The Loftus Report: Slip Sliding Away, IAAF Antrim Cross Country

Highlights of a day in the cold and mud up North included a great win by the Clonliffe all conquering Junior men`s team, bronze for our 15 boys and a top 20 for Brian MacMahon in the men`s International race.

The Loftus Report:  With the current unbearable bout of unexpected cold weather maintaining a firm and tight grip around the island of Ireland, today`s conditions at the Greenmount Campus in Antrim were particularly dismal and meek, indeed in the words of Paul Simon “the more you near your destination the more you`re slip sliding away”. A select group of our seasoned athletes and ther coaches from both the juvenile and junior/senior section of the club rose early this crisp Saturday morning to depart from Morton Stadium at 8.30 on the button. Journeying North saw temperatures plummet significantly as the teams arrived  into prolonged showers of rain and slightly blustery winds.  An absence of sunlight added to the moody bleakness of the work cut out for our harriers today, the task at hand not remotely enticing in any sense whatsoever.  

The IAAF permitted course was as always impeccably laid out, organisers managing to construct a trail that was not easily navigated; treacherously sloping hills, concaving grass combined with melting ice proved a challenge for all of our athletes.  The ground itself consisting of a slushy levelled layer of snow carpeting the churned mud beneath. Despite the effort required to take on the mammoth task ahead of them, genuine pride of place must go out to each and every harrier, both young and well – not so young, who put their toe to the line on what was a truly horrendous wintery day for racing. 
With regards to the competition, Clonliffe coaches and loyal supporters remarked on a simply superb result for the club over all. First off the cards were the Under 15 Boys team who delivered fantastic individual performances culminating in a fine 3rd place team finishing.  First home, moving with strength in both body and mind through the field particularly in the latter half of the race was Ben Guiden, recording 7th place.  Next home was Stephen Cashin putting in a strong performance to finish a great 14th, followed promptly in a swift sprint finish by both Daniel Lacey and Aaron Cullen; who together battled away to come across the line within a second of each other placing 18th and 19th respectively.  Jordan Byrne showed that the worthwhile efforts made in training produce signs of significant improvement, as he finished in 21st place.  Jack Horan, another harrier who, after a prolonged injury is returning to fitness with a 28th place finish.  Ian McAlweeney persevered for the entire duration of the race, although suffered from apparent tiredness after Wednesday’s DCU XC Invitational; Ian recording a solid 33rd place.  Finally the youngest and most eager Under 15 Boys squad member, Sam Baker Gorman gained very valuable experience running well to come home in 52nd place.  Thus no doubt the  team were rewarded with a well deserved team bronze for their valiant effort.
Moving up in age category, the Under 17 Girls produced a solid performance ranking 4th as a team.  Tess Loftus, running up an age group, lead the girls bravely round the course in what was a combined race to finish in a terrific 19th place closely guiding Hannah Browne home in 20th position; Hannah also having a great race.  Clíona Cooley remained completely undeterred by the daunting distance recovering in the latter half of her race to finish in an encouraging 22nd place.  It must also be said also that Kate Howlett offered great advice and support to the girls as a specialist spectator cheering on her teammates from the side lines.  Alannah Cooley stood as the sole Clonliffe contender in the Under 20 Women’s race,and although feeling the effects of exhaustion similar to that of the Under 15 Boys, maintained her sturdy form throughout to record a courageous 9th place finish.
The timetable flowed seamlessly meaning that race start times were completely accurate; resulting in the Under 17 Boys (combined with the Under 20 Men) taking to the start immediately after the girls.  This race saw a wonderful wash of the black ‘n’ amber singlet scattered across the field of athletes.  Sean O’Leary, running somewhat as a stranger to his fellow teammates in the green, white and orange of the Irish Development Squad recorded a sublime 4th place finish after stumbling, climbing and even crawling up the hill on the far side of the campus.  Craig Giles saw his confidence reinstalled as he finished a terrific 15th place, ahead of Kevin Loftus in 19th place.  Fintan McManus completed the depleted 4th team placing, arriving in in 33rd place.

In a highly competitive, heated and predominantly tactical Under 20 Men’s race Brian Flanagan produced a wonderful 6th place finish, with Cathal Doyle suffering a stumbling mishap finishing just behind in 7th place.  The duo fought continuously against some of Britain’s top athletes, and both should be extremely proud of their performances.  Sean Carrigg yet again delivered another blinding display, achieving a remarkably successful 8th place finish.  Coming in thick and fast, Alex Gibbons stormed home in 19th place, leading a group of Joseph Hession, Thomas Ward, Kevin McKenna and Greg Hossenny home, these lads placing 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd respectively; each a driving force for the others, motivating each other to keep pushing on forward right to the very end.  After the officials’ final tally the team delightedly received an outstanding 1st place team finish, a true testament to the years of harding training put in by all of the guys.

Finally to conclude the day’s proceedings Brian McMahon dished up a marvellous 19th place finish in an elite Senior Men’s race, and whilst fading slightly, Michael Cassidy performed admirably to place a good 42nd in what was a loaded field of over 130 entries.

Alors, though the weather outside was most certainly frightful, it seems safe to say the great day of competiton was thoroughly enjoyed by both participants and spectators alike.  An enormous thank you must be said to all of the coaches who offer freely and willingly to assist all of our athletes in performaninig to the very best of their ability in this sport; giving tirelessly to the club asking for nothing in return (except €2 for the lotto).  Your work does not go unnoticed.  “Where to next?” the avid reader asks.  Looking forward sees the beginning of the Schools XC campaign for many of our younger athletes; the first qualifying stages of which begin this coming Friday with the North Leinster Schools XC to be held in ALSAA.  On a final note, another massive well done to all of our athletes who competed today, your performances as a whole never cease to epitomise the true meaning of the phrase “Nil Desperandum”.
Report written by Kevin Loftus

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