THE welcome news of the extension to the Walled City Marathon entry limit emerged over the weekend, however, the immediate focus is on this Saturday’s championship cross country action.
And local clubs will be bidding to be serious contenders for Provincial honours in the Antrim race as the Greenmount Campus once again stages the NI/Ulster senior cross country championships as part of the Antrim IAAF International meeting.
The Championship race will bring a host of top African and European runners to race alongside the Irish and British competitors at this major meeting.
While it is always great to see some world class distance runners up close and personal, the NI/Ulster club runners will have individual and team medals as their primary focus with the City of Derry and Foyle Valley athletes intent on producing big performances as they chase Provincial glory.
Both city clubs will have men’s squads travelling and the female Spartans, although somewhat understrength will also see action.
Declan Reed leads the male red vests and Scott Rankin will front the Foyle Valley challenge.
Both squads will be missing a few bodies but the Spartans have nevertheless assembled a strong outfit with Nick Cassidy a surprise, but very welcome addition as he has just returned-in excellent shape from a protracted spell working in Spain. Aaron Doherty also is coming from his Gerona base to race and with Emmet McGinty, Noel Logan and possibly Greg Roberts in the squad they could surprise the opposition.
Scott Rankin will look to build on his NI 10K road championship individual bronze last November and has been training regularly on grass recently.
Pius McIntyre and the in-form Keith Shields will be the close support but Chris McGuinness will be a major loss as the six-to-score championship puts a premium on strength-in-depth down through a squad.
The usual suspects Annadale Striders, St Malachy’s and North Belfast Harriers will be the teams to beat and the Spartans will have an additional bone to pick with the N.B.H. lads, who share top spot in the ANI Winter XC League with the red vests.
The injured Marina Campbell and possibly Catherine Whoriskey, will miss the women’s race for the female Spartans but again they retain an interest in the Winter League, currently holding a narrow lead over North Down, and the team mentors will look for a big effort to keep in touch as the League only has the late February Civil Service race remaining after this weekend.
There is a 12 race programme at Saturday’s meeting with Primary Schools and U13s to Masters all catered for in an action-packed day.
The Spartans’ Aoife Laverty who has been selected on the Ulster squad for the upcoming Celtic International in Cardiff will run in the combined U17/20 race in Antrim and a contingent from Broadbridge PS will take in the Primary Schools races.