Athletics

Queen's girls left devastated by AAI National Road Relays disqualification

The winning Queen’s team celebrating before being controversially disqualified. (From left) Sinead Sweeney, Emma Mitchell and Becca Henderson
Malcolm McCausland

A CONTROVERSIAL disqualification of the Queen's University team has taken the gloss off an excellent showing by Ulster clubs at the AAI National Road Relays in Dublin last weekend.

The Queen's students won the senior women's race to bring the title north for the first time in over two decades, but then had one of their runners ruled ineligible this week by Athletics Ireland (AAI).

Newcomer to the sport Sinead Sweeney kicked off well for Queen's with an opening mile leg of five minutes and 21 seconds but it was on the second two-mile stint that Emma Mitchell did the damage for the students.

The Banbridge girl ripped around the course in a breathtaking 10:18 to put Queen's into the driving seat. Despite UCD AC having Olympian Ciara Everard on the last leg, Becca Henderson did enough to hold on for what seemed a monumental victory by six seconds with a 5:19 mile timing. However, runners-up UCD AC put in an objection regarding the eligibility of Henderson, who is a medical student at the Belfast university but registered as a member of Dromore AC in Co Down. The Athletics NI rules permit an athlete to compete for an open club as well as a closed club such as Queen's, the civil service or the police.

No similar rule exists in the AAI and when it was confirmed that Becca was registered with Dromore, Queen's were unceremoniously deposed as national champions within hours of their success and UCD promoted to champions with Letterkenny to the silver medal spot.

“The girls are gutted and they cried their eyes out at training on Tuesday night,” said coach Eamonn Christie.

“The buck stops with me, I accept full responsibility and it won't happen again. If the girls were to run and win the relay at the Belfast Marathon Monday, they would be perfectly legit but the rules down south are different.

“I thought when we had the athletics agreement some years ago, clubs followed the rules of their association even in national championships. The rules between the two association are different in a number of other aspects, notably eligibility of overseas athletes and transfers but there is never a word about this.”

If there had been an athlete of the meeting award, it would surely have gone to Ann-Marie McGlynn. The Strabane resident opened her account by helping Letterkenny to the O35 women's title with a controlled 10:43 two-mile split. McGlynn returned later to clock another two-mile timing of 10:29 in the senior women's event to guide Letterkenny to third but now the silver medal position.

Finn Valley continued to make their mark on the national scene, with the Stranorlar club taking runner-up spot behind Raheny Shamrock in the O35 relay, in which Barry Harron was outstanding with a 9:47 timing over the two-mile leg. The Valley O50 women were also in the frame with a fine third spot in the O50 women competition.

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