Sunderland Harriers’ men and women are gunning for cross country success

Sunderland Harriers Kevin Jeffress, Michael Thompson (reserve) and Paul Merrison on duty for England at the International Veterans Cross Country in Glasgow.
Sunderland Harriers Kevin Jeffress, Michael Thompson (reserve) and Paul Merrison on duty for England at the International Veterans Cross Country in Glasgow.

Sunderland Harriers will be bidding to win medals in both the men’s Sherman Cup and women’s Davison Shield Cross Country competition at South Shields on Saturday.

The competition based on the overall strength of North East clubs covers all UK Athletics age groups.

With three-to-count in the team race in each of the five age groups, it is a real test for clubs to turn out full teams at Temple Park.

This was emphasized just two years ago when the Wearsiders just failed to win the Sherman Cup when they found themselves one man short of a full team in a younger age group race.

Last year, the Wearsiders came away with the bronze medals in the Sherman Cup and they just missed out on medals in the women’s event for the Davison Shield, finishing fourth, one point off third place.

It can be a nail biting event as seen in 2015, when the city club were trailing going into the last race of the Sherman Cup, but they hauled back Durham to snatch the bronze medals.

Durham could only finish 25th team in the veterans’ race, while Sunderland finished second.

With clubs growing in membership throughout the region, competition is tougher now than in previous years with more clubs turning out full teams.

Again, Sunderland will be looking to their veterans and senior men, who finished fifth last year, to lead the way with good team performances.

Team manager Albert James will be relying on Steve McMahon, Andy Powell, Barry Maskell and Nathan Reed, in the senior race.

The veterans’ team is yet to be finalised, but it could look like Steve Potts, Paul Blakey, Paul Merrison and Michael Thompson.

With the Brampton to Carlisle 10-mile Road Race the next day, the senior men’s and women’s veteran events could be weakened.

Women’s team manager Eddie Maddison will be looking to Alice Smith to lead the senior team, while the veterans have a handy team with Rachael Moore, Vikki Cotton, Vicky Younger, Judith Thirlwell, Nicola Woodward and Colleen Compson, to call upon.

Maddison’s strongest squad will be with the Under-17/20 team with Eve Quinn, Jess Fox and Sarah Knight.

Houghton Harriers enjoyed their best ever performance by finishing in fifth place in the Sherman Cup last year and they can improve on this on Saturday.

They have talented youngsters such as Henry Johnson, the Under-13 North East Cross Country champion, who now competes as an Under-15 and Will Bellamy, second in the Heaton Harriers Memorial Under-15 3km race on Sunday.

The girls’ Under-15 team can call upon Nicola Phillips and Eva Hardie, while the Under-13s have Nicola Phillips and Amy Leonard to steer them to a good performance.

Former Sunderland Harrier Roger Wilson, who moved to the Midlands some years ago won the Over-75 race while competing for England in the British and Irish Cross Country International at Glasgow on Saturday.

Now living in Stratford-upon- Avon, he led England to team victory when winning the race by 35 seconds.

Sunderland Harrier Paul Merrison, representing England, was 11th Over-55 to finish and Kevin Jeffress finished 23rd Over-35. Sunderland Stroller Lyne Valentine, who won her first vest, was 9th Over-60.

Another former Sunderland Harrier Patrick Martin, now living in Manchester, will not be defending his North Eastern Counties Cross Country senior men’s title at Durham on Saturday, December 10.

He is concentrating his training towards his marathon debut in the Spring. The Stockport Harrier also won the 2009 championship at Darlington in the colours of Sunderland.

But brother Jack, also Stockport, will be turning out at Aykley Heads and he will be one of the favourites to lift the title.