North West clubs were prominent at Saturday’s NI & Ulster Masters and Intermediate Cross Country championships, staged on a muddy course at the Ulster University’s Coleraine campus.
Athletes from City of Derry Spartans, Derry City Track Club, Foyle Valley and their Donegal neighbours, Finn Valley and Inishowen, defied the testing conditions to secure several significant individual and team podium positions.
Inishowen’s teak tough M50 Pauric McKinney set the scene with an impressive win in the opening Male Masters race, hauling in the front running Spartan, Allan Bogle, midway through the 8K to go on and post a terrific victory as Bogle battled to the line to claim his first ever Masters championship medal.
The Finn Valley quartet dug in brilliantly to take the team title from the defending champions North Belfast Harriers, the margin a mere one point and a great effort from the Inishowen squad saw them pipped by Newcastle for the team bronze medals, the margin once again a single point.
Next up was the combined Female Intermediate & Masters and Male 65 plus race, the revised course extending the original 4K somewhat and once again North West runners were to the fore. The Spartans and Finn Valley Masters took the silver and bronze team medals behind winners North Belfast Harriers with Valley’s Catriona Devine edging out Omagh Harrier Julie Butler for the Masters’ individual gold and silver.
A strong collective performance from Jackie McMonagle (5th), Hannah Shields (8th and top F50 finisher), Anne Paul (11th), and continuing her competitive return, Shelagh Murray in 31st clinched the runners up medals for the female red vests. Another big championship run from a female Spartans masters squad consolidating the efforts at the Nationals in Dundalk the previous Sunday!
Another to build on his Dundalk national gold was M70 Gerry Lynch who added the M65+ Provincial title to his achievements this season, the Spartan working hard in the mud to comfortably see off the opposition.
Springwell claimed the Intermediate Women’s team title ahead of North Belfast and Acorns AC with the Martina McMullan led Foyle Valley squad in fifth place. The top class Master runner competed in the Intermediate grade and showed well for sixth with good support from Gemma Mahon (13th), Denise Ward (25th) and, in 36th, Jacqueline McCann.
Men’s Seven Lap Mudbath
Finally it was the Men’s Intermediate 10K and with the last minute course changes the field had to brace themselves for a seven lap slog through the Coleraine mud. An intense upfront battle developed during the second lap with Derry City TC’s recent recruit, Conan McCaughey, involved alongside Springwell’s Neil Johnston and NBH man Connor McCambridge.
In the early stages NBH, Acorns, Springwell, Foyle Valley (with Pius McIntyre in the chasing group) and City of Derry, fronted by Noel Logan and Dermot McElhinney, were disputing the team honours but as the laps unfolded Springwell’s challenge receded and the Spartans lost Logan, one of his shoes literally disintegrated with just two laps remaining.
Late in the final lap Johnston made the decisive move to get away from McCaughey, the pair having shaken off McCambridge some time earlier and in the closing stages Johnston went on to take the individual gold ahead of the valiant McCaughey who, in the Enniskillen RC colours, had also taken the runners up spot last year.
McCambridge claimed individual bronze and led his NBH squad to a successful defence of their team title with, would you believe it, only a point to spare over the consistent Acorns squad.
Meanwhile, Foyle Valley with Pius McIntyre’s excellent fifth overall finish and with late surges from Roy McGilloway (9th) and Martin Gallagher (10th), came good to grab team bronze. Matt McLaughlin (25th), Darren Wallace (34th) and Terry Murphy (35th) completed the purple vests scorers for a thoroughly deserved podium place.
NBH took the honours on 101 points, Acorns runners up to the same opposition last year, scored 102 points and the Foyle boys were on 118 points for bronze.
A disappointing outing for the Spartans who had decent runs from Dermot McElhinney (11th), Kyle Doherty (15th), Paul McCafferty (21st), Connor McDowell (26th), Mark Mullan (42nd) and Mark Melarkey (45th) leaving them in fourth place.
Nevertheless local runners showed yet again they can compete well at Provincial level and with the Senior Cross Country Championships to come in Lurgan on February 20th we will no doubt see some more mud stained action then.