Athletics

Conor Duffy and Rebecca Henderson are best at Kilbroney

Conor Duffy was the comfortable winner at Kilbroney
Malcom McCausland

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The cross country season kicked off in style with a number of impressive performances at the Bobby Rea and NI/Ulster Juvenile Even Age Group Championships at Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor.

On a perfect autumn day, Conor Duffy and Rebecca Henderson were the winners of the respective senior races, while the province’s top youngsters showed they will be a threat when the national titles are decided at the end of next month.

Monaghan athlete Conor Duffy made light of the testing course to see off a good quality field in the senior men’s race. The Glaslough Harrier improved his standing on the track this summer by claiming the Irish 5000m title but cross country is undoubtedly his forte.

That was never more obvious as the Ballybay resident sailed up hill and down dale to come home 23 seconds clear of Newcastle’s Seamus Lynch. The former mountain runner in turn got the better of his clubmate David O’Flaherty by 27 seconds to grab the runner-up spot.

Local man Andrew Annett set up a team victory for North Belfast Harriers by claiming fourth place; John Black had one of his best runs ever over the country to claim fifth while Eamon White (ninth) and Neil Carty (18th) did enough to seal a facile win by the Stags.

Rebecca Henderson was equally convincing in the women’s race. The Dromore athlete could have been forgiven for being tired after a week spent as an intern in Altnagelvin Hospital.

But the Derry air must have helped the final year medical student as she came home eight seconds clear of North Down’s middle-distance star Rachel Gibson, with Willowfield’s Amy Bulman another 15 seconds back in third.

Despite having two in the top six, Dromore lost out in the team count to rivals North Down. Gibson was ably supported by Sarah Lindsay (16th), Valerie McDonough (19th) and Sarah Benton (28th) to send the Bangor club into an early lead in the ANI League.

Another North Down athlete Craig McMeechan confirmed his standing as the outstanding performer in the U18 age group with a narrow two-second victory over City of Derry Spartan Fintan Stewart.

City of Lisburn’s Kate Gourley was in top form in the girls’ U18 race, seeing off the challenge of Omagh Harrier Enya Haigney who had also occupied the same runner-up spot in 2015.

Victory in the U16 races went to Monaghan Phoenix’s Conor Maguire and Springwell’s Niamh Carr respectively. City of Derry’s Cara Laverty was the only athlete to defend her title in winning the U14 race which she dominated at Jordanstown 12 months earlier when a year young for the age group.

It was difficult to discern who emerged as top club with City of Lisburn having an individual and a team gold; Letterkenny won two team gold as did Cavan outfit Annalee in the younger age groups. Lagan Valley’s youngsters also put in a good shift with them having four teams qualify for next month’s All-Irelands highlighted by a win in the U16 girls’ team race.

Hostilities will be renewed in Stranorlar on November 6 with the uneven championships down for decision. The eagerly-awaited Ulster Novice Championships for men and women top the bill that day.

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