Drogheda duo home in on podium spots
The weather gods were certainly shining down for Sunday's Louth Senior Cross-Country Championships which were held at Drogheda & District's new field at Newtownstalaban.
Conditions on the day were spring-like and the excellently marked-out course met with much favour from runners and spectators alike.
In the main events of the day, the Senior Championships, the Ladies 6k race run over three and a half laps was the first off.
This year's race really had a loaded field, with the Dunleer pair of Aoife Fay and Karen McDonnell quickly taking up the first two positions, and their strong running over the good ground brought them home in that order.
Meanwhile, Mary Leech, one of D&D's most gifted athletes, was getting down to business and once she settled into a steady rhythm she set about opening a commanding lead on the chasing pack.
Leech pushed hard over the last two laps and was rewarded for her strong running with the bronze medal and a comfortable 40-second lead over her nearest rival.
With Erin McHugh having a great run after working her way up the field to fifth place and Yasmin Canning delivering a fine run to finish sixth overall, things were hotting up in the team contest.
Orla O'Connor, who's really starting to strengthen as an athlete, gave it her all going out on the last lap, but try as she might she just couldn't close the gap to the girl in front and finished ninth overall.
Dunleer took the ladies team title by a mere two points from the D&D quartet and this was county rivalry at its very best.
Also running well for Drogheda & District were Michelle Hughes who was 10th, with Laura Roche 12th and Sinead Weldon 15th.
This year's Senior Men's race was all set to be a real cracker and it certainly didn't disappoint the large number of spectators eager to see the battle unfold, particularly for the team honours.
Inspired by their ladies team success, the Dunleer men soon had three of their leading runners in the first six and this was what really paved the way for them to eventually take team gold by a tight enough margin of just 10 points.
Stephen Kelly, despite having just run this year's Dublin City Marathon in an eye-opening 2:37:57, stood on the starting line determined to play his part in the battle for club honours.
Once the gun went, Kelly, strengthened by many miles of tough running, got himself up into third position and relentlessly forced the pace over the next six laps of this 10,000m race.
Coming into the finishing straight running shoulder to shoulder with Glenmore athlete Shane Toner, the bronze medal was there for whoever wanted it the most.
With legs tiring, Kelly, cheered on by the home crowd, gave it one last effort to draw clear and take the much sought after medal by a mere two seconds.
Now the race was on in earnest for the team places, and further back strong running from Mark O'Shea and Brian Martin meant that they'd be sure of a medal of some sort.
The club's next trio of Kieran McGrath, a rejuvenated Robbie Maher and Shane Larkin worked hard to pick up valuable team points as the silver medals were still up for grabs.
An anxious wait ensued as the officials set about checking the scoring for the team event and it couldn't get any closer as Drogheda & District tied for second place with North East Runners with a total of 69 points. Unfortunately for the home club, North East Runners were declared second team under the countback rule.
Often in these team races, the real heroes are the guys who work hard to push back their rivals so that the low-scoring runners take maximum effect, and there were some sterling runs by club captain Paul Smith, Pat O'Grady and Stephen Duggan which really got D&D up there in the mix for medals.
Also running strongly were Martin Russell, Thomas Farrelly, Paddy Murphy and Jonathan O'Brien. John Reilly also delivered the goods when it mattered, running 40:02 for the course only a week after running a marathon.
Christy Duffy continued his remarkable streak of having run his 48th consecutive County Senior Championship and assures us he's going to hang up his spikes once he completes his 50th!
A series of underage relay races also took place, with each race being 4x500m.
The highlight for D&D was definitely the Boys U-16 team of Ben Egan, Sean Toner, Oliver Clutterbuck and Harry Caffrey who combined well to win the team gold. In the Girls U-16 relay, Moya McCabe, Abi Tegert, Kate O'Reilly and Saoirse Smith all ran well to take the bronze medals.
Last Saturday's Oldbridge Parkrun proved to be a happy hunting ground for Conor Cooney who continues his march back to full fitness following some knee surgery.
Cooney seems to have the happy knack of always getting the pace right and last weekend was no exception as he raced round the challenging 5k course in a new PB of 22:37 when finishing 18th overall.
Further up the field, club coach Ian O'Reilly produced a really solid run to finish fourth in a lively 19:21. David Thornton was 35th in 23:51, with Seamus Roe not far behind in 43rd place in 24:31.
The club's first lady finisher was Ruth Dunne who was 73rd in 29:47, followed by Linda Bowe who was 76th in 30:04, a new PB for her.
At last Wednesday's 2 Mile Race Series promoted by Raheny Shamrocks AC, marathon specialist Gerard Fay ran the two-mile course in 15:37.