Winkler’s win sets up an enthralling showdown

CROSS-COUNTRY athletics action returned to The Pastures in the grounds of Alnwick Castle for the first time in several years on Saturday, with the penultimate and fifth Start Fitness North Eastern Harrier League meeting, writes George Patterson.

The event proved to be a success on the organisational front for the local club Alnwick Harriers, who were heaped with praise for their skills in selecting a scenic, yet tough course for all, provoking acclaim despite its testing terrain.

It also saw Morpeth Harriers achieve a great deal of success on the day, by providing the event with five of the fastest times achieved in the nine-event programme, three individual winners, one team victory for their U15 Boys, which more or less cemented their position as League Champions in the Grand Prix standings for the season, and an excellent Senior Men’s performance, in which they finished third on the day from Division One.

The Senior Men finished comfortably ahead of Gateshead Harriers, which now sees them back at the top of the division, albeit with a slender one-point lead, as they face a final showdown at an equally tough and demanding Prudhoe course in three weeks’ time.

The best all-round performance on the day for Morpeth Harriers undoubtedly belonged to their U15 Boys’ squad, who were led home in style by their North East champion Philip Winkler. He managed to escape the close attentions of his second-placed clubmate Elliot Kelly, also running from the Fast Pack, to put a 13-second cushion between himself and Kelly, as he clocked the day’s fastest time.

It was very nearly a one, two, three for Morpeth, with Ryan Green, having made a wonderful recovery from the hamstring injury that he suffered in the English National Cross Country Championships in London the previous week, just being outpaced by Chester-le-Street’s Tom Goulding, and having to settle for fourth. However, Green’s placing along with Winkler and Kelly’s gave Morpeth Harriers an emphatic team victory ahead of the host club Alnwick and third-placed Tynedale.

Although not one of the scoring three, Jarod Lewis once again had an excellent run when he finished 10th from the Fast Pack.

This result definitely presents an interesting scenario in the Grand Prix standings for Winkler and Kelly as they go into the final meeting at Prudhoe, with Kelly the current leader overall, and the only one who could pip him for the title is Winkler, should he beat him in the final showdown.

Lewis Timmins certainly bounced back from his disappointments in London, when he clocked the fastest time of the day by a fair margin when finishing fourth overall in the Senior Men’s event. He also led the Morpeth Harriers squad home to third team place, with equally-excellent assistance coming from clubmate Peter Newton, who clocked the second fastest time, also from the Fast Pack.

That third-team placing, also saw them second from Division One, which puts them marginally ahead of Gateshead going into the final meeting at Prudhoe.

The Morpeth Harriers’ dominance was clearly underlined as their six counters were all inside the first 55 of a 342-strong field of finishers. Third home for Morpeth was Thomas Straughan, who did well in his promotion to the Medium Pack, when finishing in an excellent 26th place.

Next home was Stephen Bradley from the Slow Pack, from which he will live to fight another day, as he finished in 31st place.

The scoring six were completed by Mick Thomsen (50th, Medium Pack), and Gordon Dixon (52nd, Slow Pack), who definitely performed well as a firmly-established endurance competitor. Just outside the scoring six was John Woods, who ran well as a newcomer to the Medium Pack, when finishing 55th.

Morpeth Harrier Jane Hodgson firmly kept her grip at the top of the Senior Women’s Grand Prix standings, when finishing third from the Fast Pack, and as easily the fastest performer, when finishing a good 30 seconds clear of her closest rival, the visiting and non-scoring Jacqueline Fairchild of Trafford AC.

Maxine Czarneka was Morpeth’s only other finisher on the day, when placing 20th overall and as fourth fastest from the Fast Pack.

The U17 Men’s event eventually became a stroll in the park for Morpeth’s Jonnie Nisbet, as he sat in on the first of the two laps, and eventually stole away to win by a very comfortable 28 seconds over his closest rival Isaac Dunn of Blackhill.

In the absence of his fiercest rival Markhim Lonsdale of Gateshead Harriers, Jacob Hopkins celebrated a superb victory in the U13 Boys’ event, by a margin of six seconds over his closest rival. His run from the Fast Pack was a good 14 seconds faster than his closest rival in terms of handicapped time.

Morpeth Harriers finished as third team in this event, with further support coming from Kieran Hedley (Ninth) (Fast Pack), and Philip Kirby (27th) (Fast Pack).

In an event mainly dominated by Fast Pack runners, Morpeth’s Alison Brown fought well to finish fifth in the U15 Girls event.

Charlotte Jewell, also running from the Fast Pack, came through to finish in 17th place.

Morpeth Harriers U13 Girls’ squad finished in fourth team place, being led home by Olivia Priest, who finished sixth from the Slow Pack.The scoring count was completed by Teegan Dryden (10th, Fast Pack) and Lois Scott (30th, Slow Pack). Lois was followed home in 31st place by Georgia Priest, from the Fast Pack.

In the non-scoring U11s’ event, Morpeth’s Matthew Ingledew competed well in his first event to finish ninth.

His clubmates Adam Kirby and Harriet Priest finished 14th and 25th respectively, with Harriet being the ninth female home.

l MORPETH Harrier Alex Nesbitt again produced new figures of 7.7s, when he finished second in the U15 Boys’ 60m, behind Gateshead Harrier Reuben Cole, at the Jarrow Indoor Athletics meeting, held on Thursday, March 1.

l FOLLOWING competitor withdrawals, Morpeth Harriers Peter Newton (Senior Men), and Alison Brown (U15 Girls), have both earned late call-ups to the North East squad for the Inter Counties Cross Country, due to be held in Birmingham’s Cofton Park this weekend.