Weekend Preview:  Athletes gear up for a weekend of major Championship action!

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Weekend Preview:  Athletes gear up for a weekend of major Championship action!

This weekend will see two major Championship fixtures take place, the NI & Ulster Intermediate and Masters Cross Country Championships in Northern Ireland and the AAI National Under 23 and Junior Indoor Championships in Ireland, both involving a plethora of local talent.

On the local scene, there is also the next race of the Sperrin Harriers Winter League Trail Series, the Drum Manor 10k.  Elsewhere, a good turnout is expected at the St Patrick’s Dungiven 10k & 5k.

Given the importance of the Championship fixtures, our preview will focus on these, but we will provide important information of all the races taking place locally this weekend.

NI & Ulster Intermediate and Masters Cross Country Championships 2018:

The Billy Neill Playing Fields in Belfast will play host to this weekend’s Northern Ireland & Ulster Intermediate and Masters Cross Country Championships (Saturday 27th January 2018).

Athletes from across the Province will go head-to-head as they battle it for both individual and team honours, in what should be an exciting day of cross country action.

The race programme will kick off with the Masters Women and Masters 65+ Men’s 4k event.  Northern Ireland and Ireland masters international Cathy McCourt (Unattached) will hope to follow on from her impressive outing at the IAAF Antrim International XC earlier this month, when she was the third local athlete to cross the line in the prestigious international ladies race.

In-form Catherine Diver (Beechmount Harriers), winner of the recent Mighty Oaks XC, will also play a part at the front – in Antrim, Catherine finished just twenty seconds behind Cathy as the sixth local finisher.  AAI Novice XC medallist Donna Mone of Monaghan Town Runners should be considered as a contender.

Letterkenny AC’s Fionnuala Diver, a consistent performer over the country, Ballydrain Harriers’ sub three-hour marathoner Denise Logue and reigning Masters XC Champion Amy Bulman (Willowfield Harriers) will also contest a podium place.  Jennifer Black (Victoria Park & Connswater AC), Ciara Coffey (Newry AC), Donna Evans (Clones AC), Ann Terek (City of Lisburn AC) and Suzanne Higgins (Lagan Valley AC) will all place well.

Suzanne may also be hoping to lead her Lagan Valley AC team to gold – Shileen O’Kane, Hazel McLaughlin and Julie Murphy will provide excellent back up in the four to count competition.  City of Derry AC, Letterkenny AC and Victoria Park & Connswater AC should be considered as contenders.

In the Masters Men 65+ race, World Champion Jim Patterson (Newcastle AC) will be keen to kick off 2018 in the same fashion as he finished 2017.  The Vet70 competitor struck gold at the World Masters Mountain Running Championships and the British & Irish Masters International XC last year.

In the Masters Men’s 8k, a strong North West contingent is likely to dominate proceedings.  Current Donegal XC Champion Karol Duggan (Letterkenny AC) and team mate Ciaran Doherty, should feature.  Add City of Derry AC duo Allan Bogle and Colin Roberts, decorated Irish international Pauric McKinney (Inishowen AC) and triathlete Rhodri Jones (Springwell Running Club) to the mix, and you’ve got yourself what should be an excellent race for gold.

Not forgetting Neill Weir (Willowfield Harriers), Eamon White (North Belfast Harriers), Neil Carty (North Belfast Harriers) and James Budde (North Down AC), all of whom have a chance of grabbing a podium place, or arguably the title, on their day.

In the team competition, which is four to count, Annadale Striders will pack well if Paul Carroll, Mark Wright, Conor McMullan and Simon Taylor all race.  However, with the aforementioned Allan Bogle and Colin Roberts due to be joined by Paul McCafferty and Mark Mullan, it’s hard to look past the Spartans.  North Belfast Harriers, Letterkenny AC and Ballymena Runners will have high hopes of taking medals home.

The penultimate race of the day is the Intermediate Women’s 4k, which should see Enniskillen Running Club’s Edel Monaghan add to her AAI Novice XC title with a victory.  The up and coming star showed experience beyond her years when sealing victory against a strong field in Stranorlar back in November (2017).

However, if Edel wants to top the podium, she will have to see off some strong opposition.  That will come in the form of Sinead Sweeney (QUB AC), Esther Dickson (Newry AC), Rebecca Wallace (Lagan Valley AC), Grace Carson (Mid Ulster AC), Rio Catney (North Down AC) and Niamh Heaney (Omagh Harriers), amongst others.

Omagh Harriers and North Down AC will battle it out for the team prize (four to count), with East Down AC likely to be in the mix.

A plethora of talent will take to the start line in the Intermediate Men’s 8k, this includes current NI & Ulster 10k (Road) Champion Scott Rankin (Foyle Valley AC), current AAI Novice XC Champion Eskander Turki (Monaghan Town Runners) and Northern Ireland and Ireland international mountain/trail runner Zak Hanna (Newcastle AC).

The underfoot conditions could play a major part in the race for victory, with Scott more than likely to edge it if the going is firm, and Zak more likely to prefer a heavier surface given his mountain strength – it is important to note that when Eskander prevailed at the Novice XC, conditions were heavy and slippy.

Chris McGuinness (Foyle Valley AC) and Craig McMeechan (North Down AC) will both be worth watching given their strong performances in the muck this season.  North Belfast Harriers’ Joe Malone and Willowfield Harriers’ Russell Hughes will also finish well up the field.

In the team competition, with six to count, Acorns AC look strong, especially if Darrell McKee, Glenn Donnelly, Eoin Hughes, Aidan O’Hagan, Francis McDaid and Martin McVey all make the start line.

Event timetable:

1pm – Masters Women and Vet65+ Men’s 4k Race

1:30pm – Masters Men’s 8k Race

2:10pm – Intermediate Women’s 4k Race

2:40pm – Intermediate Men’s 8k Race

Important Information:

NO ENTRIES WILL BE ACCEPTED ON THE DAY

  • Only athletes whose names appear on the programme are eligible to compete.
  • Teams must field no more than the permitted number. WHERE TWO/MORE TEAMS ARE ENTERED THEY MUST BE DECLARED AS A, B TEAM, ETC.
  • No additions or substitutions will be allowed.
  • All athletes must have a current registration with Athletics Northern Ireland/AAI Valid for the day of Competition.

Other events taking place in Northern Ireland this weekend…

Saturday 27th January 2018:

  • Sperrin Harriers Winter League Trail Series (Drum Manor 10k) – Drum Manor Forest, Cookstown – 12pm (Entries AVAILABLE on race day!)
  • St Patrick’s College 10k & 5k Road Race – Curragh Road, Dungiven – 2:30pm (Entries AVAILABLE on race day!)

Events taking place outside Northern Ireland this weekend…

AAI National Junior & Indoor Championships (Athlone, Ireland):

An abundance of local talent will also be in action at the Irish Life Health AAI National Junior and U23’s Indoor Championships in Athlone, Ireland (Sunday 28th January 2018).

Kate O’Connor (St Gerard’s AC Dundalk) will return to competition after an exceptional outing at the AAI National Combined Events Championships last weekend, were she smashed the Irish Senior, Under 23 and Junior Pentathlon record on her way to gold.  Kate will compete in the Junior Women’s 200m, High Jump and Long Jump.

Aaron Sexton (North Down AC), John Kelly (Finn Valley AC), Davicia Patterson (Beechmount Harriers), Conor Breslin (Finn Valley AC), Lauren Roy (City of Lisburn AC), Craig Newell (Ballymena & Antrim AC), Ellen McCartney (City of Lisburn AC), Naomi Morgan (City of Derry AC), Callum Crawford-Walker (Annadale Striders), Shane Irwin (Finn Valley AC), Conall Kirk (Annadale Striders) and Anna McIlmoyle (City of Lisburn AC) are just some of the other familiar faces who will be hoping to impress at the event.

A provisional entry list and timetable for the event are available HERE.

Parkrun:

As always, Northern Ireland’s twenty five parkrun events will take place this weekend, for more information on these, or to locate your nearest event, please visit our dedicated ‘parkrun’ section within our fixtures page.