Lurgan Park plays host to the 2017 NI and Ulster Senior XC Champs this weekend
03 March 2017
Northern Ireland’s largest urban park, Lurgan Park in County Armagh, will play host to this weekend’s NI & Ulster Senior Cross Country Championships (Saturday 4th March 2017). The picturesque park has proved a popular choice of venue with competitors over the last number of years and nearly 400 will take part in this year’s event.
The Senior Ladies 6k will kick off proceedings at 1:30pm and the Senior Men’s 12k race will follow at 2:15pm. The event also incorporates the final fixture of the Athletics NI XC League 2016/17, with double points on offer for clubs. Going into the last event of the 8 race League, Newcastle AC (133 points) hold a slender lead over North Belfast Harriers (124 points) in the men’s table, while North Down AC (139 points) lead the ladies league from Acorns AC (106 points).
In the ladies race, Northern Ireland international Jessica Craig (North Down AC) will play a prominent part in proceedings. The versatile athlete has impressed throughout this cross country season, picking up a silver medal at the AAI Novice XC Championships and winning at the Acorns XC, Comber Cup and Malcolm Cup events. Jessica also claimed a twelfth place finish at the talent laden Scottish National XC.
Prominent challengers could come in the form of North Down AC club mates Rachel Gibson and Jodi Smith, both of whom have been running well over the country. Rachel medalled at both the AAI Novice XC (bronze) and AAI Intermediate XC (bronze) events, while Jodi impressed with a win at the NI & Ulster Intermediate XC Championships. Amy Bulman (Willowfield Harriers), Fionnuala Diver (Letterkenny AC), Gerrie Short (Beechmount Harriers), Natalie Hall (Acorns AC), Suzanne Higgins (Lagan Valley AC) and Esther Dickson (Newry AC) will all feature at the front.
In the ladies team competition, with 4 to score, the North Down AC quartet of Jessica Craig, Rachel Gibson, Jodi Smith and Sarah Lindsay will prove hard to beat. Ballymena Runners, East Down AC, North Belfast Harriers, Ballydrain Harriers and Foyle Valley AC will contest the remaining podium places.
Conor Duffy (Glaslough Harriers) will be the man to beat over the relatively fast Lurgan Park course. The AAI National 5,000m Champion has represented both Northern Ireland and Ireland during this cross country campaign, placing well at both the Antrim XC (16th place) and the Home Countries International in Cardiff (12th place).
Reigning Champion Aaron Doherty and his City of Derry AC club mate Conor Bradley are more than capable of holding their own at the front if they are race fit. Sharpness is something that Newcastle AC’s Zak Hanna need not concern himself with – the Richard Rogers coached athlete has been rewarded for some exceptional performances over the last year with international selection. Earlier this month the former cyclist turned heads with a runners up spot on at the Armagh 3k – he recorded 8:49 to beat some highly respected talent that night.
Other men to look out for include Mark McKinstry (North Belfast Harriers), Seamus Lynch (Newcastle AC), Declan Reed (City of Derry AC), Eoghain McGinley (Letterkenny AC) and Eoghan Totten (Newcastle AC).
It’s 6 to count in the men’s team competition, which will be a fiercely competitive affair. Reigning Champions Newcastle AC are likely to come up against outstanding teams from North Belfast Harriers and City of Derry AC. Given that little separates the three teams, good ‘packing’ will be essential – it really could go any way!
Elsewhere this weekend, Northern Ireland trio Ciara Mageean (Coach: Jerry Kiernan), Ben Reynolds (Coach: Tom Reynolds) and Kerry O’Flaherty (Coach: Richard Rogers) will represent Ireland at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. A preview is available HERE.
A host of local athletes will be in action at the Irish Life AAI National Masters Indoor Track & Field Championships, which will be held at the AIT Arena in Athlone, Ireland. An entry list for the event is available HERE.