Fionnuala Britton opens season with new coach and new goals
A TRULY world-class field that includes Kenya's world 10km record-holder plus the 2013 world cross-country champion is the main attraction of the Spar Great Ireland Run in the Phoenix Park tomorrow.
Two-time European 800m medallist Mark English is running in the mile race that precedes the 10km, in what will be his first ever race over the classic distance.
And there should be particularly high interest in the quality of the Irish women in the elite 10km field.
Fionnuala Britton, now being coached by Joe Doonan (the man who guided Catherina McKiernan to such success), skipped the indoor season and World Cross-Countries to concentrate on getting Olympic marathon qualification next autumn, so this is the first glimpse of her this season.
Britton (above) finished fourth last year and is expected to be a contender again for the title in a high-class field.
It includes Britain's reigning European cross-country champion Gemma Steel, their 2012 European U-23 cross-country champion Jess Coulson, Italy's Valeria Straneo (a former World and European marathon silver medallist) and last year's third-placed Alessandra Aguilar (Spain).
This event also incorporates the GloHealth National 10km Championships. Britton is the reigning champion, and the battle to make the domestic women's podium looks particularly competitive this time.
When the Kilcoole AC star won her second European Cross-Country title in Hungary in 2012 she also led Ireland to team gold that day, and several of that group are also in the mix tomorrow.
Leevale's Lizzie Lee, who has married and had a baby since she finished 23rd in Budapest, showed her marathon potential by running a 2:38 in 2013. She looked good when winning this year's 'Raheny 5' in 26.33 and has since clocked a 74-minute half-marathon.
DSD's Ava Hutchinson, who was 20th in the Euro Cross-Country in 2012, is also back after two tough years of injury problems and has already run a 34:02 10k this year.
McKiernan and DSD's Sarah Mulligan (now training full-time) took silver and bronze behind Britton last year and are also back.
The field includes Irish international Kerry Flaherty (Newcastle & District) too, so a great race looks in prospect for the national title.
Mark Hanrahan enjoyed double success last year, winning the national title and leading Leevale to the men's team victory.
He's back to defend both and his toughest challenge should come from Mullingar's Mark Christie, Clonliffe's Sergiu Ciobanu and Clonliffe's Brandon Hargreaves.
Kenya's Japhet Korir, the 2013 World Cross-Country champion, is back to defend the elite title. His opponents include compatriot Leonard Komon, whose 26:44 from Utrecht in 2010 is still the world 10km road record.
For English, racing a mile on the road is a real leap of faith.
"I did race over 1500m when I was about 15 and I ran in a mile road relay championship at university a few years ago but this will be my first individual mile race," he said.
He faces two good Britons in Jonny Hay (a former European junior 5,000m champion) and Charlie Grice, who was fifth in the 1500m at this year's European Indoors.
Italy's national indoor 1500m champion Joao Bussotti is also included, as are home runners Niall Tuohy and Richard Owens.