It was close but no cigar for local runners at a cold, muddy and sometimes wet and windy Lurgan Park on Saturday, with a clutch of silver and bronze medal returns from the very competitive NI Ulster Junior/ Intermediate and Masters cross country championships.
Ulster Novice champion Sarah Lindsay enhanced her growing reputation claiming the individual silver medal in the Women’s Intermediate 4K race and led her Foyle Valley clubmates Martina McMullan, Charlene McIntyre and Denise McElhone to team silver as well.
The City of Derry Spartans fronted by teenager Aoife Laverty also grabbed an Intermediate championship podium spot claiming team bronze as Ciara Fraser, Janeen Lesse and Camilla McGranaghan completed the scoring quartet.
The red vests also took team bronze in the female Masters race, run in conjunction with the Intermediates as Hannah Shields, Jackie McGinley, Camilla McGranaghan and Claire Connor combined for a good third place behind Lagan Valley and Finn Valley.
However, the iconic War Memorial trophy for the Junior men’s team championship winners, unfortunately went South East rather than back across Glenshane as a battling Foyle Valley squad lost out to Newcastle AC and Finn Valley AC in a closely fought contest in the gruelling 10K race.
Deja Vu for local lads
It was deja vu for the local lads as they reprised the 2013 results.
A very tight knit Newcastle sextet replacing reigning champions City of Derry Spartans, to get home just three points clear of last year’s runners-up Finn Valley with the purple vests a further three points in arrears.
Very disappointing indeed for the Valley athletes.
And the club mentors and supporters who alongside the sizeable City of Derry contingent out on the course loudly encouraged the attempt to keep the team trophy west of the Bann.
However, it was not to be and a somewhat unheralded but fired up Newcastle squad packed brilliantly to squeeze out the twin challenge from the North West.
Annadale Striders’ very talented Ryan McDermott showed exactly why he is an Irish U23 international with a classy front running display to take the individual win ahead of Finn Valley’s Mark Hoy who chased hard throughout and the top Newcastle finisher Eoghan Totten wasn’t far behind in third spot.
Scott Rankin was always the leading Foyle runner.
However, he just couldn’t bridge the gap to the leaders and despite getting into fourth place at midway, had to settle for fifth at the finish after a late surge from Finn Valley’s Gerard Gallagher.
For a long time the Donegal boys looked good as indeed did the Derry squad but the eventual winners kept their nerve and with superb packing, three in the top 10 and the other three finishing together, 22nd, 24th and 25th, they bridged a 28 year gap to their last “Junior” team success.
Behind Rankin it was Keith Shields who in a late effort got up to 12th, pipping clubmate Chris McGuinness 13th and with Adrian McGowan 14th, Valley were level with Newcastle.
However, they were behind the Donegal lads with two more scorers each to finish.
The county Down squad put their last two in the top 25, and the Donegal squad went way out to 31st and 36th places for their final pair to squander their advantage and Foyle with Pius McIntyre a good 20th were still in the mix but despite Steven Connor battling hard for 35th, on the crucial six to score format it just wasn’t enough for the local athletes.