Finnerty leads Ireland to team victory over Kenya

 

IRELAND scored a rare victory over Kenya at the World Cross Challenge on a demanding course at Mallusk on Saturday in a race where Mullingar man Cormac Finnerty saw his stock on the world rankings soar with a fine third place behind the inevitable Kenyan winner James Kariuki.

While Finnerty was always to the fore in what was only his second race of the season he was ably supported by his clubmate David Burke, who finished filth, and with Noel Cullen working his way through to tenth place Ireland's tally of 18 points was one better than the much vaunted Kenyans.

However, although the Kenyans were forced to take second place in the team battle there was never any doubt about the winner as Kariuki took control shortly alter the halfway point. His victory margin at the finish was only two seconds as the chasing pack closed furiously with Finnerty outmanoeuvred in the final surge by Chris Sweeney of England.

On a thoroughly miserable and bitterly cold day with a biting wind buffeting the athletes former World champion John Ngugi made light of the conditions as he led the field through the opening lap. For a time it looked as if Ngugi would revive memories of past glories but he flattered only to deceive as he drifted back to eventually finish 13th and not even score for his team.

Finnerty and Burke were always in the leading pack of 15 for the opening half of the race with Kariuki always ominously loping along as his brother Ngugi led the field. When Ngugi faded Kariuki took over and Finnerty maintained his place in the top three.

When Kariuki assumed control the pace increased and this had its inevitable effect on the chasing group. With a little over a mile to go the Kenyan had opened up a ten metres gap with Burke taking over the responsibility of leading the chase. While Kariki gave his pursuers some hope as he continually glanced over his shoulder he was never really in danger of being caught.

A Kenyan, Rose Cheruiyot, was also involved in the destination of the honours in the women's race but she was forced to give way to England's Paula Radcliffe alter an equally absorbing battle. This pair made their intentions known early on and alter a little over half a mile they were away on their own.

Cheruiyot made several efforts to dispose of Radcliffe's challenge but she was never able to gain any distance and when Radcliffe applied some pressure just before the final hill the Kenyan had no response. The English woman went on to win by four seconds and Teresa Duffy was best of the Irish in ninth place with Ann Keenan-Buckley 12th.