Weekend Preview:  Athletics NI XC League 2017/18 continues with Mighty Oaks XC!

Weekend Preview:  Athletics NI XC League 2017/18 continues with Mighty Oaks XC!

After the spectacular IAAF Antrim International XC last weekend, attention again focuses on the muck this weekend.  The cross-country bandwagon moves to Cookstown for the next round of the Athletics NI XC League 2017/18, while local athletes Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle AC) and Fionnuala Ross (Armagh AC / Shettleston Harriers) will be competing at the famous Great Edinburgh XC in Scotland.

There is also two trail races to look forward to, with the 26extreme Castlewellan Night and the latest installment of the Sperrin Harriers Winter League Trail Series, coming up over the weekend.  The East Antrim Marathon Series will host their World Half Marathon Day Series of events.

Athletics NI XC League 2017/18 (Round 6):  Mighty Oaks XC

The now famous ‘Acorn Hill’ awaits athletes as they look forward to the sixth round of the Athletics NI XC League 2017/18, the Mighty Oaks Cross Country.

The re-scheduled event, hosted by Acorns AC, will take place on Saturday 13th January 2018 at the Mid Ulster Sports Arena in Cookstown.

Record numbers are expected to turn out for the exciting race programme, which is now in its fourth year; it has been part of the increasingly popular Athletics NI League for three years.  Last year (2017), Seamus Lynch (Newcastle AC) and Jessica Craig (North Down AC) secured the top prizes.

Fast forward twelve months to 2018, and recently crowned NI & Ulster 10k (Road) Champion Scott Rankin (Foyle Valley AC), who represented Northern Ireland at last weekend’s IAAF Antrim International XC, should lead the charge for top honours in the men’s 4 mile event.  The North West man should be joined on the start line by a sizeable Foyle Valley AC contingent as they gear up to cement their place at the top of the current standings.  Their local neighbours, Springwell Running Club, will also be well represented – they are just two points behind Foyle Valley AC and are likely to have Neil Johnston, winner of the North West XC and the first local athlete home at the Antrim XC, in their ranks.

North Belfast Harriers’ Mark McKinstry, John Black, Joe Malone and Andrew Considine will be keen to pull ‘the Stags’ back into contention following a drop from top spot to third place after the North West XC and Antrim XC.  Neil Weir (Willowfield Harriers), Steven McAlary (Springwell Running Club), Dennis Scott (North Down AC) and the host club’s Eoin Hughes and Darrell McKee will all play a part at the front.

In the ladies 3 mile race, in-form Dromore AC athlete Laura Bickerstaff is unlikely to start after missing last week’s Antrim International XC. Laura’s Dromore AC team mate, Rebekah Nixon, could feature.  Meanwhile, league leaders North Down AC should have Rachel Gibson and Katie Moore, two ladies who represented Northern Ireland last week, and Sarah Lindsay, who had an exceptional run in the international ladies race at Antrim; the aforementioned trio were all on the podium at the North West XC, completing a North Down AC clean sweep.

Willowfield Harriers’ Amy Bulman, Foyle Valley AC’s Martina McMullan and Beechmount Harriers’ Catherine Diver and Gerrie Short may also feature in the hunt for prizes.  Suzanne Higgins (Lagan Valley AC), Joanne Foster (East Down AC), Shileen O’Kane (Lagan Valley AC) and the host club’s Lisa Simpson and Leanne Sands will run well.

As part of the event, there will also be junior races.  The race schedule is as follows:

12pm – Under 12 Boys and Girls 800m Race

12.20pm – Under 14 Boys and Girls 1 mile Race

12.45pm – Under 16 Boys and Girls 2 mile Race

1.15pm – Under 18 Boys and Girls 3 mile Race

2pm – Senior and Masters Ladies in Vet65 and Vet70 Men 3 mile Race

2.45pm – Senior and Masters Men 4 mile Race

4pm – Senior/Masters Races Prize-Giving

Sperrin Harriers Winter League Trail Series (Race 3):

Also on Saturday 13th January 2018, Sperrin Harriers will welcome athletes from across the province to An Creggan, close to Omagh, for Race 3 of their ongoing Winter League Trail Series.  Details in relation to the course are available HERE.

The first two races in the popular series, saw Eoin Hughes (Acorns AC) and his former team mate Shane Donnelly (Unattached) go head to head, with Eoin coming out on top on both occasions.  This time around, with Eoin likely to opt for his own clubs’ Mighty Oaks XC, international trail runner Shane should take charge.  However, the talented athlete will not get it all his own way, with Vincent McAlister (Acorns AC) and Paul Barbour (Unattached) both potential starters.  Armagh AC’s Paul McAnespie and City of Derry AC pair Michael Murphy and Paul McCafferty could also toe the line.  Conor Reid (Ballymena Runners), Jason Wilson (Ballymena Runners) and Conor Maguire (Omagh Harriers) will all place well.

In the ladies race, Race 1 winner Gillian Wasson and Race 2 winner Grace Carson (Mid Ulster AC) could challenge for top honours.  Should both compete, it will be an excellent race!  Ciara Toner (Springwell Running Club) and Gemma McDonald (Ballycastle Runners) could add further depth to the front end of the field.  Karen McLaughlin (Springwell Running Club), Olivia Mullin (Greencastle AC), Laura Mitchell (Sperrin Harriers) and Lisa Coyle (1Zero1 Athletes) may also race.

Other events taking place in Northern Ireland this weekend…

Friday 12th January 2017:

–       26extreme Castlewellan Trail Race (Night Race) – Castlewellan Country Park, Castlewellan – 7:30pm (Entries AVAILABLE on race day)

Saturday 13th January 2017:

–       East Antrim Marathon Series ‘World Half Marathon Day’ Race Series – Carrickfergus Castle, Carrickfergus – 8:30am (Entries will NOT be available on race day!)

Simply Health Great Edinburgh XC:

Rio Olympian Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle AC) and Fionnuala Ross (Armagh AC / Shettleston Harriers) will be in action at the prestigious Simply Health Great Edinburgh XC in Holyrood Park (Scotland) this weekend (Saturday 13th January 2018).

Kerry will line-up for Ireland in the 4x1000m Mixed Relay competition alongside Eoin Everard, Kieran Kelly and Laura Crowe.  The quartet will take on teams from England, Scotland, Belgium and also a European Select team.

Northern Ireland international Fionnuala, who impressed at last weekend’s IAAF Antrim International XC, is due to represent her Scottish club Shettleston Harriers in the associated Inter-Counties XC Championships.

The event will be aired LIVE on the BBC from 13:15hrs on Saturday 13th January 2018.


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.