William McKee and Sinead Sweeney take Stormont honours
WILIAM McKee notched up his first victory of the 2016/17 cross country season when he was an impressive winner of the feature race at the NI Civil Service AC meeting at Stormont.
There was a surprise in the women's race when the relatively unknown Sinead Sweeney scored a comfortable win over marathon champion Laura Graham, while Matt Shields took time out form his parkrun duties to lift the prize for first over 60.
McKee was in the lead bunch of the 4.4-mile senior men's race from the gun but moved away from the pack with Willowfield's Neill Weir just after halfway.
The pair ran shoulder to shoulder during the penultimate lap before McKee sprinted off on the final circuit to win by 10 seconds.
Weir battled on to retain the runner-up spot, with North Belfast's Neil Carty proving to be the best of the rest as he grabbed the minor podium spot another 24 seconds back.
Earlier Sinead Sweeney had spectators searching their programme when she hit the front early on in the women's race.
Unknown to almost everyone and with no form this winter, the Queen's student had already opened up a 20-metre lead by the end of the first lap of the 3.3-mile contest.
Despite a lot of huffing and puffing by the chasing group, Sweeney went on to win by over half-a-minute in what could be the surprise of the season.
National half marathon/marathon champion Laura Graham put her endurance to good use by claiming the runner-up spot ahead of English triathlete Sarah Hodgson, who finished another nine seconds back.
The men over 60s ran with the ladies and North Belfast Harriers coach Matt Shields came home second overall and ahead of Laura Graham to claim the age group prize.
David McKee was the winner of the final race of the Run Forest Run Series that attracted over almost 800 runners to Castlewellan. McKee had just 14 seconds to spare over Don Travers in the 10K race with Timothy Johnston a long way back in third.
Reigning NI & Ulster senior cross country champion Shalane McMurray made an impressive return to competition after a protracted injury in winning the women's race by almost two-and-a-half minutes from Cathy McCourt.
Sam Linton led home the 5K competitors, with Ann Terek, second overall, the leading lady.
Elsewhere, Enniskillen man Conan McCaughey helped the Central club to defend their team title at the Scottish Senior Cross Country Championships.
The current NI & Ulster Intermediate champion finished 19th and sixth scorer for the Stirling-based club.
London-based Derry Track Club athlete Alex Kirk-Smith was 43rd in the English National Cross Country won by recent Armagh 5K victor Ben Connor.
Indoors, Finn Valley's Sommer Lecky cleared 1.79m at the second attempt to lift the gold medal in the U20 High Jump at the AAA U17 & Junior Championships in Sheffield.