antrim last month .

Behind them Paddy Mhor Doherty showed well for 22nd, Cathal Logue was 27th and will relish the Spring/Summer action, Eoghan Furey and Pajo Hamilton battled on for 35th and 36th and they too will look forward to the road and track scene. Gavin Stevenson and Philip Donaghy sampled their first Provincial Senior finishing 39th and 40th.

Bradley Is Back

Connor Bradley announced his welcome return to competitive action with a gun to tape victory at last Thursday’s Armagh International road races, clocking a swift 8m 33s for a quite stunning 3,000 metres win around the famous Mall Circuit. His career seemed over a few years ago as he struggled to overcome a recurring groin injury and while he did see some action late last summer, he worked hard over this winter and shocked everybody with a magnificient run last week in Armagh.

He had a staggering 11 seconds to spare over North Down rising track star, Niall Robinson ,winner of last month’s Provincial Junior Cross Countrty Championship and will now go over 3,000 m. again this wekend at the Irish Indoors in Belfast. Great to see him back in the ‘red vest’ and going so well.