Spartans shine in Antrim mud

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LOCAL athletes were in weekend action at Antrim, Glasgow and Nenagh and successfully flew the flag for the city at all three venues.

Connor Bradley notched an impressive Indoor 1,500 metres victory at the Scottish National Open Championships in Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall on Saturday while his male and female clubmates were grabbing team bronze medals at the N. Ireland/Ulster Senior Cross Country Championships in Antrim.

Rounding off the weekend Claire Dougherty and Mark McGarvey both picked up National Junior Indoor medals on Sunday, down in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary..

Back to the indoor action later, but let’s start in the muddy grounds of the Greenmount Agricultural College in Antrim where the male and female Spartans were prominent at the Provincial Senior Cross Country Championships, which were staged in conjunction with the annual International Cross Country extravaganza last Saturday.

While the up front action in both races was dominated by the visiting African and cross Channel runners, the women’s 5.6 kms. event was won in fine style by Ireland’s reigning European champion Fionnuala Britton from Wicklow, ahead of her English rival, Gemma Steel and a quartet of Africans.

The style and class of the leading pack was much appreciated by the spectators but the battle for the provincial honours was equally enthralling and North-West athletes contributed significantly to that.

North Belfast Harrier, Breege Connolly, won the individual provincial gold, finishing 13th overall and led her club to the team title ahead of North Down with a battling effort from Catherine Lilburn, Jackie McGinley, Marina Campbell and Sarah Mahon giving the Spartans team bronze.

Lining up without Aileen Morrison and Anne Paul and facing very strong opposition, the ‘red vests’ stayed tough on the testing Greenmount course to claim richly deserved team bronze medals. It was a day for steely resolve as the cloying mud tugged at the ankles through much of the course and the scoring Spartan quartet all delivered big runs, none more so that Sarah Mahon who held off a late charge from Lagann Valley’s tenacious Ruth Magill to anchor the ‘red vests’ quartet.

Camilla McGrenaghan and Una Gavin completed the local club’s finishers on the day with gutsy efforts and the points from the third team finish have confirmed the female Spartans second place spot behind North Down in the ongoing Athletics Winter League.

Letterkenny runner, Fionnuala Diver, was the leading North-West finisher, coming home four places in front of Catherine Lilburn with an excellent effort.

While the Spartans were disappointed to relinquish the team title the performances and the spirit on the day were very encouraging and the bronze medals were relished by the scoring quartet.

Catherine Lilburn and Sarah Mahon were picking up their first ever senior team medals and well deserved too for a hard winters training.Jackie McGinley and Marina Campbell were on last year’s gold medal team, but were both delighted to be back on the podium again this time.

Big Battle For Bronze

St. Malachy’s Joe McAlister won a hotly contested men’s individual Senior Championship by just one place and 10 seconds from Annadale’s Andrew Agnew with long ttime leader, Stephen Scullion of North Belfast, fading to the bronze medal spot in the last two laps.

Holders, St. Malachy’s, lost the team championship to their Belfast rivals, primarilly due to their sixth and final scorer finishing a lowly 34th and the final Annadale man coming home in 24th. The Spartans were led home by Greg Roberts 9th and Declan Reed 10th and given they were somewhat under strength they were happy to claim team bronze, squeezing out North Belfast by just eight points.

The Open race of course was not unexpectedly, won for the third year running by Kenyan Mike Kigen who in a magnificent display of front running led home a posse of fellow Africans with an almost 30 seconds advantage at the end of the tough 10.8 kms. race. Only English athlete Frank Tickner in fifth, broke up the African domination as they provided seven of the top eight finishers.

McAlister and Agnew, indeed, were the leading Irish finishers in 12th and 13th overall and Ciaran Doherty of Letterkenny had an excellent run to lead home the North West contingent,23rd overall and seventh of the senior championship finishers.

Chasing him hard were the leading Spartans Roberts and Reed who ran most of the distance close together as they settled after struggling with the blistering early pace set up front. Both felt they could have done better but it was a savage race in testing underfoot conditions and on another day who knows?

Colin Roberts and Emmett McGinty were next to show for the ‘red vests’ and they hung on tenaciously for the full trip for 16th and 20th at the line.

M40 Roberts continues to produce big runs and although he was miffed to be pipped by Annadale’s Paul Carroll, whom he had beaten to the Provincial Masters individual silver just two weeks ago in Monaghan, he did his bit for the cause on Saturday.

McGinty found the mud a big problem and had a late titanic tussle with Gary Crossan of Letterkenny, losing out by one second on the line. Paddy Mhor Doherty in 25th and Eoghan Furey in 40th completed the Spartans scorers. Doherty had a good one but could not quite make contact with the group ahead and ran a lot of the crucial middle stages of the distance alone - he had a similar experience in Monaghan - not good for morale!

Eoghan Furey was delighted to make the scoring team and his battling performance in the latter stages was down to sheer guts and determination to nail the team medal for the squad.

Noel Logan was unlucky. After looking good in the first two laps, he had Emmet McGinty in his sights, he took a bad fall on one of the muddier sections and did well to continue as first, Eoghan Furey and then the impressive James Brown, came through. The Waterside man finished covered in mud from head to toe and and rumour has it needed a wire brush in the showers afterwards!

Gerry Duddy, Dermot Connolly, Philip Donaghy and Peter Lilburn also finished for the ‘red vests’ and the collective effort helped to cut North Belfast’s lead in the Men’s Winter League to just four points with one scoring race to go.

Indoors Success

Away from the Greenmount mud, Connor Bradley showed he is on track for success both indoor and out in the coming months. He was in Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall on Saturday with a small group of fellow Spartans and sped to a facile 1,500 metres victory at the Scottish Open Indoor Championships. He clocked an impressive 3mins. 52.7 secs. to post an almost six second winning margin on the Kelvin Hall boards.

This augers well for the Irish Championships in Belfast next month when he expects to mount a seroius challenge for the national senior 1,500 metres title. That is the prefered option apparently, although there could be an arguement for going in the 3,000m where he impressed last year.

Pajo Hamilton was timed at 4 mins. 07 secs.; J. P. Williamson at 4 m. 08 s. and M50 stalwarth, Robert Bigger, got 4 m. 47 s. for the same distance as the ‘red vests’ gave Glasgow a go over the weekend.

Finally down in Nenagh at the National Junior Indoor Championships there were medals for Triple Jumper Claire Dougherty and High Hurdler Mark McGarvey.

Claire made up for missing out on a High Jump medal - she cleared 1 m 60 cms, the same as the silver and bronzze medallists but lost out on countback - by jumping 10m 85cm for triple jump silver.

Mark claimed bronze in the 60m Hurdles and Jack McCloskey, who also made the long trip, misssed out on medals but did make the 200 m. “B” Final.