FERMANAGH took centre stage on the Northern Ireland athletics scene last weekend with hundreds of runners from all over the province donning their spikes for some top-class action at the Necarne Estate.
Ideal conditions and a pristine course at the scenic Irvinestown venue greeted competitors for the second running of the Fermanagh Cross Country.
Saturday’s meet, organised by Enniskillen Running Club (ERC) in association with Fermanagh District Council, was the seventh race in the Athletics NI XC League, and with every place counting as teams vied for valuable points, there were gripping individual battles throughout to keep the enthusiastic spectators enthralled.
The eagerly awaited men’s 7.5k saw the newly crowned NI and Ulster Masters XC champion Declan Reed of City of Derry up against ERC star Conan McCaughey, who himself was fresh from an outstanding silver in last week’s NI and Ulster Intermediate championships.
McCaughey again showed incredible guts and determination to stay with the veteran, but a surge by the relentless Reed saw him create the gap needed in yet another display of top-class running.
McCaughey stayed strong to take a magnificent second spot, ahead of Seamus Lynch who led Newcastle AC to a well-deserved team gold.
Behind Conan for ERC were some very encouraging performances from Ciaran Clancy, Ciaran McSherry, Andy Leathem and Allan Wilson.
Also worthy of mention were Francie Shaw’s St Michael’s seniors, who showed strongly, led by a highly-credible top-20 spot for Mark McCaffrey, also an ERC member.
Hell makes big impression
In the ladies 4.5k race, Northern Ireland international and Acorns AC runner Karen Alexander was a strong favourite. As the race unfolded though the big surprise was the sight of the green and black of ERC right up there at the front as the home club’s Martsje Hell, in her very first cross country event, picked her way over the grass like a gazelle.
Despite the predictions of some seasoned watchers that she had gone out too hard and would fade down the field, Hell displayed true grit to grab third spot, only 15 seconds behind her much more seasoned rivals Alexander and Springwell’s Sonia Knox. That helped pave the way for an impressive bronze in the team competition for the ERC ladies as Martsje was followed home by Karen Dolan in ninth place, Oonagh Fitzpatrick, who impressed for the second week in a row, Maria Moss, Roisin McDonnell, Lorraine Browne, Denise McElroy and Bryony May.
Strong junior competition
The juniors set the tone, with the U13 boys providing a thrilling opening for the day’s events with Dan Haigney of Omagh Harriers just pipping Conor Murphy of St Michael’s by one second across the finishing line. Omagh’s David Murray followed in third.
There were large cheers from the home club supporters as two of its young members Oisin May and Daniel McDonnell came through strongly, with Oisin finishing a superb eighth to kick off a very successful day for the green and black of ERC.
Meanwhile in the U13 girls, it was a clean sweep for Mount Lourdes as Bronagh Duffy, Laura McCaffrey (both ERC members) and Rhiannon Dolan took the gold, silver and bronze respectively, with Devenish girl Rachel Evans following closely behind.
Omagh again showed their strength in the U15s. The Harriers’ Cathaoir Donnelly was a class apart as he stormed to the line, convincingly ahead of his team-mate Jack Moore and St Michael’s Rory Baird.
In the girls race Omagh’s Enya Haigney, Caelainn McQuaid and Niamh Feeney took the top three spots, ahead of ERC and Mount Lourdes athlete Aoife Farrell.
The boys U17 race saw one of the standout performances of the day as St Michael’s and ERC’s Domhnall Lynam recorded a comfortable victory, with his team-mate Ryan Flanagan battling the whole way to the line to take second spot from Bundoran’s Lee McCallion. Toni Moore, meanwhile, took the girls title for Omagh.
The after-race refreshments back in the Bawnacre – acclaimed by the visiting teams as the best in the Northern Ireland league – rounded off a very successful day for Enniskillen Running Club and its organising partners, with thanks especially to George Beacom at the Bawnacre and Chris Elliot of Fermanagh District Council. The club is also grateful for the generous support provided by Belleek Living who provided the superb prizes for the winning athletes.
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