England snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the 2009 Senior Home International in County Fermanagh last weekend.  The English team, albeit missing many of its Great Britain team M and W21s, was well capable of winning.  By tiny, cumulative and ultimately crucial margins, though, the opposition was either just too good on the day or benefited from English minor but critical errors.  In the individual England won one of the four classes and in the relays, the English one, two whitewash in the women’s relays was matched by the opposite result in the men’s, allowing Scotland to win overall.  Details at: http://www.niorienteering.org.uk/NIOA/?Results

Both races were on the Marlbank, south west of Enniskillen: the individual at The Burren, straddling the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (County Cavan), and the relays at Crossmurrin, a few miles east. The challenging karst terrain was a mixture of rough open heather bog, (not much) relatively fast short cropped grassland and mixed woodlands of hazel and thorn scrub (Crossmurrin) and conifer plantation (Burren) with lots of pits, depressions and huge sink holes, limestone pavement, crags and erratic boulders: tricky and intricate.

On Saturday, in the individual races, with Rachael Elder and Pippa Whitehouse spearheading the ladies’ attack, a win in the W21 class was reasonably assured and Victoria Stevens, running up, joined them on the podium.  Becky Carlyle, with a fine run into fifth, completed the four to count.  The two Jo’s, Buckley and Halliday, both beat their Scots counterparts to make sure England had the advantage in any tiebreak.  The under 21s classes were predicted to be tight, though on 2009 form England seemed to have the edge.  However in M20 Peter Hodkinson, running up, and Ralph Street gave way to strong runs from Ali Macleod and Hector Haines, both running for Scotland.  David Abrams completed the English team.  In the W20s, the English counters: Anne Edwards and Alice Butt were each pushed back a place by the Scots girls who ran above themselves. Rebecca Harding, running up, completed the English team. The Scots men, at almost full strength, predictably ran away with a win in the M21s, with Duncan Archer (England) ensuring they didn’t have it all their own way.  Ben Stevens, Chris Smithard and Mark Bown packed in to complete the scoring four, with Dave Schorah a couple of minutes back.  The upshot of these results was a seemingly unassailable 6 point lead for Scotland ahead of England, with Wales leading the Irish by a couple of points.

You never know with relays, though.  On Sunday the compact assembly afforded superb spectating – teams could be seen for the early controls, in the distance and at the ‘warning’ control with 5 minutes to run.  England stacked its top three men into a team to challenge the Scots’ hegemony.  Scotland’s men’s teams started strongly but for England Ralph Street stayed in touch and Peter Hodkinson blew the second leg Scots runners away with a storming leg to set Duncan Archer out with a minute’s lead over the weaker Scots team, with Scott Fraser (Scotland) waiting forlornly at the changeover, too far adrift to have much hope.  Duncan protected his lead to finish first ahead of both Scots teams.  But the England second leg runner had run right past a control, failing to punch, which gifted the race to the team anchored by Mark Nixon (running for Scotland).  The second and third England teams (Schorah, substitute, Abrams; and Stevens, Smithard, Bown) finished fifth and sixth, behind the leading Irish team.

Though the Scots put their strong W21 runners out first to try to stay competitive, England asked its W20s to lay the foundation and Anne Edwards, Rebecca Harding and Alice Butt all stayed in contact and gave the second legs a target.  Becky Carlyle and Victoria Stevens ran excellent second legs to establish their teams in first and second place.  England had held their World Championship runners until the last leg: Rachael Elder and Pippa Whitehouse consolidated to give England a one, two to Scotland’s 3rd and 4th.  Jo Halliday and Jo Buckley made sure they beat the Scots third team.

Post-hoc analysis shows that if just one (of two) W20s had overturned the Scot ahead of them on Day 1 and the lead men’s relay team had finished without mishap, England would have snatched the SHI “Silva” Trophy: it was that tight.  Two too many “ifs” though, and in the event Scotland, with some above form runs and no procedural errors, won.

In the battle of the Celtish nations, Wales gained the advantage over Ireland in the individuals with a fine win by Anwen Darlington earning Wales a 2nd in the W20 class and M18 Kris Jones running up in M21 ensuring they achieved 3rd in M21.  However in the men’s relays the Irish ran well and the Welsh were undone by a mispunch and in the women’s the single Irish team ran well, Niamh O’Boyle their leading runner, beating both Welsh teams.  This ensured that Ireland finished ahead overall.

The races were admirably hosted by Fermanagh Orienteers, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Orienteering Association.  Besides all the helpers on each day, thanks are specially due to Raymond ‘Fin’ Finlay who coordinated the whole weekend and planned the individual; to Murray Cowan and Harold White who planned and organised the relay respectively, and to Colin Henderson who ensured the event base at the SHARE Holiday Village near Lisnaskea  www.sharevillage.org ran smoothly.

In 2010 the Senior Home International is to be held in the New Forest, Hampshire on 6-7 November.