Some serious competitive action again this weekend for local athletes with the NI & Ulster Masters and Intermediate Cross Country Championships in Coleraine and the St Patrick’s College Dungiven 5K/10K on Saturday, followed on Sunday by the Lifford 5K and, in Dublin, the top class AXA Raheny 5K.
Foyle Valley, Derry City TC and City of Derry Spartans will all have athletes in Coleraine and some local success is expected from the four championship races to be staged over the testing University campus course.
The recent wet weather will have upped the degree of difficulty of what is unquestionably a proper cross country circuit and this should add to the drama on the day.
The Male Intermediate should see DCTC’s recent recruit from Enniskillen, Conan McCaughey, who was runner up last year, feature prominently once again but the strong expected Foyle Valley challenge for team honours will be diluted significantly with the absence of Scott Rankin, Chris McGuinness and Keith Shiels. Top man Rankin is expected to be in Dublin for the Raheny race where he will take on lots of the big road running ‘guns’. Pius McIntyre will front the Foyle squad who have been consistently performing in the ANI Cross Country League all season so far and they cannot be ruled out of the team battle for the much coveted War Memorial trophy.
The Spartans have declared a mix of Masters and others in their Intermediate squad and will look to match at least their bronze medals from last year at the same venue. Top M45s Dermot McElhinney and Paul McCafferty will hope to inspire the red vests’ challenge with North Belfast and North Down perhaps the pre-race favourites.
The Valley women have a durable squad named for their Intermediate championship race and, with the inform Martina McMullan, Gemma Mahon, Denise Ward, plus Sarah Lindsay and Grainne Neill in good shape, the purple vests could mount a genuine medal challenge. Newcastle have a strong looking squad and may start favourites.
The Spartans won the Female Intermediate team title last year and will concentrate on the Masters tomorrow. Fresh from good runs last Sunday at the Nationals in Dundalk, Jackie McMonagle, Hannah Shields and Anne Paul will front the charge and, with back up from, among others, Shelagh Murray and Ciara Fraser, they will expect to get among the team medals in what looks like a race of top quality with the North Belfast, North Down and Ballymena Runners squads all poised to chase the honours.
Defending male masters champion, Declan Reed, is not expected to line up after two tough back-to-back cross country races in Antrim and Dundalk. He has an eye on defending his provincial Senior title in Lurgan on February 20th and will sit out Saturday.
Allan Bogle, in his first masters’ championships, and Kieran Hurley lead the Spartans Masters squad and another to be watched will be Pauric McKinney, of Inishowen AC.