They are already up and running in Donegal this new year with over 200 turning up for the opening race in the Lifford-Strabane 5K Series held in unseasonably mild conditions. Finn Valley’s Gerard Gallagher was pleased to put recent injury behind him as he moved away from the main field early on to score an easy win in 15:31. Charlie O’Donnell made the long journey from the Rosses to take second in 16:04 with Gary Gallagher edging Peter Tuohey for third with a 16:19 clocking. Ben Mellon was the leading Junior, taking 11th overall in 17:56.
The host club’s Claire McGuigan was equally impressive leading home the women in what she described as “a shock to the system” but recording a credible 17:48. Leoni Mullen was also quick out of the blocks to occupy the runner-up spot in 18:19 while Elaine Connor was well clear of the main field, in third, with a 19:08 mark. The second race in the series is in Raphoe on January 26 with 10:30am start and concludes in Lifford on February 9.
Usually at this time of the year we are looking forward to the Belfast International Cross Country but after 42 years our local cross country classic has been gently laid to rest. Once the highlight of the winter season, it is no longer with us. And like the parrot in the Montyn Python sketch, they tell us it is merely resting but we know better. It is dead! It is no more! It has ceased to be! It is said to be the victim of a clash of dates with its more famous sibling in Scotland, the Great Edinburgh Cross Country, but one questions whether another date could not be found.
The cross country classic was
first hosted in 1977 and has gone under a variety of guises. For the 2000 and
2001 races, it was known as the Fila International Cross Country, for the
1995-1999 meetings as the Coca Cola International Cross Country; for the 1994
race, it went under the banner of the Ulster Milk Games International; for the
1992-1993 races, it became the Reebok International Cross Country; for the 1989
race, it was titled as the Brooks International Cross Country; for the 1990-1991
and 1977-1988 races, it became the Mallusk Cross Country. Many names and a few
locations but consistently an opportunity to see world class performers on our
The fixture has seen some of
the world’s best runners compete. Waterford man Gerry Deegan was the winner of
the first race with Olympic gold medallist Steve Ovett taking the laurels the
following year. The Brighton athlete
returned in 1984 to lift the title for a second time but in the meantime
Ireland’s two-time world champion John Treacy had prevailed over a strong field
in 1982. It was shortly afterwards that the east Africans claimed ownership of
the race with American Dathan Ritzenhein, in 2005, being the last non-African to
cross the finish line in first place.
The women’s race was added in
1986 with Susan Tooby, now Wightman, from Wales the first winner. Running
legends like Liz McColgan (1987/1988) and Paula Radcliffe (1994/1996/2000/2001)
claimed multiple wins while Irish athletes have held their own in the women’s
event, with Roisin Smyth (1990), Catherina McKiernan (1992/1993), Mary Cullen
(2010) and Fionnuala McCormick (2012/2013) all claiming wins.
It could be seen as purely a
sop to the local followers of the sport when the Bobby Rea Memorial in November
was rebranded an international. A few runners from across the water do not make
an international. Many felt they were being offered a slug as a replacement for
a Norwegian Blue parrot!