Annadale Striders have made an encouraging start to their winter campaign winning both the Larne and Lisburn Relays. Despite the shortening of the Lisburn Relays from 6 legs to 4, a move which actually disadvantaged the club given its current strength in depth, the Striders A Team ran out convincing winners over a full strength Willowfield team. Perhaps the most encouraging thing for Striders Team Management will have been the excellent third place at Lisburn by the B team indicating that the 6 to score races later in the season will not be a problem. Best wishes from all at Striders to Stevie Cairns as he goes into hospital next week for a knee operation - we all look forward to see Stevie return bigger and better at the NI senior Cross Country.
A huge boost for Striders and for the female population of Larne was the return to competitive action of Striders pin-up boy Eddie McGinley. Forced immediately into first team action due to the absence of Andrew Campbell (who was watching Liverpool and Arsenal in the Family Enclosure at Anfield), a clearly race rusty Eddie did what he had to against an inspired Dean Fisher on Leg 3. Eddie had been left in front by Striders two men of the moment, Johnny McKee and John "Big Devine" Devlin who braved the Arctic conditions on Leg 1 to destroy a useful line up. Indeed all athletes who ran the first leg were well deserving of the swig of brandy from Big Chris's hip flask at the 1 mile mark. Both athletes look ready to make the step up in class to become major players this season. A surprisingly lacklustre performance from Striders anchorman Dermot Donnelly meant that the winning margin only reached 57 seconds by the finish. Dermot later complained that he had encountered severe wind resistence on the outward trip around both sides of his head. Chris Diamond, and Martin Southwood also had good runs for the B Team which eventually finished in 4th place. Making their Striders debuts on the B Team were Andy McKee (Johnny's better looking younger brother) and Michel Le Velly.
With the format having been changed from 6 legs to 4 legs by the organisers it was hugely encouraging to see 4 Striders Teams on the Start Line. It was also hugely encouraging to see Striders captain Ciaran Kavanagh at a race as his planned "homer" that day had fallen through. In fact Ciaran brought along his entire family who swelled the numbers of spectators significantly.
The first leg turned out to be a Striders show of strength with Noel Pollock, controversially selected on the B Team in my opinion, leading home John "Yes I really am a Doctor" Rogers of the A Team. Noel's time of 9.33 builds on an impressive summer campaign and he too looks to have successfully made the step up to the next level. Rogers with 9.42 was a comfortable (or should that be uncomfortable) second with Andy McKee and Ricky Girvan having useful run outs for the C and D Teams.
Without any disrespect to Dermot Donnelly, the key to this race lay in Legs 2 and 3 with Johnny McKee and John Devlin taking on Willowfield's top two of Gary McLearnon and Paul Rowan. The Striders pairing showed the form they have been showing in training to both take time from their established Willowfield rivals and with the added disadvantage of being in front.
Dermot Donnelly despite suffering from a heavy cold again showed his unquestionable club loyalty by turning out and clearly relished the opportunity to answer some silly critics who were suggesting that he might struggle against Deane Fisher. Dermot's 9.29 was the days fastest and what will please Striders team management is the fact that 5 of the 6 fastest legs came from Striders athletes with only Bryan Conway breaking into the Striders stranglehold.
Striders also welcomed the ever popular Mark McDowell back into racing action and work and home life commitments aside, we all hope Mark can build on his run to show what we all know he is capable of this winter.
North Down 4 Miles
Andrew Campbell produced another useful performance to take second behind Willowfield's Gary McLearnon. Despite suffering withdrawal symptoms from not being at Anfield for 2 whole weeks, Andrew once again showed that on the roads he is still a force and an important part of Striders armoury. Chris Diamond continued his prolific racing schedule with a solid 7th place before retiring to the Students Union for a well earned pint or two.