Athletics: Britton and Byrne lead Irish bid for Euro glory
LINDA BYRNE'S victory in the Jingle Bells 5km indicated that the Olympic marathoner is back on track in time for Sunday's European Cross-Country Championships, in which Fionnuala Britton will defend her senior title.
Byrne had missed several of the build-up races, including the inter-counties, due to illness, so her victory, in 15:51 last Sunday, was a perfect boost.
Like the rest of the 30-strong Irish team who fly out to Budapest today, she will be packing her thermals as sub-zero temperatures and snow are forecast for the Hungarian capital, where the setting is a 60-hectare 'outdoor' museum that showcases traditional local architecture and crafts and will see the athletes running past barns, churches and pig-sties.
Ferrybank's Shane Quinn, a student at Providence College, has withdrawn from the U-23 squad due to illness. Otherwise, the teams are as selected and include a trio of US-based athletes in David Rooney, Breandan O'Neill and Sarah Collins.
Collins, Irish-born, but living in Switzerland and now a freshman at Providence, is a member of the junior women's team that Irish manager Teresa McDaid feels might surprise many.
Collins, who finished 10th at the recent US Collegiate Championships, is joined on the team by DSD's brilliant Siofra Cleirigh-Buttner, a former 1500m silver medallist at the European Youth Olympics.
When Cleirigh-Buttner made her debut in the U-20 race last year, she was still only 16, yet still finished inside the top 50 and she still has two more years to come in this age-group.
Her DSD team-mate Clare McCarthy, Mullingar's Linda Conroy, Portlaoise's Mary Mulhare and Tinryland's Mary Ann O'Sullivan complete the squad.
If they succeed in getting their first four across the line in close succession, McDaid feels they will substantially improve on Ireland's recent record in the junior women's event.
The senior men's team will be without David McCarthy due to injury, but three more of the team that won U-23 gold in Portugal two years ago – Rooney (seventh at the recent NCAAs), O'Neill and Portlaoise's Mick Mulhare – will be looking to stay as close as possible to Joe Sweeney and see what they can produce collectively.
Given that so many of them are making the transition from U-23, McDaid feels the senior men's team may need another year to peak, while she reckons the senior women – who also include Ava Hutchinson, Sara Louise Treacy, Lizzie Lee and Sarah McCormack – have an outside chance of a medal.
"The Portuguese and French are extremely strong, but the top two women in the British trials were both U-23s, so Britain's seniors look weaker than usual," she noted. "If all our senior girls run to form, they won't be that far away from a medal."
At home, Adamstown AC of Wexford host the national novice and juvenile (uneven ages) cross-country championships on Sunday.