Athletics

Cross country controversy rears its head again in Donegal

Fionnuala McCormack qualified for the Olympics on Sunday by virtue of her performance in the Chicago marathon  
Malcolm McCausland

CROSS COUNTRY running and mud have long gone hand in hand, but on Sunday the sport took another step into the gutter with accusations of foul play at the Donegal Novice Championships in Stranorlar.

Last year’s Donegal Senior Cross Country almost descended into a brawl at the same venue with athletes from the host club Finn Valley and rivals Letterkenny coming to blows in mid race. The bad blood all flared up again on Sunday with athletes being accused of blocking tactics and interfering with runners from other clubs.

Finn Valley runners had dominated the early stages of the six-kilometre race, running four abreast at the front, before Letterkenny’s Daniel Hannigan moved through strongly to challenge for a podium place with just a kilometre to run. He appeared to receive a push as he made his move, though the Ballindrait man was able to regain his balance and go on to take individual bronze.

Winner of the race was Finn Valley’s impressive Mark McPaul with his team mate Dermot McElchar second.

The hosts looked to be comfortable winners of the team race with four finishers in the top five but the Donegal County Board may want to deal with a protest from Letterkenny before that result is confirmed.

There was nothing confrontational nor contentious in the women’s novice race with Nikita Burke proving the strongest in the latter stages to take the individual gold and lead her Letterkenny squad to the team championship. Finn Valley’s Stacy Dolan held on well for second with Letterkenny’s Jane McGinley taking the minor podium spot.

On Saturday Mark McKinstry negotiated the hills best to win the Comber Cup Cross Country at Billy Neill Playing Fields in Dundonald. The North Belfast Harrier won the eight kilometre race by 26 seconds from veteran Willowfield Harrier Brian Campbell with Scott Rankin another four seconds back in third.

However, Rankin had the last word by leading his unfancied Foyle Valley squad to a surprise victory in the team competition. The stylish Jessica Craig was the winner of the women’s 6K race from Joanne Mills and Rachel Gibson. Hosts Ballydrain Harrier claimed team victory to lift the inaugural McKeag Cup.

Paddy Hamilton was the winner of yesterday’s Armagh Adidas 10 Mile Road Race. The Slieve Gullion runner broke the tape in 51:49 to see off the challenges of Benny Teer (53:25) and Paul Barbour (55:16). Helen Foley was the first woman home in 61:38 from Louise Foley (62:03) and Gillian Burns (63:22).

Fionnuala McCormack (née Britton) qualified for next year’s Rio Olympics with a 2:33:15 timing in Sunday’s Chicago Marathon.

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