FIONNUALA BRITTON has a massive future as a marathon runner – but not just yet, her coach believes.
Ireland's new two-in-a- row European cross-country champion received rave reviews from British marathon legend Paula Radcliffe for her heroic title defence in Budapest and it looks likely that athletics' most testing distance will be Britton's event when the 2016 Rio Olympics come around.
But her coach, Chris Jones, says she still has a lot of unfinished business on the track in the next two years and will also be looking to make her mark in the World Cross-Country Championships next March – an event in which she has two previous top-20 finishes.
It emerged yesterday that the frozen underfoot conditions in Budapest forced Britton's camp to radically alter her game plan at the last minute – a decision which Jones described as "the biggest in my 20 years in coaching".
"It was a huge decision," he said. "I'd come out really impressed by her training and felt she could cover any break, that Fionnuala (below) could go at the half-way mark, take it out in one significant attack.
"But on Saturday afternoon I walked the course twice and it was so clear to me that it was much more difficult than we thought.
"She's got fantastic endurance, she's in the best shape of her life so I thought why aren't we going to unleash it early on?" he said of their decision for Britton to run from the front from the early stages and keep her foot glued to the pedal to try to burn off most of her opponents with her relentless pace.
"We sat down and talked, it was a big decision that could have backfired," Jones admitted. "But I spoke to (former cross-country manager) Anne Keenan-Buckley as well and she totally believed and Fionnuala said yes straight away."
Their decision quickly changed from making one clean, forceful attack at half-way to ramping it up early on and constantly pushing the pace.
Jones, who is employed full-time as Irish triathlon's high performance manager, only started working with Britton two years ago but his move to live full-time in Ireland recently indicates his commitment to her burgeoning career.
Her next race will be in Brussels in a fortnight and then she will lead the European team in the Great Edinburgh international cross-country on January 6, a race that she won last year and one that could yet see DSD's Linda Byrne also selected to run for Europe after her eighth place last weekend.
And with the World Cross-Country Championships returning to the international calendar after a year's absence, Britton will definitely be competing when they are staged in Bydgoszcz, Poland next March.
In 2007, she finished 14th in that event in the stifling heat of Mombasa, Kenya and Jones says they want to do even better in Poland: "It's only on every two years now so a top-10 finish, the fastest white athlete, whatever, she's got to keep improving.
"The long-term future will be the marathon, no doubt about that, but the confidence will come too that she can do it on the track, and I think there is still more to come from her on the track."
Despite running personal bests for 3,000m, 5,000m and 10,000m this year, including the fourth fastest 10,000m time by an Irishwoman, Britton, hampered by illness, failed to medal at the European track championships and still has a lot to learn on the tartan.
But, with the World Championships in Moscow next summer and the Europeans in Zurich in 2014, Britton will get a lot more championship running on the track in the next two years before making her expected move to marathon running and Jones is confident that she can lower her 5,000m PB (15:12) to sub-15 minutes.