Irish medal hopes resting on Mageean's shoulders
Ciara Mageean will carry the sole medal hopes for the Irish at the European Indoor Championships, which get under way in Belgrade today.
The 24-year-old opens her campaign in the 1500m heats this afternoon, where she is expected to advance to tomorrow's final.
Only once in the last eight editions has the Irish team returned empty-handed from this event, and hopes are high that Mageean will again prove the saviour, just as she was at last year's European Championships in Amsterdam.
Back then Mageean claimed bronze over 1500m, but the UCD student has been well off that form this indoor season, her best time of 4:12.46 ranking her 15th in Europe.
However, a brisk 800m of 2:03.73 at the Leinster Indoor Championships in Abbotstown last week suggested she is rounding into shape at the right time.
Mageean has come to Belgrade off an interrupted preparation, having to contend with illness and the death of her grandmother.
There is a sense that a minor medal may be the height of her ambition, given the presence in the field of Britain's Laura Muir, who should prove peerless in this company.
Poland's Sofia Ennaoui, Germany's Konstanze Klosterhalfen and Sweden's Meraf Bahta are the chief rivals for the minor medals, and though all three have run much faster than the Irishwoman this year, Mageean is a superior athlete at her best.
Brian Gregan is the only other member of the 10-strong Irish team likely to make an impact.
The 27-year-old is ranked sixth in the 400m, but will need luck in running to make the final.
Gregan has endured a string of sub-par seasons, but showed glimpses of his brilliant best recently, blitzing the field to win the National Championships in 46.59 last month.
Ciara Neville, touted as the future of Irish sprinting, will make her senior debut in the 60m alongside Bandon's Phil Healy, whose main focus is the 400m.
Zak Curran is set to make his senior international debut, the Texas-based Dubliner running in the 800m heats this morning.
Today's Irish in action
Women's 400m heats (8.45am Irish time) Phil Healy, Sinéad Denny; semi-final* (4.45pm)
Men's 400m heats (9.20am) Brian Gregan; semi-final* (5.05pm)
Men's 800m heats (10.35am) Zak Curran
Men's 60m hurdles heats (12.20pm) Ben Reynolds; semi-final* (3.45pm); final* (7.10pm)
Women's 1500m heats (4.05pm) Ciara Mageean, Kerry O'Flaherty
Men's 3,000m heats (5.25pm) Tomás Cotter
Men's 1500m heats (6.15pm) John Travers