Top class cross country action takes centre stage this weekend with Scotstown in Co. Monaghan and Edinburgh in Scotland the key venues for local athletes.
Teenagers Aofie Laverty and Shane McGowan will be in Edinburgh having been selected in the Ulster squad for the annual Celtic Cross Country Challenge while both City of Derry Spartans and Foyle Valley will have athletes chasing provincial honours in the N. Ireland/Ulster Junior and Masters’ Championships at the Monaghan venue.
The young Spartans will contest the under-17 races at the Celtic International tomorrow in the Ulster vest against the best from Scotland, Wales and the rest of Ireland.
The opposition will be red hot and the local duo will have to be at their very best to make an impression but coach, Sean Laverty, who travels with them, expects them to step up on their pre-Christmas form and believes they can contribute significantly to the Ulster challange.
Tomorrow also will see a significant local challenge at the N. Ireland/Ulster Junior and Masters’ Championships in Scotstown, Co. Monaghan. Both the city clubs will travel with individual and team medal expectations in each of the three races down for decision.
Reed to toe the line
The Spartans male masters’ squad contains last year’s individual champion Declan Reed, who will start among the favourites once again and could well lead the ‘red vests’ in a successful tilt at team honours; the Foyle Valley junior men’s selection, spearheaded by Scott Rankin, could be in the mix for team medals and City of Derry’s in form Catherine Lilburn could feature in the battle for the women’s Intermediate medals.
The masters are first into action and a strong City of Derry “A” squad comprising Declan Reed, Colin Roberts, Paddy Mhor Doherty, Eoghan Furey, Paul McCafferty, Damien McGinty, Declan McCarthy and James Brown are expected to be serious contenders for team gold.
Defending champions, Annadale Striders, led by last year’s individual runner-up, David Morwood, may start favoutites, with Letterkenny, North Belfast, Finn Valley and Armagh also fancying their chances.
However the strength in depth of the local squad in the best four to score contest, may be the determining factor tomorrow over the 8K distance.
Foyle Valley won the Provincial Novice Men’s Team Championships a few months ago in Killybegs and have a strong leading quartet from that success. Scott Rankin, Cathal McLaughlin, Chris McGuinness and Pius McIntyre will need two others to step up tomorrow if the ‘purple vests’ are to notch a difficult ‘double’ as last year’s runners-up, Willowfield, are probably the pre-race favourites.
Foyle Valley favourites
The Spartans, meantime, have a strong squad entered but a spate of injuries, illness and unavailability has drastically diluted their challenge and the Foyle boys are expected to lead the up front local challenge.
Noel Logan has shaken off a recent calf problem and will probably front the ‘red vests’ on the 10K distance with an individual medal an not unrealistic target for the Waterside man nor, indeed, for Scott Rankin.
North Belfast, North Down and, possibly, St. Malachy’s are others to watch out for but, hopefully, the local boys will snatch podium spots.
Lilburn in terrific form
Catherine Lilburn has been in terrific form of late and should be a contender in tomorrow’s women’s Intermediate 4K as, indeed, could be her Foyle Valley counterpart Dolores Quinn, an impressive indivual medallist at the recent Provincial Novice Championships where she led her team to club gold.
Both should be in the up front battle and on a good day team medals could be a bonus for the local clubs but strength in depth could be a problem for both in the ‘four to score’ contest.
Anne Paul and Bridgeen Byrne will miss the masters race and much will fall on Jackie McGinley to lead the local challenge. Martina McMullan and Rosie O’Brien could show well for the Foyle Valley squad.
Roisin Lynch will chase F60 individual honours and in the men’s age groups all eyes will be on M65 Christy McMonagle. M50 Damien McGinty, M55’s Peter Lilburn and, hopefully, Sammy McAnaney are other age groupers with individual medal prospects.