Hanna closing in on Deon McNeilly’s long-held record

Hanna closing in on Deon McNeilly’s long-held record

11 September 2019

NEWCASTLE AC’s Zac Hanna won the Mill Hile Mile race for the fourth year in a row in Castlewellan last Tuesday night.

On a damp, yet relatively balmy evening, runners from far and near descended on the market town for the 30th year of the popular event.

This year, Newcastle and District AC conducted the race with assistance from Aughlisnafin GAC, all proceeds raised for the Air Ambulance Northern Ireland with donations of £923.50 collected in lieu of entry, final total will be announced next week.

Quoted by some runners as the ‘death mile’, the race takes runners from a start in the former mill village of Annsborough up the gruelling incline along the main road to the library building in the centre of Castlewellan. 

It was welcoming to see so many local runners participate with local running clubs Newcastle AC (26 runners) and Murlough AC (40 runners) making up the impressive field of 120. 

On the other hand, the furthest distance travelled for the race appears to have been the eighth-placed Bashir Hussain (6.36) who is from Stockport, England.

Pre-race running purists were left licking their lips at the prospect of Seamus Lynch putting his toe to the line and attempting to build on his recent win in the Rathfriland 10k. 

Pre-race, Lynch was spotted topless doing laps of the Castlewellan square in his white work van, however, he never made the move down the hill to the start line. 

Perhaps Mill Hill isn’t hilly enough for Lynch? On the other hand, there was no question on whether Hanna would toe the line as he aimed to break the five minute record set by Newcastle and District AC club chairman Deon McNeilly. 

Jogging in from his Slieve Croob homeland as a warm-up, Hanna made the start line in good time, much to the delight of many junior runners who see him as an inspiration and the hope one day they can replicate some of his achievements to date.

Four for Hanna

The legendary Newcastle AC trio of Joe McCann, PJ McCrickard and ‘The Prophet’ brought some order to the proceedings as they assembled the runners at the Annsborough start line. 

At exactly 7.01pm, in sync with the gas contractors turning their temporary Mill Hill traffic lights to red, ‘The Prophet’ blew his whistle from the rear of McCann’s silver Bentley and the race was on. 

As was expected, right from the off, Hanna took control and set about trying to break the five minute record. 

Hanna, as so often is the case, made it a whistle to tape win, recording an excellent time of 5.11. 

Although Hanna took a remarkable 14 seconds off his 2018 winning time, he came up just short of McNeilly’s record. 

Looking to 2020, Hanna could be likened to the Dublin football team as he will attempt to make his ‘drive for five’ and, more importantly, get a step closer to the holy grail of McNeilly’s five minute mark.

The only other runner to make it a sub six minute finish was Newry AC’s Mark Malone, who finished second overall in 5.55, with Ballydrain youngster Jared Martin putting in a tremendous effort to finish third overall in 6.00 dead (three seconds better than his 2018 effort). 

Including Hanna, Newcastle AC managed to take six of the top ten positions with James King, fourth in 6.22, Barry McConville, fifth in 6.24, Brian McVeigh, seventh in 6.28, Jack O’Hare, ninth in 6.40 and the youthful Tom Crudgington, 10th in 6.43. 

Much debate post-race surrounded the award of the coveted Newcastle AC MOTM performance, however, managing to take 20 seconds off his 2018 time, Crudgington got the vote as he continues to impress in his performances.

Category wins were also obtained by King, O’Hare and Crudgington. 

Local hotelier, Jack O’Hare, put his veteran 45 category coup down to the fact he managed a decent night’s sleep the night before having ensured Thistle, the family pet rabbit, was locked up well before darkness fell on his Donard Park Lodge. 

Many questions have been asked about Thistle the rabbit and what he looks like hence the inclusion of the friendly photograph with this report. 

Given the recent interest in O’Hare’s furry family pet a motion is due to be tabled at the next Newcastle AC committee meeting as to whether Thistle can actually become the clubs official mascot.

Glory for Mills

In the ladies’ category, 2016 winner Joanne Mills, from Newcastle AC, took another first place finish in an impressive time of 7.08.  Ruby McNiff, from Dromore AC, took second place and a female junior 16 category win in 7.41 with Ciara Savage, from Newcastle AC, taking the third ladies’ podium position and a female junior 14 category win in 7.57.

Joy for McVeighs

A total of 29 junior runners remarkably participated in this year’s race which bolds well for the future of local running. 

Given the veteran McVeigh’s recent disappointment in the Rathfriland 10k, where he was beaten by his younger brother, it was a surprise to see him decide to opt for babysitting duties rather than competitive running. 

That being said, the veteran did manage to work up a bit of a sweat as his kids Maisie (Murlough AC) and Harry (unaffiliated) showed him a clean pair of heels to finished 33rd overall (fourth female) in 8.20 and 36th overall in 8.27 respectively. 

Impressive running for two determined U-8 competitors. Please see the full race results to see how all junior runners faired. 

Thank you

Newcastle and District AC would like to thank all those who helped contribute to make the race a success. 

These include Aughlisnafin GAC, Air Ambulance Northern Ireland, the Coffee Dock (pre-race registration), Frank Morgan (timekeeping), Darragh McCrickard (laptop and all things IT) the finish line team, the Phoenix Gas Project contractors and the PSNI. Thanks also to local residents of the Annsborough and Castlewellan areas for being patient with the runners and showing their much welcome support.

Christmas is coming

With it being 16 odd weeks now to Christmas, attention now turns to the annual Christmas Cracker race. 

The debate of who will pair up with who will undoubtedly rumble on over the coming weeks as well as the interest over what course will be selected by the race directors for this year’s event. 

With the rumour mill in overdrive, ‘The Prophet’ refused to be drawn on what the course will be. However, he has been spotted advising coach Higgins with a rock hammer on the hollowed slopes of Slieve Croob. 

Registration for this year’s event will open in the coming weeks with competition, as always, expected to be fierce.