CROSS COUNTRY: Red vests rule at Gransha

Scott Rankin pictured in action during the North West Cross Country Championships at Gransha Park. INLS5115-162KM

Scott Rankin pictured in action during the North West Cross Country Championships at Gransha Park. INLS5115-162KM

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Record numbers, top quality competition on a testing course and big individual and team wins for local runners, that was the story from Saturday’s big North West cross country meeting in a muddy but surprisingly warm Gransha.

In the featured Open 6K race promoting club City of Derry Spartans won both the Male and Female team awards with star man Declan Reed an impressive individual men’s race winner, Omagh Harrier Julie Butler took the women’s win and Foyle Valley did enough to maintain their strong challenges for the 2015-16 ANI Cross Country League titles.

Close to 30 clubs from all over NI and Ulster were in action in the packed five race programme which culminated in the Open 6K which saw a record 280 starters for the three lap distance.

Foyle Valley’s Chris McGuinness was the early leader but was reeled in by the chasing pack inside the first 2K with eventual winner Declan Reed emerging from the big pack to impose his authority on the race.

With the fancied North Belfast’s Mark McKinstry dropping out after losing his shoe in a muddy section the defending champion made a vital move to go on for a seven second cushion at the finish, ahead of Newcastle’s Seamus Lynch who was going for three in a row after wins at Ballyclare and Cookstown and with Willowfields’s Brian Campbell two seconds back in third.

Another two locals were next up as former winner Allan Bogle won the battle for fourth over Scott Rankin and Springwell’s Neil Johnston claimed sixth in front of Greg Roberts who was impressive in his first competitive outing for some time.

In the team race excellent back up packing from JP Williamson 12th, teenager Fintan Stewart 15th and another come back man Emmett McGinty 18th, saw the Spartans comfortably retain the team kudos on 57 points with North Down surprising Foyle Valley to take the runners up spot, 91 points to 104 points.

The Valley scorers were Rankin 5th, Chris McGuinness 9th, Pius McIntyre 10th, Roy McGilloway 20yh, Martin Gallagher 22nd and Stephen Connor 38th.

The top three in the Women’s race were Julie Butler of Omagh Harriers who had six seconds to spare over Newcastle’s Shalene McMurray with another Newcastle runner Joanne Mills a further six seconds in arrears. Team wise however it was the female Spartans who shrugged off the absence of both Aileen Reid and Catherine Whoriskey, and led superbly by sixth placer Jackie McMonagle packed brilliantly to pip the Newcastle quartet by just two points, 41 to 43!

Step forward a pair of talented F50’s Hannah Shields 10th and Anne Paul 11th and teenager Amy Jackson 14th, who grafted hard for the red vests narrow victory. Newcastle had their top three finishers, second, third and 12th but had to go back to 26th for their final scorer! North Down on 72 points took third with the Martina McMullan led Foyle Valley squad fourth. Martina went well for 8th, and had Gemma McGinty 19th, Lisa McGuigan 31st and Annalisa Mullan 34th complete the scorers.

Allan Bogle lifted his first ever M35 prize, Dermot McElhinney had a top 20 finish for the leading M45, and Gerry Lynch was the top M70.

Hannah Shields was the top F50, Catherine Moran top F55 and Roisin Lynch the leading F65, well done all!

Despite not topping the team races both Foyle Valley squads did enough to keep their interest in both the Male and Female ANI Cross Country League very much alive.

The men took second place in the League four to score format and look to have extended their lead at the top as the competition takes a holiday break and the Female squad may have moved ahead of Acorns although the County Derry/Tyrone club look to have maxed their participation points on Saturday. Updated Official League standings will reveal all!

Local and visiting runners turned out in numbers for the under age races at Saturday’s NW Cross Country meeting in Gransha and the four separate races set the stage perfectly for the feature Open 6K which concluded the action.

Locals were prominent in the Primary Schools race with the first boy and girl to finish, Oisin Colhoun, City of Derry Spartans and Ciara Doherty, Olympian, having already made their mark in the Flavahans Primary Schools local league races. Finn O’Neill and Michael Houston completed the first three in the Boys race.

The visiting Oisin Cassidy from St Michaels Enniskillen was first to cross the line in the U13 race and was chased home by the top girl Cara Laverty of the Spartans with Olympian’s Bobby Doherty in fourth place.

At U15 level the leading locals were Oran Gartland of Foyle Valley, in third place and Aela Stewart of City of Derry was second girl behind Herimione Skuce of Springwell.

Two Spartans Sean Melarkey and Caoimhe Walsh took respective third place finishes in the U17 race.