(Zac Hanna, Newcastle AC)
By the Head Chef
On a damp yet relatively balmy evening runners from far and near descended on the former market town of Castlewellan for the 30th Mill Hill Mile race. This year Newcastle and District AC conducted the race with assistance from Aughlisnafin GAC, all proceeds raised for the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance with donations of £923.50 collected in lieu of entry, final total will be announced next week.
Quoted by some runners as the ‘death mile’ the race takes runners from a start in the former mill village of Annsborough up the gruelling incline along the main road to the library building in the centre of Castlewellan. It was welcoming to see so many local runners participate with local running clubs Newcastle AC (26 runners) and Murlough AC (40 runners) making up the impressive filed of 120. On the other hand the furthest distance travelled for the race appears to have been the 8th placed Bashir Hussain (6.36) who is from Stockport, England.
Pre-race running purists were left licking their lips at the prospect of Seamus Lynch putting his toe to the line and attempting to build on his recent win in the Rathfriland 10k. Pre-race Lynch was spotted topless doing laps of the Castlewellan square in his white work van; however he never made the move down the hill to the start line. Perhaps Mill Hill isn’t hilly enough for Lynch? On the other hand there was no question on whether Zac Hanna would toe the line as he aimed to make it four wins in a row and attempt to break the 5minute record set by Newcastle and District AC club chairman McNeilly. Jogging in from his Slieve Croob homeland as a warmup Hanna made the start line in good time much to the delight of many junior runners who see him as an inspiration and the hope one day they can replicate some of his achievements to date.
This year race organisers had an extra hurdle to manage as the excavations associated with the gas to East Down project currently in full flow along Mill Hill. Some thought this may have scuppered the race entirely; however a few phone calls to the right people and some welcome interventions by the works contractors on the night the race managed to pass off without any fuss.
Fantastic Four for Hanna
The legendary Newcastle AC trio of Joe McCann, PJ McCrickard and The Prophet brought some order to the proceedings as they assembled the runners at the Annsborough start line. At exactly 7.01pm in sync with the gas contractors turning their temporary Mill Hill traffic lights to red The Prophet blew his whistle from the rear of McCann’s silver Bentley and the race was on. As was expected right from the off Hanna took control and set about trying to break the 5minute record. Hanna as so often is the case made it a whistle to tape win recording an excellent time of 5.11. Although Hanna took a remarkable 14seconds of his 2018 winning time he came up just short of McNeilly’s record. Looking to 2020 Hanna could be likened to the Dublin football team as he will attempt to make his ‘drive for five’ and more importantly get a step closer to the holy grail of McNeilly’s 5 minute mark.
The only other runner to make it a sub 6 minute finish was Newry AC’s Mark Malone who finished second overall in 5.55 with Ballydrain youngster Jared Martin putting in a tremendous effort to finish third overall in 6.00 dead (3 seconds better than his 2018 effort). Including Hanna Newcastle AC managed to take six of the top ten positions with James King (4th 6.22), Barry McConville (5th 6.24), Brian McVeigh (7th 6.28), Jack O’Hare (9th 6.40) and the youthful Tom Cruddington (10th 6.43). Much debate post-race did surround the award of the coveted Newcastle AC MOTM performance; however managing to take 20 seconds of his 2018 time Cruddington got the vote as he continues to impress in his performances.
Category wins were also obtained by King, O’Hare and Cruddington. Local hotelier put his veteran 45 category coup down to the fact he managed a decent night’s sleep the night before having ensured Thistle the family pet rabbit was locked up well before darkness fell on his Donard Park Lodge. Many questions have been asked about Thistle the rabbit and what he looks like hence the inclusion of the friendly photograph with this report. Given the recent interest in O’Hare’s furry family pet a motion is due to be tabled at the next Newcastle AC committee meeting as to whether Thistle can actually become the clubs official mascot.
Glory for Mills on the Hill
In the ladies category 2016 ladies winner Joanne Mills from Newcastle AC took another first place finish in an impressive time of 7.08. Ruby McNiff from Dromore AC took second place and a female junior 16 category win in 7.41 with Ciara Savage from Newcastle AC taking the third ladies podium position and a female junior 14 category win in 7.57.
Junior joy for McVeigh’s
A total of 29 junior runners remarkably participated in this year’s race which bolds well for the future of local running. Given the veteran McVeigh’s recent disappointment in the Rathfriland 10k where he was beaten by his younger brother it was a surprise to see him decide to opt for babysitting duties rather than competitive running. That being said the veteran did manage to work up a bit of a sweat as his kids Masie (Murlough AC) and Harry (unaffiliated) showed him a clean pair of heels to finished 33rd overall (4th female) in 8.20 and 36th overall in 8.27 respectively. Impressive running for two very determined under 8 competitors. Please see the full race results to see how all junior runners faired.
Newcastle and District AC would like to thank all those who helped contribute to make the race a success. These include Aughlisnafin GAC, the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance, the Coffee Dock (pre-race registration), Frank Morgan (time keeping), Darragh McCrickard (laptop and all things IT) the finish line team, the Phoenix Gas Project contractors and the PSNI. A thanks you must also go to the local residents of the Annsborough and Castlewellan areas for being patient with the runners and showing their much welcome support.
Christmas is Coming
With it being 16 odd weeks now to Christmas attention now turns to the annual Christmas Cracker race. The debate of who will pair up with who will undoubtedly rumble on over the coming weeks as well as the interest over what course will be selected by the race directors for this year’s event. With the rumour mill in overdrive The Prophet refused to be drawn on what the course will be; however he has been spotted advising Coach Higgins with a rock hammer on the hollowed slopes of Slieve Croob. Registration for this year’s event will open in the coming weeks with competition as always expected to be fierce.