Ardee 2 Armagh

By Shaun Casey

CULLYHANNA clubmen Francie McMullen and Kevin Toner will be in a race against time on Saturday as they take part in the charity run ‘Ardee 2 Armagh’ and hope to make it to the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds before throw-in time of Armagh’s clash with neighbours Louth.

The objective is to leave Ardee, run the entire 75.9km to Armagh, visiting numerous different clubs along the way, and enter Armagh’s home ground in time to see the ball being thrown in for the opening round of the National League.

McMullen, originally from the Keady club, is the Operations Manager for Louth GAA but lives in Cullyhanna, and with the two counties now competing in the same division, the idea of the charity run became a realistic ambition.

“I was training for the Dublin Marathon which took place in October past,” explained McMullen. “When Louth maintained their Division Two status and Armagh were relegated, it just popped into my head that I’d do a charity run from Ardee to Armagh.

“I hadn’t considered how long it was or how far it was or how long it might potentially take. I told enough people at that point that the Dublin Marathon was more or less a warm-up for the next one.

“So, I suppose when the accountability side of it kicked in, whenever the Dublin Marathon was finished, I give myself three weeks off to start training towards this. I think it was originally just around 70k, it’s now just under 76k.”

Toner joined forces with McMullen when the latter noticed a Cullyhanna jersey fly past him during the Dublin Marathon. When McMullen floated the idea of what he wanted to do, the pair shook hands and agreed to do it together.

They won’t be on their own, of course. The two runners are expecting to pick up a few others from the various clubs they visit to join in along the way.

“At the minute we’ve kind of made contact with every club along the way and they’re going to have runners coming with us,” added McMullen.

“We’re hoping that will kind of help motivate us to keep going with fresh voices coming in every five or six kilometres.”

The training side of things is fairly hectic but after he quit playing hurling and football, McMullen took up running so heading out in wind, hail or shine and pounding the roads is nothing new.

“Training can be quite lonely at times,” admitted the Cullyhanna clubman. “I use the ‘Runna’ app which schedules out your runs and I’m the type of person that needs the accountability.

“When it tells me that I have to run, I just get up and run within that day or whatever it is, so I was running three times a week up until in and around Christmas. I was meant to be up around 50 or 60 kilometres, I wasn’t there but I wasn’t far off.

“It’s probably the time element of it too that’s difficult. Getting up and running five or six hours during Christmas when you have the family is probably not ideal, but I kept to the actual schedule as best I could.

“After the Dublin Marathon, which I’d been training for for 16 weeks, I took three weeks off and then just started this new running plan and it makes me quite accountable but at the same time, there’s lot of hours spent by yourself.”

McMullen and Toner have chosen two worthy charities to donate their proceeds to.

They are fundraising for the Children’s Cancer Unit in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast and Childhood Cancer Ireland, two charities close to McMullen’s heart.

“Everybody has been affected by cancer in some shape or form, whether you know someone or a family member. With my own experience of going under treatment ten years ago in Craigavon, I always said I would give something back.

“Once I got back playing, first of all, I did get back playing football with Cullyhanna for a bit and I got back playing a wee bit of hurling with Keady Lamh Dhearg as well.

“Once that all came to its natural conclusion, or I was no longer wanted,” laughed McMullen, “I started to take up a wee bit of running so that’s how we’ve come across where we are.

“The reason for doing two charities is that during that initial period of my own illness, the people of Louth were good to me.

“I just thought it made sense to accumulate the run with splitting the charities North and South/

“Hopefully the services that these two charities provide get something out of it, no matter how little or how big it is.”

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