HOPE and history may have rhymed for North Belfast Harriers at the National Senior Cross Country Championships last weekend but the cloud over Gowran has turned out to have a silver lining.
The club were initially called as winners of the senior men’s team title but after a review it was deemed a tie, with Kilkenny City Harriers taking the gold medals on countback as their fourth scorer (25th) finished ahead of the corresponding North Belfast runner, Conal McCambridge in 30th spot.
Victory would have bridged a 100-year gap back to 1923, the last time the Stags won an all-Ireland senior men’s team title. But whilst initially disappointed in finishing so close yet so far away, there was a silver lining in that North Belfast had secured one of the two places to represent Ireland at the European Champions Clubs Cup Cross Country in February in Portugal.
And even better news was to follow yesterday as the Old Park-based club announced it had secured sponsorship from locally-owned international company, Lagan Specialist Contracting Group, that will enable them to take up this invitation.
“We are thrilled that the Lagan Specialist Contracting Group has agreed to sponsor the club and its senior mens squad,” said club coach Seamus McCann, himself a sub-four minute miler.
“To attend the ECCCs is a pinnacle in any club runner’s career. We are looking forward to representing not only Ireland at this prestigious event but also the wider running community here in Ulster and Belfast in particular.”
Kevin Anthony Lagan, CEO of the Lagan Specialist Contracting Group commented: “Our group has a rich heritage and connection with the community in north Belfast. We are delighted to be able to support the Harriers, a club that values maximising the potential and performance of their members whilst at the same time improving their health and wellbeing and is so aligned to those of our own organisation.
“Our own experience shows that Northern Ireland people excel on the international stage when given the opportunity and I have no doubt that this North Belfast Harriers team will do just that when competing in Portugal next year.”
Meanwhile, Nick Griggs is one of nine Ulster athletes named to represent Ireland at the European Cross Country Championships in Brussels on December 10.
Griggs was back in training this week after collapsing close to the finish of the junior men’s race in Gowran and will be hoping to go one better than last year when he finished second in the European Cross Country U20 race.
He will be joined in the junior team by City of Derry Spartan Seamus Robinson, who lives in the west of England.
Armagh AC’s Fionnuala Ross is listed in the senior women’s team, where two-time champion Fionnuala McCormack makes a surprise return to the fold.
Tyrone twins Eilish and Roisin Flanagan will return from the USA to take their place in the team.
Candour TC’s Callum Morgan and North Belfast’s Matthew Lavery are both included in the men’s U23 squad, while Finn Valley’s Amy Greene and East Down’s Anna Gardiner have been selected for the junior women’s race.
Finally, there is news of another event next year. Race director Eamonn Christie has announced a new race sponsor at the Belfast Irish Milers Meet at the Mary Peters Track on May 10.
Christie, who recently announced continued partnership with Tripadvisor, has confirmed that Ardent Wealth will sponsor for the Women’s International 800m.
“The women’s 800m has been a fantastic race at the meet over the past few years with Louise Shanahan breaking the Irish record in 2022, and three athletes on the podium running sub-two minutes in 2023,” said Christie.
The partnership was established through former Annadale Strider University of Oregon athlete Richard Girvan.