Derry's runners have a Relay good time of it
Slick organisation by the Orangegrove club, perfect autumnal weather conditions and some cool running made the sixth annual combined NI & Ulster Road Relay Championships a day to remember.
Derry Track Club grabbed the headlines with a scintillating victory and a new record in the senior men’s race but all four titles went right to the wire.
Neil Johnston (9:40) led for Springwell at the end of the first leg of the senior men’s race with Dromore’s world-ranked triathlete Russell White (9:44) hot on his heels.
David O’Flaherty (9:57) put in a solid stint on the second leg to leave cross country champions Newcastle in the lead at the halfway point.
Behind him, JP Williamson (9:48) was doing untold damage for the Derry Track Club by moving up from eighth to second, only five seconds off the lead.
That five-second buffer didn’t survive long as Seamus Lynch (10:05) was soon overhauled by NI steeplechase champion Adam Kirk-Smith (9:40).
Further down the field Commonwealth Games 1500m runner Daniel Mooney (9:53) was hauling Letterkenny back into contention.
Derry went off with a 20-second lead over Newcastle at the final changeover but behind the Mournemen, North Belfast and Letterkenny could smell blood.
Despite the handsome lead, former novice cross country champion Conán McCaughey (9:50) did not relent on the final leg, increasing the gap to 47 seconds as he broke the tape in 39:22, exactly one minute inside Annadale Striders’ course record from 2012.
Mark McKinstry (10:06) turned in another workmanlike leg for North Belfast and it was good enough to lift the silver medal for the defending champions.
Letterkenny were rewarded for the long trip from Donegal with a fine third place in 40:43.
The senior women’s race was not so exciting after Olympic steeplechaser Kerry O’Flaherty blasted out the opening leg in 10:48.
Becca Henderson (11:19) chased hard to put Dromore in second with Rachel Gibson (11:44) leading the rest of the pack home for North Down.
And that was how it stayed with Newcastle enjoying almost a minute’s advantage at the finish line which was reached in a time of 35:24 from Dromore (36:22) with North Down (38:09) a somewhat distant third.
The Magherafelt-based Acorns caused a mild shock in the masters’ men’s championship. From the moment former Ballinderry GAA player Darrell McKee (10:22) brought his team home in second spot at the end of the first leg, they were always in control.
Solid legs from Glen Donnelly (10:48), Marty Loughran (10:53) and Francis McDaid (11:07) saw the Acorns home in 42:49, 14 seconds ahead of North Belfast, with Ballymena Runners third.
City of Lisburn’s Judith Lonnen (11:18) easily outclassed North Belfast’s Gladys Ganiel on the opening leg of the masters’ women’s race.
Those places were reversed on the second leg before Lisburn’s middle-distance doyenne Kelly Neely, who is 14 weeks pregnant, hauled them into the winner’s enclosure for a second consecutive year.
Meanwhile, the cross-country season kicked off yesterday with the Donegal Masters’ Championships in Stranorlar. Evergreen Pauric McKinney was first home in the men’s race, leading his Inishowen squad to team victory.
Finn Valley’s Dermott McElchar was second with Inishowen’s David Porter in third.
Letterkenny’s Fionnuala Diver ran away with the masters’ women’s race to win from Derry Track Club’s Marina Murphy with Finn Valley’s Catriona McGranaghan taking third. Letterkenny won a tightly-contested team race from Finn Valley.
Paul Barbour (26:32) was first home in the inaugural St Enda’s Omagh 5 Miles on Saturday. Pauline McGurren (31:23) was the leading lady.