Mark McKinstry and Conor Duffy set to headline Greencastle 5 men's race

Malcolm McCausland

He's making a list and checking it twice; there is will be no time to relax on Christmas Day for Greencastle “5” race director Oliver McCullagh as he and his team complete the final preparations for the 34th running of the race on St Stephen's Day.

Well over 1000 runners are expected their way to the tiny Tyrone hamlet in what has developed into the top race of its kind in the country over the festive season.

Many are anticipating a rematch in the men's race between Mark McKinstry and Conor Duffy.

Duffy looked to have his first victory in the race sewn up last year, entering the final mile with a huge lead but succumbed to the notorious climb up the Crockanboy Road.

The wily North Belfast Harrier, McKinstry, was quick to capitalise on his rival's discomfort, closed the gap before powering home down the final hill for what appeared an unlikely win even well into the race.

For Duffy, there was nothing but to lick his wounds on the long journey home to Ballybay.

The women's race last year came down to a shoot-out between two Olympians with Rio marathon representative Breege Connolly seeing off the challenge of Catriona Jennings who ran in London.

Both women have been in good form of late with Connolly prominent in cross country races while Jennings won a 30K race in China just two weeks ago.

Part of the allure of Greencastle is that you never know who might show and that includes Paul Pollock, a past multiple winner of the men's race and course record holder.

The starter is set to fire his gun at 12:00 midday on Thursday and entries at time of writing are still being taken on-line at

Also down for decision on St. Stephen's Day are at least four other events.

The Finn Valley 5K in Stranorlar, with past winners including Mo Farah, looks like the quality event. Entries will be accepted on the day at the Finn Valley Centre; Jim Harris (07711938291) is the contact point for the CIYMS Charity Fun Run at Belmont Park while Brocagh Bay (Ciaran McCloskey: 07796103641) and Burren Townlands (Brian Laverty: 07767271374) will also have their attraction for some.

The approach of Christmas had no impact on the parkrunners in Victoria Park, Belfast with records tumbling like ten pins on Saturday morning. Conall Kirk (14:44), Andrew Milligan (14:52), Luke Dinsmore (15:14), James Hamilton (15:16) and Gareth Hill (15:39) all took top six positions, recording personal bests.

The women were not slow off their marks either with Rachel Gibson setting new figures of 17:15 to lead home the category.

Jessica Craig was second in 17:32 but perhaps the most outstanding mark of the day came from 14-year-old Kirsti Foster who registered a phenomenal 17:47 for top percentage performance points of the day, scoring 88.38 per cent to Kirk's 87.56 per cent and Paul Carroll's 87.45 per cent for his 16:52 mark in the M50-54 age category.

Neil Johnston was also on fire at the Portrush parkrun scorching home in 15:08 while Chris Madden recorded 15:29 at Wallace Park in Lisburn where it was good to see Commonwealth Games steeplechaser Adam Kirk-Smith back in action with a credible 16:31 timing.

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