Friday 21 September 2018

Minnows warm up cold Inters

LAST weekend, a total of 4,624 men and women of all ages, from juveniles to masters, took part in an athletics event.

A big city road race you may think, with a glossy sponsor and huge marketing budget.

But no; the race was the 125th edition of the English National Cross-Country Championships.

The women's race alone attracted a record 650 finishers and 73 teams.


Up front, Gemma Steel and Steph Twell, two of the biggest names in British athletics, scrapped for victory alongside Sonia Samuels -- a woman proud to be running her 20th "National". The trio finished within five seconds of each other.

Leading home the 1,689 men from 125 teams was British international Keith Gerrard, who beat defending champion Steve Vernon for a much-coveted first title. So there was quantity and quality, not only in the senior races but in the eight other underage races.

Skip back to Santry on Sunday and it was a different story at the Woodie's DIY National Interclubs. An event that in the past attracted every self-respecting club runner in the country has gone into sad decline. Unlike in London, the top distance runners stayed away, with the honourable exception of DSD pair Linda Byrne (pictured) and Ava Hutchinson.

Among those opting out were previous winners Joe Sweeney and Mark Kenneally, as well as members of last year's winning DSD team.

With respect to Eddie McGinley, a brave and popular winner, it meant the men's 12km race lacked depth. Clonliffe regained the team title, led home by Sergiu Ciobanu, who was running his first cross-country race since the previous championships. As a marathon runner, he could have stayed on the sidelines, as could the consistent Gary O'Hanlon, who was a fighting third.

Athletics Ireland president Liam Hennessy believes that the entire winter season needs an overhaul and that we shouldn't be tied to sentiment.

He's right. Still, it was the spirit of smaller clubs such as Ennis Track Club, all of them running barefoot, Sliabh Bhuí Rovers, Ferrybank, and Drogheda and District that warmed the heart last Sunday. There's life in this event yet.

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