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Euro berths to be decided

IN just over three weeks' time, the Irish women's cross-country team defend their European title in Belgrade, Serbia.

A lot has happened since that memorable day in frozen Budapest when the Irish beat France on countback. While Fionnuala Britton – whose distinguished cross-country career now goes back to 2002 – is on target to win a third consecutive title, the team is by no means settled.

Neither Linda Byrne, who finished eighth last year, nor Ava Hutchinson, who was 20th, are available. Good news is that Lizzie Lee, Sarah McCormack and Sarah Treacy are again in contention for places on the team which will be decided after Sunday's Woodie's DIY National Intercounty Cross-Country Championships at Santry (1.0).

Britton, although she is pre-selected for the team, is expected to run at Santry – a return to a race she first won at the Curragh in 2007, winning again in 2008 and then in 2010.

Sarah Treacy of Moynalvey, the 2011 champion, has shown recent good form, finishing fourth at the Euro Cross in Belgium behind Britton. She was followed by Anne Marie McGlynn and Laura Crowe in eighth and ninth place, with all three in contention for team places.

A surprise entry is Dublin Marathon winner, Maria McCambridge of DSD, the 2004 winner. Others lining out include Kerry O'Flaherty of Newcastle.

In the men's race, David McCarthy who, like Britton, is pre-selected, faces tough opposition from Paul Pollock, back in fighting form after running the marathon at the World Championships last August.

Also entered is John Travers of Donore, fresh from his victory at the Dublin Championships, and Stephen Scullion of Clonliffe, second behind Travers.

DSD's Joe Sweeney beat Michael Mulhare of Portlaoise to win a third consecutive title last year in the thick mud of Ratoath, and both men are pencilled in to run on Sunday. Favourite to take her first women's junior title is DSD's Síofra Cleirigh Buttner, who ran the junior race at the Europeans last year.

Seán Tobin of Clonmel is the man to beat in the men's junior race, with Hugh Armstrong of Ballina, Aaron Hanlon of Clonliffe and Letterkenny's Ruairí Finnegan his biggest rivals.