Euro stars to light up Nationals
TWO of its defending champions and favourite supporters -- Derval O'Rourke and Paul Hession -- may be missing with niggling injuries , but this weekend's Woodies DIY Irish Indoor Championships in Belfast still features plenty of big names.
The two-day event promises to be particularly competitive, which would be a fitting send-off to the Odyssey, as there's talk of the 'nationals' moving to Athlone IT next year -- if their indoor- track project is completed in time.
All of the Irish who have already qualified for next month's European Indoors in Paris will be in action.
They include versatile Waterford long jumper Kelly Proper, who made the European indoor final two years ago. Her new Irish (outdoor) record of 6.60m last summer has already qualified her for Paris and she has already jumped 6.44m this season and won the British trials with 6.35m last week.
Proper is also the only Irishwoman to break 24 seconds this year and her Ferrybank clubmate Niamh Whelan is likely to be the closest challenger in her 200m title defence.
The women's 60m, which pits reigning champion Claire Brady (Celbridge) against 100m star Ailis Sweeney, should also be a great tussle between two Paris-bound speedsters.
Today's action kicks off at 4.15 with a chance to see Cork's race-walking superstar Robert Heffernan and a future one in Waterford's Kate Veale, who was fourth at the Youth Olympics.
Apart from Joanne Cuddihy, all of the country's other top 400m women are in the mix, led by Michelle Carey and her season-fastest 54.15.
And with David Gillick training in America, Clonliffe's Brian Gregan, who has already clocked 46.82 this season, is the men's 400m favourite.
Roseanne Galligan and Ciara Mageean are among the women's middle-distance stars, though the former, who ran 2:09 last weekend, is just competing in the 800m.
Mageean will probably only run the 1,500m, which features the Belfast debut of Mary Cullen (also competing at 3,000m in Birmingham today) and a welcome comeback from Olympic steeplechaser Roisin McGettigan.
Fionnuala Britton is another in that interesting 3,000m, chasing that nine minutes flat European qualifying time that has been just fractionally eluding her.
Darren McBrearty (Letterkenny), whose 1:47.87 has him ranked 10th fastest in Europe right now, is one of the few Irishmen qualified for Paris and he's going for an 800/1,500m double here.
And the women's pole vault should be another intense battle between the former and current Irish record holders, Zoe Brown (Raheny) and Tori Pena (Finn Valley).
Elsewhere, legendary Limerick athlete Jim Hogan, who lives in Knocklong, has had a plaque unveiled in his honour in his native Athlacca.
Hogan, famously, was in second-place, behind Abebe Bikila, with just three miles to go, when exhaustion forced him out of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics marathon.
Two years later, he won the European marathon title in 2:20.04 (representing Britain) and ran a world record of 1:32.:25 for 30km.
- RTÉ 2 will feature the Odyssey highlights in an 'OB Sports' special on Monday (7.0).