A gripping batle for supremacy between three determined North-West clubs emerged the highlight of last Saturday’s Provincial Men’s Junior/Intermediate Cross Country Championships in Lurgan Park.
In the end, a delighted City of Derry Spartans squad just about held off the race-long challenge of rivals Finn Valley and Foyle Valley, to claim the coveted War Memorial trophy and the N. Ireland/Ulster team title.
A record entry and a large spectator input marked the return of top class championship cross country to Lurgan and on a grey and cold, but thankfully dry afternoon, the men’s Junior 10k produced a fitting finale to the three race programme which also saw other North-West clubs - Inishowen, Springwell and Omagh Harriers - claim podium places.
What a battle though in the men’s Junior Championships with the three local clubs locked in battle from the gun. All three were fancied but the Spartans came in somewhat under the radar and when they lined-up minus the injured Noel Logan, many would have written them off. Finn Valley and Foyle Valley vests were prominent and after the first of the five full laps it appeared to be a straight duel between the Derry and Donegal “Valley” boys.
East Down’s Benny Teer, the Malcolm Cup winner, was already making his bid for the individual victory and, indeed, he went on to romp home over 40 seconds clear at the finish line.
The Finn Valley squad looked good for the first half of the race and were packing very well with Gerard Gallagher and James Speight pominent in the small group chasing Teer. Scott Rankin and Keith Shields (Foyle Valley) were in there too, fronting the purple vests’ challenge with Pius McIntyre and Chris McGuinness in close attendance.
The Spartans were packing well but somewhat off the upfront pace and were definitely no better than bronze medallists as the race was about to reach half way.
At that stage two significant things happened. Firstly, despite Gallagher and Speight going well - they eventually finished third and fourth - the Finn Valley challenge started to run out of steam as their middle order started to slip back.
Secondly, the Spartans finally emerged as a serious gold medal threat with Nick Cassidy beginning a surge which brought him up and beyond James Brown and Brendan Murphy as Chris McPeake also pushed on to chase a top 20 slot.
Teenager Connor Doherty and Gary Slevin were under pressure in the vital fifth and sixth scoring positions but kept plugging away and James Crampsey began to work his way through the field as insurance.
However, it was still the two ‘Valley’ clubs who seemed to have the advantage and the large crowd was enthralled as the race approached the closing lap with the pendulum just beginning to swing in the direction of the ‘red vests.’
Gold For Spartans
At the finish line Pius McIntyre had a brilliant run for 7th to lead Foyle Valley home, one place ahead of Keith Shields but with Scott Rankin 13th, losing out to a brilliant run from 10th placed Nick Cassidy and the impressive James Brown in 12th, the advantage in the six to score race tipped towards the red vested Spartans. Brendan Murphy pitched in for 14th just behind Rankin and then it was McPeake in 18th and Chris McGuinness in 20th for the Foyle Valley boys.
With four to score it now was Foyle by four points from Finn Valley and City of Derry a further two behind. It came down to the next two finishers from each club and thats when the Spartans did the damage.
Foyle’s Adrian McGowan came home in 30th, holding off the battling Connor Doherty. Then it was Gary Slevin in 35th for the Spartans, a gritty run.With the final two Donegal club scorers back in 34th and 38th and the brave Stephen Connor rounding up the Foyle scorers in 48th, it was game, set and match to the Spartans on 120 points, Finn Valley on 124 with Foyle third on 126 points.
The “what ifs“ and “maybes“ may well be debated long and loud, Scott Rankin was definitely done no favours losing one of his spikes late on but the abiding memory will be of a great battle between a trio of local clubs .
In the other championship races Springwell won the Intermediate girls 4k team race and led by Gillian Wasson they also claimed Masters team bronze. Finn Valley took the Masters’ gold with former International Catriona Devine (McGranaghan) leading them home in second spot. Inishowen’s Evelyn McGinley was an excellent third in that race. Roisin Lynch won the F60 category in the Masters race for City of Derry and Amy Jackson was fourth in the U20 championship. Jackie McGinley and Hannah Shields impressed, fourth F40 and second F45 respectively.
Conditions were poor at the Raheny 5 miler in Dublin where Declan Reed ran 25 m. 06 s. for fourth and Emmet McGinty was ninth on 25m. 40s.
At the Athlone IT Open Meet no luck for Connor Bradley who failed to finish his race and Pajo Hamilton who could’nt get under the 4 minute barrier in the B 1500 metres, clocking 4 mins. 01.44 secs.
Also in Athlone Megan Devine tried out the new indoor facility and got a 26.62 secs. 200 metres clocking.