FLAHAVAN’S PORRIDGE PRIMARY SCHOOL CROSS COUNTRY FINALS
The snow of 2 weeks ago had disappeared by the time Wednesday morning came along and so the City of Belfast Playing Fields at Mallusk had assumed their more traditional green hue as the Finals of this year’s Flahavan’s Cross Country Series were held, with record numbers of Boys and Girls taking part. East Down AC’s Jodi Foster representing Spa Primary School, was somewhat disappointed at “only finishing 7th ” after her sterling efforts in the earlier qualifying rounds. There’s certainly nothing wrong with finishing 7th Jodi, considering there were over 250 runners in your race!
Similarly in the Boys race a huge field of similar size to the Girls, saw Oliver Robinson and Callum Kent lucky to finish unscathed as there was a virtual stampede at the start and Ollie did well to battle back to 22nd with Callum 67th.
ULSTER SCHOOLS CHAMPIONSHIPS
At the same venue the Mini Girls race saw East Down’s Lauren Madine triumph ahead of clubmates Anna Gardiner who took 3rd place and Lucy Foster 5th out of 110 finishers. Unfortunately there are no All Ireland championships at Mini level, so this formidable trio will have to wait until they are at least one year older for their chance.
Kirsti Foster ran exceptionally well to finish 5th out of 108 to qualify for the All Ireland Finals and she has been given a slot in the London Mini Marathon, so Her Mum Joanne won’t be lonely when she travels to the capital city in April to run in the Marathon.
As we have come to expect Aoife Cochrane ran her heart out in the Senior Girls race to take an excellent 16th place out of 63.
Edie Carroll in 17th and Niamh McBratney 44th out of 83 finishers, though outside the individual medal places, both helped their school Down High, qualify for the All Ireland Finals.
LADIES SHINE at LURGAN
All the waiting and talking and wondering was over and all that remained was the actual race itself. The first time that East Down AC’s Ladies had assembled in such numbers since the 30th Anniversary Dinner and ever for a competitive fixture, with the prize a possible podium place in the Cross Country League. Having only taken up the challenge of the 2017/18 League competition seriously this season, some sterling performances in the earlier rounds had left the Ladies in 4th place going into the final round on Saturday in Lurgan Park, some 10 points behind their 3rd placed rivals Acorns AC. Unfortunately Niamh Kellett, one of the most consistent points scorers in earlier rounds, was unable to run due to injury but was there in spirit. With double points being awarded to every finisher up to 16th then it was imperative that East Down matched their much stronger numerically rivals, in the hope that with nearly all their top runners in the field, they could gain a team placing at least 10 points better than Acorns. And so with much cajoling, pleading, threatening and promises to everyone who was likely to be free to run, and even to some who were not, I rubbed my eyes in surprise and delight as the requisite 16 made their way to the start. All so far so good but they all had to finish to realise maximum points. Off they went and at the end of the first lap of 3, Catherine O’Connor was the first East Down lady to appear, in the first dozen or so followed by Caroline O’Hare and Deirdre Weatherall. Fourth and fifth places were filled by Edie Carroll and Aoife Cochrane with Joanne Foster the 6th East Downer and all inside the top 40 . I tried to work out how we stood and could only conclude in the absence of any Acorns runners in the top 50 that we were on course for a great result.
But there were two laps – 4K – still to run and the concern was for the 16 who had passed me at the end of lap 1, would do so again twice more. However, I needn’t have worried. These Ladies are made of stern stuff and having started there was no way that any of them contemplated dropping out. Catherine, Caroline and Deirdre were meantime not only consolidating but improving their positions as they picked off those in front of them. By the time the final lap got under way I was not only counting the East Down runners but trying to calculate what the effects on our overall League position would be.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
I reckoned that the East Down ladies were 3rd overall but when I heard the official announcement it revealed that Lagan Valley with 68 points and Beechmount Harriers with 71 points were respectively 2nd and 3rd. Even worse was the revelation that East Down had been beaten for that 3rd spot by a single point!
However the despondency was short lived as news that Acorns AC, while the largest represented team in terms of its participation numbers, were outside the top 8 scoring teams on the day, leaving East Down the 3rd overall team in the final League tables.
The Super Sixteen who took part in this historic day were Catherine O’Connor, 7th place, really looking back to her best and in contention all the way, Caroline O’Hare, 10th place, a brave decision and game performance as she recovers from injury, Deirdre Weatherall, 23rd place, find of the season, fearless in combat and whose best has still to come,
FORMER JUNIORS GRADUATING WITH SUCCESS
Edie Carroll, a developing talent who has come up through the Juniors and who has taken on a new confidence since joining the seniors, she clearly thrives on running in large packs and she was a super 4th team scorer in 32nd place, on Saturday. She ran 3 times this week, in the Ulster Schools on Tuesday, in the Senior Championships as described here on Saturday and on Sunday in Tollymore Park where she was successful in the final round of the McGrady’s Financial Services Junior Cross Country Series. Edie always has a smile on her face and always lifts the mood of those around her. I predict a big future for her and she will achieve a lot more.
Another to make the transition from Junior ranks and who seems to have found her niche is Aoife Cochrane, 38th place, who goes from strength to strength and made another significant contribution to the team effort on Saturday. Her best has still to come too.
THE ENGINE ROOM
Every team depends on its strength in depth, the good solid performers who turn out week in week out and are always there to answer the call.
Leading example of this is the pocket powerhouse Joanne Foster 37th place, who has had a few injury scares but always turns out and never lets the side down, ably assisted by the enthusiastic Cheryl Denvir 68th place, who will improve much for next season, and of course those who do the coaxing, cajoling, possibly even the threatening? mentioned in the opening paragraph, Alison Carroll, 91st place, who is a prime mover in getting members to the start line. Adding to her enthusiasm for the cross country genre is the fact that she feels immensely proud of running in the same team as her 2 daughters. In addition to Edie’s exploits Ella, 101st place has contributed mightily to the success of the team over the season, not least in clinching 3rd place in the recent Intermediate Championships in Comber. Club Captain Janine Murray, 140th place, led by example as she filled in despite being only just over a recent illness. Clare Carson 96th place, too has been a stalwart all season and Lisa Milligan 117th place, took to the grass with enthusiasm and plenty of smiles. The ever dependable Carmel Tumelty, 135th place, who turns up everywhere was soon joined by new converts Alison Graham, 132nd place, and Catherine Gilchrist 118th place, both adding their unique take on running around muddy parkland. Finally it was indeed fitting that long time club stalwart Roisin Gaffney, 141st place, should be the one to make up the 16 and she confessed afterwards to having enjoyed her first ever cross country immensely.
As every runner knows there is nothing to keep you going like a friendly word of encouragement and a smile and it is appropriate to add a word or two of thanks to Deirdre’s Mum Mary who attended every race and cancelled other commitments to be there on Saturday and Oonagh Cochrane who has done the hard miles to fulfil the role of cheerleaders. I have to add that there is no one associated with the Club who is prouder of this squad than I am and I know they can go onto win this and many other titles in the coming years. Not all the watery eyes on Saturday were caused by the wind!
EAST DOWN MEN’S BATTERIES NEEDING CHARGED?
Although forced to take a back seat to the Ladies on Saturday, East Down’s men also fielded a 5 man team on Saturday with the ever consistent Martin Willcox 48th , leading the way home as he has done for much of the season, followed by intra club combatants Dee Murray 79th place and Paul Burns 81st place, followed by Davy Foster, 96th place and the final club scorer. Fifth man to finish was Gavin Hynds in 143rd place. He was reportedly concerned about recent rumours of him having been involved with performance enhancing batteries but reckons that his best defence against the accusations would be to prove it on the field of play. Let them see that the batteries are clearly not working Gavin!!
Unfortunately the men have been more reluctant to field any thing like the numbers required to make a sustained bid for League success, but by virtue of their potential, and with the added incentive of envy for their female counterparts achievements, I believe that under Dee Murray’s guidance, the men will strike back next year.. So there’s the challenge Men – Are you up for it?
MCGRADY’S FINANCIAL SERVICES JUNIOR CROSS COUNTRY SERIES
On Sunday in conditions not too far removed from those prevailing at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, the final round of races in the McGrady McGrady’s Financial Services Junior Cross Country Series was held.-Full reports are being provided by Newcastle but the East Down officials whe were present wish to say that everyone who turned out deserves huge respect.
Joe Quinn & Alison Carroll
26 February 2018