So into JJ’s car (with daughter Ciara crashed out in the back somewhere) at just past 6am with the only other vehicles in sight being local cabs with their ‘for hire’ signs forlornly shining. And after an incident-free and fast run up through former bandit country we are the very first arrivals at the Meadowbank Stadium in Magherafelt, County Londonderry.
Once the staff arrive and open up we have our first look inside. And what a fantastic place they have there. Newly built it is just huge inside, big enough to house a full-sized soccer pitch. Generally it will accommodate all manner of sports but today it is the last day, the relays day, of the All-Ireland Indoor Track & Field Championships.
A 5-lane, 300 metre flat track surrounds a huge infield where high jump beds, shot circles etc are lost in the vastness. There are spectator facilities on three levels and full catering facilities, though they are stretched today. As one would expect the changing and shower facilities are excellent.
What is more, there is a full-sized outdoor tartan track as well which doubles today as a warm-up facility. The only thing lacking outside at present is spectator facilities, for which there is room if the money and desire is.
How on earth could the Republic not have had the imagination to provide one of these, or anything like it? Truly we reap what we sow.
But we are so early that I avail myself of the changing facilities and trot off around the local lanes for 70 minutes – 7 miles I suppose though I am Garmin-less. A few miles over to the east I catch a glimpse of the great expanse of water that is Lough Neagh. As everyone knows, this was formed when Finn McCool lost his cool and hurled a huge clod of land at a Scottish giant. It landed in the Irish Sea where it became the Isle of Man.
Back at the stadium the Crusaders U13 girls have checked in – their heats are first up. But almost disaster time! By not realising the call room procedure we are almost eliminated before getting onto the track! I don’t know how I’d have faced Moira (who has not travelled). But our familiar and kindly official from Dublin who’s in charge of the call room allows our girls to scamper over to join the other teams.
The girls (Ciara, Rachel, Grainne, Orla) run and hand off nicely but to no avail – we finish 4th in a fast heat clocking 58.18 and, although there were one or two DQs flying around it is the end of the road, but not before having finished 7th fastest in Ireland.
Some time later it is the turn of the slightly younger U12 girls Niamh, Olibhia, Isabel and Emily – not forgetting faithful reserve Juliet. Once again we are unlucky to catch a fast heat and despite a creditable 61.14 we are 9th fastest.
But the girls are pleased with themselves and we are proud of them. In years to come when Crusaders are a real force in athletics once again it is this year’s young athletes that will have shown the way.