Mary Cullen of North Sligo A.C got her year off to the best possible start on Saturday with a brilliant display of front running that took a quality field apart in the senior women’s race at the Antrim International Cross Country promotion at Greenmount Campus in Antrim.
This was something of a redemption run for Cullen who was bitterly disappointed with her performance at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Santry last December. On Saturday, Cullen had the satisfaction of finishing well ahead Britain’s Hayley Yelling, who won the European title in Santry. Cullen coasted to victory in 18 minutes 45 seconds- over half a minute clear of Aniko Kalovics of Hungry who finished second and England’s Jess Sparkle who placed third in 19.26. European Champion Hayley Yelling struggled to finish in 5th position, one place behind Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton who delivered a typical battling performance to take fourth in 19.30. Deirdre Byrne was next best of the Irish in 8th place and Hazel Murphy finished 14th.
May Cullen was both delighted and relieved with her brilliant run and she also spoke about how hard she found it to get over the disappointment of her European Cross Country performance in Santry. “I found it very hard for the couple of weeks after the Santry race, “ she said. “I believe that I may have overdone the training after winning the national inter counties cross country championships and I also had a slight hamstring problem going into the race- something that I did not speak about at the time. However, you live and learn about these disappointments and the main thing is to keep pushing on.”
Cullen also admitted being apprehensive about getting back into racing mode –something that her coach, Ray Treacy, strongly encouraged her to do. “Santry was a bit like falling off a horse- and Ray reminded me that it is always advisable to quickly get back up again after a fall and to look forward rather than backwards,” she said. “Part of me did not even want to get out and race here, but with Ray’s encouragement, I was able to make it to the start line.”
This week Cullen travels to Melbourne, Australia for a couple of months training and her next competition in Ireland will be on April 18th in the Great Ireland Run in the Phoenix Park. “I want to have a good outdoor track season this year- especially with the European Championships taking place in Barcelona- and that is why I will be taking this period of training in Australia, “ she said. “I will be meeting up with other Irish athletes like David Campbell and Orla Drumm out there and I also hope to meet up with Sonia O’Sullivan. “Sonia was very good to me after the Santry race. She gave me a lot of sound advice and I am looking forward to meeting up with her again.”
Fionnuala Britton was also happy with her fourth place performance and she is now looking forward to competing in the Woodie’s DIY National Inter- Clubs Cross Country Championships in the Phoenix Park in early March. “The snow and ice made training difficult for a few weeks, but I am gradually getting back to top racing fitness, “ Britton said.
Deirdre Byrne also felt that the Belfast race gave her renewed confidence after a disaster run in Santry in December. “I just went out too hard in Santry and paid the price,” she said. “I am satisfied with today’s performance and I will now concentrate in indoors.” Byrne will compete at 3,000m in the Woodie’s DIY National Indoor Championships in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast next month and she also hopes to race in the World Indoor Championships in Doha, Quatar in March.
Kenyan runner Mike Kiegen coasted to a comfortable victory in the men’s international race over 10 kilometres – finishing strongly in 27.49, ahead of England’s Andy Vernon, 28.40 and Juan Luis Barrios of Mexico, 28.51.
Stephen Scullion of North Belfast Harriers won the Celtic International race incorporated in the event – finishing in 7th position overall. Ireland’s Michael Mulhare finished third in this event- placing 10th overall and four places ahead of his brother who finished 14th, one place ahead of Michael Clohisey of Raheny Shamrock A.C.
One of the highlight events of the Celtic International races also on the programme was the boy’s under 17 event where Stephen Kerr of Armagh A.C reeled in race leader Sean Tobin of Clonmel A.C in the final four hundred metres to take victory. There was an impressive run too by Liam Brady of Tullamore Harriers who finished fourth in the boys under 20 race- his first international experience. John Travers of Donore Harriers finished 5th in the same event.
A dense fog hung over the Greenmount Campus cross country course for the early Celtic International events, but the fog had lifted by the time the men’s and women’s international races got underway.