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WEEKEND PREVIEW REIGNING CHAMPIONS SET FOR NI & ULSTER SENIOR XC CHAMPIONSHIPS

23 February 2018

WEEKEND PREVIEW REIGNING CHAMPIONS SET FOR NI & ULSTER SENIOR XC CHAMPIONSHIPS

Reigning Champions Aaron Doherty (City of Derry AC) and Jessica Craig (North Down AC) will return to defend their titles as nearly 500 athletes descend on Lurgan for the NI & Ulster Senior XC Championships this weekend (Saturday 24th February 2018).

Once again, Northern Ireland’s largest urban park, Lurgan Park in County Armagh, will play host to the Championships, organised by Athletics Northern Ireland. The picturesque park has proved a popular choice of venue with competitors over the last number of years.

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 2017/18. 

Going into the last event of the eight race League, Foyle Valley AC (180 points) top the men’s table with a slender lead over Springwell Running Club and North Belfast Harriers, with both teams currently on 170 points – Willowfield Harriers are still in the mix with 163 points. North Down AC (172 points) lead the ladies league from Foyle Valley AC (149 points).

In 2017, Northern Ireland international Jessica Craig made her intentions clear from the off, producing a dominant performance to take the win ahead of North Down AC club mates Rachel Gibson and Jodi Smith.  All three ladies should toe the line, as should Sarah Lindsay and Rio Catney, which means the North Down club will be in the hunt to defend their team title.

Despite being in good form of late, with wins at the Mathieson Cup and Stormont XC, Jessica may have a battle on her hands if she is to defend last year’s gold medal, with Ann-Marie McGlynn, the Letterkenny AC athlete who captained Ireland to a team bronze medal at the Euro XC Championships (2014), set to compete.

Ann-Marie has faced some unfortunate injury woes over the last year but stormed back to competition late last month with an excellent win at the Raheny 5 mile road race, were she recorded 26:44.

Dromore AC pair Rebekah Nixon and Laura Bickerstaff will also contest a podium place, and their high finish positions may help Dromore in their quest for team silverware.  Recently crowned NI & Ulster Masters XC Champion Catherine Diver (Beechmount Harriers) will also place well, as will Amy Bulman (Willowfield Harriers), Ciara Toner (Springwell Running Club), Esther Dickson (Newry AC) and Kerry Bamber (Ballymena Runners).  Patricia O’Hagan (St Peter’s AC) is also a welcome addition to the starting line-up.

Other ladies to look out for include Paula Worthington (Ballymena Runners), Kerrie McIlmoyle (Springwell Running Club), Gerrie Short (Beechmount Harriers) and Ciara Coffey (Newry AC).

In the battle for team honours, the aforementioned North Down AC and Dromore AC teams will be there or there abouts, while Ballymena Runners and Beechmount Harriers should also be in the mix.

In the men’s race, Aaron Doherty (City of Derry AC) will fly in from his Madrid base in the hope of securing a hat-trick of NI & Ulster Senior XC titles having struck gold in 2016 and 2017.  The Spartan athlete fought hard to see off Mark McKinstry (North Belfast Harriers) and Conor Duffy (Glaslough Harriers) twelve months ago and he will once again come up against the hard working Mark McKinstry, who will undoubtedly play a major part in proceedings.

Neil Johnston (Springwell Running Club) has been in good form recently, impressing as part of Northern Ireland teams at the Armagh 5k (14:35) and the Antrim International XC (17th place). 

Decorated cross country athlete and winner of the Senior XC title in 2015, Declan Reed (City of Derry AC), is also due to race and will be another man to look out for at the front of the field - if his 24:30 at the Raheny 5, 14:57 for 5k in Armagh and top twenty place at the Antrim International XC is anything to go by, the Vet40 athlete will be a real contender.

Current NI & Ulster 10k (Road) Champion Scott Rankin (Foyle Valley AC) and NI & Ulster Masters XC Champion Ian Bailey (Newcastle AC) both have the potential to challenge for honours, as does cross country specialist Chris McGuinness (Foyle Valley AC).  Zak Hanna (Newcastle AC), JP Williamson (City of Derry AC), Seamus Lynch (Newcastle AC) and Neill Weir (Willowfield Harriers) will all be worth watching.

In the men’s team competition, reigning Champions City of Derry AC have significant strength in depth, with Allan Bogle, Kyle Doherty, John Lenehan, Greg Roberts and Emmet McGinty potentially joining the names already mentioned.  North Belfast Harriers, Newcastle AC and NI & Ulster Intermediate XC Champions Foyle Valley AC will also have high hopes of lifting the spectacular NI & Ulster Senior XC trophy.

Elsewhere this weekend…

Müller Indoor Grand Prix 2018:

Local stars Adam McMullen (Crusaders AC / Alan Kennedy) and Megan Marrs (City of Lisburn AC / Jerzy Maciukiewicz) will be hoping to continue their recent personal best form as they compete as part of a star-studded line up at the Müller Indoor Grand Prix in Glasgow, Scotland.

Some of the best athletes in the world, including a host of stars from the 2017 IAAF World Championships, will compete at the glittering Emirates Arena.

Last weekend, Long Jump star Adam McMullen leaped closer to the famous 8m mark when he reached 7.99m to secure the AAI National Senior Indoor gold medal.  The Crusaders AC man will again compete against top British jumper Greg Rutherford, who beat him to top honours at the British Athletics Indoor Championships (also last weekend), were Adam reached 7.75m for second place.

Megan Marrs excelled at the aforementioned British Athletics Indoor Championships, taking the 60m hurdles title in 8.16. This was a personal best and enough to see the fast-improving star come within 0.02 of the IAAF World Indoor Championships standard of 8.14.  Since the start of 2018, Megan has slashed 0.44 off her 60m hurdles personal best.