The Bobby Rea Memorial Cross Country on Saturday 20th December marked the first race of the season in bright, sunny weather at the Billy Neill MBE Country Park.
This year has taken its toll on all athletics events, but perhaps most heavily on cross country, with no fixtures across the UK or Ireland until the Bobby Rea Cross Country, hosted by Athletics Northern Ireland with the support of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.
The usual races were split into three, with runners started in waves of 15 to allow for social distancing. The course was 4k for all, taking in two laps of the scenic Billy Neill MBE Country Park. Runners observed a moment’s silence ahead of the first race, in memory of Ballydrain Harrier, John McKeag who recently passed.
North Belfast Harriers’ Mark McKinstry took to the start line of his second race of the weekend, having finished in 11th place in the 10,000m at the Winter Sprints & 10,000m Track Meet the day before. The former NI & Ulster Senior Cross Country Champion battled his way around the course in a time of 12:04 to take the Men’s top spot, closely followed by North Down AC’s Craig McMeechan in 2nd in a time of 12:09. East Down AC’s Aaron McGrady finished in 3rd place in 12:25 to round out the podium. In the U20 Men’s category it was Monaghan versus Donegal with Monaghan Phoenix AC’s Conor Maguire finishing behind McGrady to take the U20 top spot in 12:33. Behind him were Finn Valley AC duo Sean McGinley in 12:39 and Oisin Toye in 12:49.
Next up were the Women, with City of Derry Spartans’ Catherine Whoriskey and Ballymena & Antrim AC’s Niamh Carr vying for 1st place. The young, Coleraine athlete lead the way on the first lap, but it was Derry’s Catherine Whoriskey who seized the day finishing in 14:09 in 1st place, with Niamh Carr closely behind in 14:26 to take 2nd place and 1st U20. Lagan Valley AC’s Caitlyn Harvey finished in 3rd place in a time of 14:50, with North Down AC’s Tara McDonough finishing in 15:51 to take the 2nd U20 place and teammate, Bryanna Catney finishing in 17:59 to take the U20 3rd place.
Willowfield Harrier’s Neill Weir ran a smooth race to finish in 1st place in the Masters Men’s event in a time of 13:08, followed by Newcastle & District AC’s David McNeilly in 2nd place in a time of 13:12. Armagh AC’s Lorcan Vallely finished in 13:50 to take 3rd place. For the Masters Over 60 Men, it was North Belfast Harrier’s Laurence Johnston who won the top spot in a time of 14:47, followed by AthleticsNI Unattached athlete, Gerry O’Doherty in a time of 16:02 in 2nd place and the ever-smiling, Norman Mawhinney of Scrabo Striders in 3rd place in a time of 16:22.
We would like to thank all of the athletes, volunteers and officials for following the social distancing protocols in order to make this event as safe as possible for everyone involved. We would also like to thank Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council for their ongoing support in helping to organise this event.
Photographs from Bob Given Photography. Photos from the Bobby Rea Memorial Cross Country are now available here:
Full results can be found here: