DECLAN REED made his long overdue debut in Championship Masters Cross Country at Stormont last Saturday and stormed to a brilliant indivual win ahead of red hot favourite, Annadale’s David Morwood, as his City of Derry squad claimed a well deserved team silver in the N. IrelandI/Ulster Male Masters Championships.
The unassuming Spartan took on, stayed with and outsprinted the much vaunted Morwood over the testing Stormont 8 kms. distance and with great support from Colin Roberts, Paul McCafferty and Dermot Connolly, led the ‘red vests’ to Championship team silver medals behind the holders Annadale but comfortably ahead of North Belfast Harriers who took team bronze.
This stirring performance in the first race of the day was the icing on the cake for local runners and several excellent performances followed from age group winners, Sammy McAnaney M55; Gerry Lynch M65 and Roisin Lynch F60 and the Spartans Junior Men’s squad, led by teenager J. P. Williamson, to a hard-earned team bronze in the days feature 10 kms. race.
J. P.’s seventh place finish was an eye-catching performance as was Marina Campbell in the Women’s Intermediate Championship with a terrific run for fourth place, just out of the medals.
Back to the male Masters 8 kms., run over four challenging laps on the undulating Stormont circuit, and Declan Reed was the big story here as he matched Morwood from the gun, refusing to give a inch as the pair ran shoulder to shoulder for almost the entire distance. Their relentless duel drove them well clear of the opposition and as they went into the final lap Morwood’s famed finish kick was cited by most of the enthralled spectators as the defining factor in the absorbing struggle for supremacy.
However, no one seems to have told the man in the ‘red vest’ and on the hilly back end of the 2 kms. lap it was still neck and neck. Turning into the long 600 metres finish straight it was looking like another win for the fast finisher but to everyones surprise, Reed eked out a few metres advantage in a long bid for victory. The Stormont finish straight is very long and contains a mix of flat, downhill, incline and even a difficult camber, making it a real test of speed and stamina for tiring runners who can see the finish gantry from a long way out but sometimes despair of ever reaching it quickly enough.
Reed was going away for the first time in the race but still the doubt persisted about Morwood’s finishing speed. With the local contingent cheering him on furiously, Reed found pace no one knew he had and held off the former champion by a two seconds margin to claim a magnificent victory in his first Provincial Masters Cross Country Championship.
Team Silver Sealed
Sparta clubmate, Colin Roberts, back in competitive action after a foot problem, ran strongly for fourth place behind the second Annadale scorer, Paul Carroll; Paul McCafferty stepped up to the plate with a fighting 15th finish and the team silver was sealed in 25th place by another gritty effort from Dermot Connolly.
This trio were delighted to move up from last year’s team bronze at Stranorlar and with Sammy McAnaney in 28th, picking up the M55 age group win for good measure, it was a profitible trip for the local Masters.
Indeed, in the seperate 4 kms. race Gerry Lynch returned to winning ways, claiming the scalp of perriennial rival, North Down’s Davy Seaton, for the M65 age group title with a strong run.
Philip Donaghy and Peter Lilburn were the only other locals in the 8 kms.,both running well with Peter finishing as fourth M55.
The Womens Intermediate and Masters 4 kms. provided ultimately little pickings for the local participants. Minus their top Master, the ‘flu stricken Anne Paul and facing real classy opposition, the City of Derry squad finished fifth in the team race behind winners North Down who dethroned champions North Belfast in a close contest.
Jackie McGinley in 10th spot was their lead finisher, a little disappointed with her run perhaps, but she will move on to the next challenge, Bridgeen Byrne was 18th and third F45 finisher with a gutsy effort; Karen Cutliffe made her Masters debut in 25th, Roisin Lynch was next home for the Spartan women and claimed yet another F60 age grade win and Linda Hall rounded off the squad finishers.
Marina Campbell had an excellent run in the Intermediate grade, run with the Masters and was just out of the indivual medals in fourth place after giving her all in a top quality field. She actually finished sixth overall in the combined race, probably her best run yet over the country and a good reward for her dedication to training this winter.
Jackie McGinley doubled up as an Intermediate, repeating her 10th place Masters finish; Catherine Lilburn improved significantly on her Ulster Novice run with 23rd and Catherine Lagan in 26th completed the scoring quartet.
Their 63 points gave them fouth place in the team race just ten off bronze medallists Lagan Valley. North Down added to their Masters team win with Intermediate gold just ahead of Dromore.
For the record, former Spartan Cathy McCourt, was the Masters individual winner for North Belfast and North Down’s Laura Scott was an equally impressive Intermediate champion.
Junior Men’s Team Bronze
The much awaited final race of the day was the Junior Mens 10 kms., five testing laps and both City of Derry and Foyle Valley lined up among the hopefuls.
Both local clubs were below strength, the Spartans with a seriously reduced challenge, minus three of their victorious Ulster Novice Championship squad, Richard Johnston, Gary Slevin and Mark Mullan while the Valley had drafted in several Masters runners to support Scott Rankin.
Not surprisingly the ‘red vests’ could’nt mount their expected significant assault on the team title and eventually had to settle for hard fought bronze medals as the impressive young North Down squad, led home by individual gold and bronze medallists, Niall Robinson and Robin Brown, finished clear of Willowfield and the Spartans.
Despite a presence in the Masters where Letterkenny’s Pauric McKinney won the M45 grade in fifth spot, the Donegal clubs had a sparse representation and Foyle Valley and another Derry club, Springwell, were the only other full complement squads to finish.
Eighteen year old J. P. Williamson, in seventh place, led home the local contingent and showed that he has a big future with an agressive run. Arguably, if he had gone with the early pace or, at least just off the lead bunch, he could have been further up but coach, Noel McMonagle, was happy enough with the teenager’s first taste at this level, particulary his strong surge through the field in the second half of the demanding 10 kms. distance on a tough course.
Noel Logan was also having his introduction to this level and, perhaps, suffered from staying with the pace for close to 3 kms. before slipping back to allow Scott Rankin the chance to close him down and outsprint the Spartan for a two second advantage on the line.
Both these guys are new to the sport, Logan has only been training regularly since September last in the aftermath of the Waterside Half Marathon and no doubt we’ll see more of both as the year progresses. The Valley runner ran a smart race for a top 10 finish with Logan 11th.
Brendan Murphy, in 15th, may have been affected by a Friday fall from his bike en-route to work as he didn’t look comfortable at all on Saturday; Gerry Duddy once again belied his Master status with a strong effort for 22nd; new dad Dara Furey stepped in at late notice for 29th and Michael Finnegan battled his way round to complete the bronze medal team in 31st place.
For the Valley, Scott Rankin was supported by Cathal McLaughlin, an excellent 17th, Pius McIntyre 26th, Billy Orr 35th, Ciaran Graham 36th and the ever dependable Declan Doherty, 37th, finished off their scoring six.
Overall then, another satisfactory day for local athletics, Declan Reed emerged as a serious contender and the Spartans Championship medal haul was expanded. Hopefully there is much more to come as 2011 unfolds!