AFTER a season where no Irish swimmers have made the automatic Olympic selection time, aspirants like Chantal Gibney and Andrew Bree will be relying on the goodwill of the Olympic Council of Ireland to get selected for the team when the OCI Executive meet tomorrow night.
Gibney has been in top form all year, breaking Michelle de Bruin's 100m freestyle long course record in March at the US Long Course Championships and again two weeks ago at the European Championships in Helsinki. She added this to the 50m short course record she broke last year, putting an end to the argument that Irish swimmers would never break de Bruin's records.
But, despite the fact that she is a sprinter, the performance that puts her number one on the Olympic probables list is her 200m free time from the European Championships (2 mins 2.8 secs) where she reached the semi-finals by chopping almost two seconds off her best.
Andrew Bree has also been in top form over the year, producing personal bests almost every time he races. Following a long training camp in Australia he produced an excellent win in the men's 200m breaststroke (2:18.44) at the Scottish Nationals in Glasgow two weeks ago.
Also in contention for a place will be Colin Lowth, who without many competitive races over the year managed to swim himself into the final shake-up. With other commitments during the year Lowth managed to produce a relatively decent 200m fly at the Europeans, which although nearly a second outside his personal best puts him rightfully in third place.
Another to disappoint at the Europeans was Julie Douglas, who along with top breaststroke twins Emma and Lousie Robinson will also be in contention for a place. While the Robinsons have been earning their place with top class swims over the past few months particularly at the world short course championships and Europeans, Douglas has not been able to regain the form she showed earlier in the year when she produced an impressive 50m swim (26.66s) long course.
Recent statements from the OCI have been encouraging in that they have indicated that B standard times would only be accepted in exceptional cases and if there is any sport that has exceptional circumstances then swimming must be one of them.
EQUESTRIAN: Kurten riding high
JESSICA KURTEN rounded off another excellent show for Irish riders when finishing sixth in the Grand Prix at Aachen yesterday.
Not even the downpours which had been affecting the premier German fixture all week could dampen the enthusiasm of the massive crowd of spectators who witnessed a tough battle in which the home side's Otto Becker took pole position in the third-round jump-off.
Kurten and Paavo N had been song all week, producing the only first-round clear for Ireland in Friday's Nations Cup before finding themselves redundant when the remainder of the squad - Harry Marshall, Kevin Babington and Edward Doyle - were foot-perfect second time out to finish third.
Kurten had been the centre of media attention on Thursday following a spectacular fall into the water jump from her young horse, Bonita, but the tumble did not put the Germany-based Irish rider out of her stride.
Paavo never touched a pole again yesterday, but one-quarter of a time fault left the Irish partnership out of the jump-off while the only other Irish runners, Harry Marshall and Cruiseline, lowered two in the first round.
Cruiseline baulked once again at the unfamiliar ditches which had caused her some concern in the opening round of Friday's Nations Cup, but Marshall was consistently in the ribbons during the week with Irlander, a seven-year-old by Coevers Diamond which the Antrim jockey only purchased from John Flynn in Limerick four months ago.
Irlander finished fifth in Saturday's Sparkasse Hunting class in which competitors jumped ditches, banks and galloped through a lake and Kurten was ninth with For Joy here and in a similar class yesterday.
At home, meanwhile, the Grand Prix action took place in Crecora in Limerick on Saturday where Tom Slattery stretched his lead in the Isuzu Trooper League. He topped the line-up with Coille Mor Hill ahead of Linda Courtney and Kilsaran Niamh, while Clement McMahon and Horsepower Master of Moments slotted into third.
MEN'S HOCKEY: Irish heartbreak
A STORMING second half performance did not save the Irish U-21's from defeat in their opening match of the European Championships in Madrid yesterday.
England took the early initiative with Ireland 'keeper Charlie Henderson beaten twice before the break, including once from the penalty spot.
But the lads in green came back strongly into contention when Alan Giles of Pembroke Wanderers scrambled home a goal three minutes into the second period.
They continued to dominate thereafter with Mark Black and Colm Brady controlling the midfield exchanges.
Unfortunately, some sloppy shooting and a fine display by English 'keeper James Fair combined to deprive them of the draw their performance merited.
The crestfallen Irish take on the might of The Netherlands today in their second outing of an eight team event in which the top five qualify for next year's World Cup in Australia.
CAMOGIE: Tough for Wexford
THE All-Ireland Minor final set for August 5 will see a repeat of the '95 final between Galway and Wexford following their respective semi-final wins over Derry and Tipperary, writes Máire Uí Scolaí.
The Slaneysiders were made to fight all the way in their epic semi-final, scraping through by one point, 2-7 to 0-12.
Marie Mythen scored Wexford's first goal, and they went in at half-time leading by 1-5 to 0-5. The second goal from Josie Dwyer in the 10th minute of the second half sealed the win for the Slaneysiders, but in a heart-stopping finish Tipp's player of the match Clare Grogan was most unfortunate to miss a chance to equalise.
Galway had things all their own way in the second semi-final, defeating a lack-lustre Derry side 6-10 to 1-0. Galway's star Cathy Bowes ended the day with four goals, two in each half.
Leading 3-2 to 1-0 at the break, Galway took complete control to reach their eighth consecutive All-Ireland Minor Final, winning their last title in 1997.
CYCLING: McNena magnificent
ITALIAN-based Galwayman Michael McNena scored a resounding victory in yesterday's 70-mile Mayo Grand Prix, in Claremorris, writes Tommy Campbell.
On the first of three laps of a three mile circuit which took the race by Hollymount, the field remained intact. When the event re-entered the confines of Claremorris town for five laps of a five mile circuit the action started in earnest.
This was due in no small part to the climb the cyclists had to negotiate on each lap. Paul Healion and Stephen O'Sullivan were very much in the thick of the action on the town circuit but tactically McNena mastered the conditions and surged ahead on the last lap to take the win.