LOCAL ATHLETES were involved in Indoor action in Glasgow and very muddy, Cross Country competition at a saturated ALSAA complex in North Dublin where the National Intermediate, Masters and Celtic under-age Internationals were staged at the weekend.
City of Derry’s Simon Herron was competing in the Scottish Universities Indoor Championships, not in his preferred High Jump this time, and he took Long Jump gold with a promising 6m 54cm leap - not a bad early season effort off his other foot as he nurses his injured normal take-off foot!
Another High Jumper, Claire Dougherty was also in Scotland, competing for the Irish Schools in the rescheduled International Schools Combined Events and contributed significantly to the Irish finishing runners-up behind a very strong English squad.
Not noted as a multi-eventer, the Spartan bravely accepted a late call-up to the Irish squad and looks set to progress further as the 2011 season unfolds.
In stark contrast it was wall-to-wall mud in Dublin on Sunday and the hardy local Cross Country runners mixed it magnificently with the best in the country at the National Masters and Celtic International championships.
The ALSAA grounds, adjacent to Dublin Airport produced a quagmire of a course, which started off a mess and got progressively worse as the 14 race programme unfolded.
Indeed the only runable piece of green sward was the final 100 metres or so run into the finish, and this on a 1,500 metre circuit!
However, Cross Country runners are a tough breed and in the Masters Championships three excellent individual age group medals were won by the City of Derry Spartans trio of Gerry Lynch M65 gold, Christy McMonagle M65 silver and Roisin Lynch F60 silver.
Gerry Lynch and Christy McMonagle, as expected, were the big guns in their category and were eyeing each other carefully over the first 1,000m lap of their scheduled 7K distance as the massive field jockeyed for position in the sticky underfoot conditions.
Going out onto the first of the three 1,500m loops they were still in close order but as the muddy slog continued, Lynch began to open a gap which had stretched to 47 seconds by the finish tape and so it was gold and silver for the local duo with last year’s winner Pat Bonass of Dublin a further one minute plus behind McMonagle.
A dominant run from the Spartans and afterwards both confirmed that the conditions were argueably the worst they had ever encountered in over 45 years of competitive athletics.
Roisin Lynch was an equally impressive medallist and her individual silver in the F60 grade matched her 2010 performance but she was a lot closer this time to gold medallist, Joan Coyle of Dundrem, South Dublin.
The Women ran over 4,000 metres, one short plus two longer laps and like the men, struggled in the conditions. Roisin ran strong throughout and finished with a late flourish to pass a few rivals including clubmate Karen Cutliffe who was making her debut at this level.
Further up the field Jackie McMonagle had a confidence-boosting 10th place finish in a race won by seasoned international Annette Kealy of Raheny with former Waterside Half Marathon and Olympic marathoneer Pauline Curley, just edged out of individual silver.
Bridgeen Byrne also ran well for 26th and both Spartans will go into this weekend’s NI/Ulster Senior in Stranorlar with renewed confidence after these impressive efforts.
Jackie’s top ten finish in particular marked another significant improvement in performance!
Back to the men’s race and good efforts from Sammy McAnaney and Peter Lilburn, both in the M55 category unfortunately had no medal reward but consolidated both men’s rankings among the upper ranks of what is a very competitive category.
Sammy is training for the London Mararhon and the mud was no help on Sunday as he finished 9th in the age group.
Peter confirmed his ongoing improvement and like Sammy will welcome the onset of the road race season which features the prestigious Armagh promotion this Thursday night.
Letterkenny’s Pauric McKinney had a terrific run for second overall behind runaway winner, Peter Matthews of DSD and the Buncrana teacher also claimed M45 individual gold with his great effort.
The Letterkenny athlete and 12th placed Joe McKinney of Inishowen AC were the leading Donegal finishers and fronted the victorious Donegal sextet to gold in the Inter County contest.
The Finn Valley M50 squad took inter club silver behind Rathfarnham and ahead of North Belfast whose Matt Shields won M55 individual gold. Finn Valley’s Dominic Bonner was in good form winning M50 bronze.
Finally 14 year-old Spartan Shane McGowan made his representative debut in the Ulster vest for the U17s in the Celtic international 5,000m.
One of the youngest in the field, he was the third Ulster scorer as the Red Hands finished fourth behind Scotland, Athletics Ireland and Wales and while a bit disappointed with his run, he has a big future and after winning the District Schools recently in Coleraine he is preparing for the upcoming Ulsters in Mallusk.