Carson shines in Home Countries Country

Grace Carson (left) finished second in the Home Countries Cross Country International in Milton Keynes
Malcolm McCausland

MID Ulster athlete Grace Carson was the outstanding Northern Ireland performer at the Home Countries Cross Country International in Milton Keynes. The annual match was held as part of the Chiltern League with Scotland failing to field sides in either men's or women's races. Carson went into the race in spectacular form with some fast parkrun results in recent weeks and did not disappoint in what was a strong domestic field by any standards.

Carson finished just three seconds behind fellow Loughborough University student Alexandra Millard who was representing the host nation with another England representative Jessica Gibbon another four seconds back in the bronze medal position. Hannah Gilliland (eighth) and Rebekah (Nixon) Osbourne also ran well to give NI second place in the team standings behind England.

Eskander Turki was the leading local representative in the men's competition, taking fifth place behind four Englishmen headed by brothers Mahamed and Zak Mahamed. Andrew Milligan, like Grace Carson, also followed up some superb performances on the road recently with a fine seventh spot. Craig McMeechan completed the NI scoring trio in ninth to consolidate runners-up spot in the team listings.

Meanwhile the focus at home was on the Santry Demesne in Dublin where the British & Irish Masters' Cross Country Championships returned to the calendar for the first time since 2019. The north's Masters acquitted themselves well beyond expectation with three team and four individual medals.

There was no doubting the highlight of the afternoon from a local perspective was the overall victory of Coleraine man Steven McAlary in the feature event, the M35-49 race. McAlary turned in a strong last lap to claim the M35 title. And with John Craig (2nd), Peter McGarry (11th) and Chris Hutchinson (11th) all excelling in the good underfoot conditions, the North was able to claim a rare team victory in the event.

The North's M60 squad of Norman Mawhinney (10th), Laurence Johnston (11th) and Declan McCarthy (13th) lifted team bronze while the M70 combination of Brian Stewart (sixth), Terry Eakin (8th) and Pat Rocks (11th) went one better with team silver.

The NI women in the past have consistently out-shone the men at this fixture but not on this occasion as it was left to Carrick resident Ellie Crawford to bring home the solitary medal with a runner-up spot in the W50 age group, losing out on individual gold narrowly to Ireland's Annette Kealy.

Derry man Declan Reed, running in the colours of the Republic, was second in the M45 race and part of the winning team. Similarly, Omagh Harrier Stephen Duncan lifted a team silver medal with the South in M50 age group. Donegal athletes are never far from the podium in this fixture and 2022 was no different with Natasha Adams (W45) and Pauric McKinney (M55) both striking individual gold.