In what I like to call the ‘parallel universe’ of the Ulster Council of the NACA the 43rd War Memorial Junior Cross Country took place on Sunday 7th January at Lurgan with team honours going to Laragh ahead of Limavady and West Belfast – like their NI counterparts they too have drifted into history. The individual champion was Pat Callaghan of Bailieboro ahead of Armagh’s Johnny Toner and local man Pat McGibben. Laragh also took the Ulster Senior title with victory going to Sheffield based Francie McDermott ahead of Derry man George Williamson.
The main action of the early months however was the Cross Country and life did not end with the Northern Ireland Championships. Next on the fixture list was the All Ireland Championships and following that the elite went on to represent their country in the International Cross Country Championships, with one very important provisio!
With the International Cross Country looming Northern Ireland was once again embroiled in a “will we or won’t we” scenario. The ICCU at that time comprised just 12 countries having grown from what was the original ‘Home Countries’ plus France. The Congress consisted of representatives from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Eire, France, Holland, Belguim, Portugal, Tunisia, Morocco and Spain and it was the latter who were annoying the Northern Ireland AAA on this occasion.
In fact there was nothing on the local statute books which supported the ‘Never on Sunday’ dictate. However since no team was ever picked to compete and at home no events were organised the status quo prevailed. Opinions however were changing and when Tom Williamson of DUncairn Harriers put forward a motion to the NIAAA AGM:
“That any athlete belonging to NIAAA shall not participate in any competition inside or outside Northern Ireland on a Sunday”
International athletics came to Belfast with the Scotland ves Ireland match at what was then Celtic Park, now the Park Shopping Centre. Dave Davidson, the father of a future Ulster Rugby hero Jeremy Davidson, set an Irish National Record in the Shot Putt and Des Price set new NI All Comers figures in the 120 yards hurdles running 14.6 secs on grass. Hero of the Scots was again Ming Campbell winning both the Furlong and the Quarter Mile.