ARE we about to witness a breakthrough in Irish women's 800m running with the emergence of half-milers capable of breaking the magic two-minute barrier?
Only two have ever managed that feat – Sonia O'Sullivan and Caroline O'Shea.
The challenge proved beyond even an athlete of Aisling Molloy's quality (2:01.14), but the sight of 22-year-old Ciara Everard (UCD) breaking Molloy's long-standing Irish indoor record (2:02.85) with her time of 2:02.54 in Athlone IT last Sunday certainly stirred the blood.
The rising Kilkenny City Harrier (right) is back at the same venue for this weekend's hugely anticipated Woodies DIY Indoor Championships.
Raheny's Siobhan Eviston, who clocked a sub-2:04 time last year and has already recorded a run of 2:04.35 this season, has openly declared that achieving the 'sub-two' has become her life's ambition.
And Claire Tarplee – a former member of Kelly Holmes' 'On Camp with Kelly' training group in England, who declared for Ireland over a year ago – ran 2:03.66 to win last week's UK trials.
DSD prodigy Siofra Cleirigh-Buttner, US-based Roisin McGettigan and An Riocht's Laura Crowe have all broken 2:06 this year, but, so far, only Everard has achieved the qualifying mark (2:03.50) for the upcoming European Indoor Championships.
Aoife Byrne ran 2:01.89 back in 2001 and Ireland's current stable of 800m talent also includes Newbridge's Roseanne Galligan (2:01.76 in 2010) and Ciara Mageean, who ran 2:03.77 in 2009, giving some indication of the domestic potential.
Everard, a final-year physiotherapy student in UCD, is now coached by James Nolan and overcame a serious setback in the past year after a bicycle accident.
She's a former Irish schools 400m champion and Nolan has been impressed. "She was a speed demon when I first worked with her. Things really started to come together at the start of last year," he said. "She ran just twice indoors, broke Sonia's old U-23 record with her first race and won nationals with her second.
"We were all set for a big assault on outdoors, but in April she fell off her bike. Apart from breaking her arm it caused problems with her neck, she even had a touch of vertigo.
"Fair play to Ciara, she saw all the right people, did everything she was told and left no stone unturned. We didn't rush her return, it was very gradual and I'm just delighted for her.
"It's great to see a group of 800m women coming through, they will definitely push each other," Nolan added. "Personally, I think two of them could go 'sub-two', but only time will tell."
Former world silver medallist Olive Loughnane, who called time on her career earlier in the week, will be missed at the Nationals, but the new venue – the AIT International Arena in Athlone – has created a special buzz and attracted stellar fields.
The marquee names include Derval O'Rourke (who lowered her season best to 8:08 midweek), Brian Gregan (200m), Fionnuala Britton (1500m) and Olympic walkers Rob Heffernan and Laura Reynolds and while the sprints tend to steal the indoor limelight, the 1500m/3000m races (which include Everard's brother Eoin) usually produce thrillers.
Sunday's women's 800m final (3.45) also promises to be among the highlights. And, with world junior finalist Mark English making his seasonal debut in a men's 800m that also includes Darren McBrearty and defending champion Brian Kelly, the last race of the weekend (Sunday, 5.10) should also be a cracker.