MORE than 650 athletes from 12 European nations are expected in Dublin over the next few days for the European Athletics Team Championships taking place in Santry on Saturday and Sunday.
The Santry event is the second division of this championships – or as they call it the 'First League' – and at stake are places in the premier division.
Competition in the premier division takes place in Gateshead, England, where nations such as Spain, France, Germany and Ukraine as well as the UK are competing, also this weekend.
For the Irish team, the challenge is to avoid the drop to the third division or 'Second League'.
This is no easy task, especially with the withdrawals of Olympians Deirdre Ryan and Fionnuala Britton, who could be relied on to pick up points in the past and, at the last minute, by Mark English in the 800m.
Opening the competition on Saturday (12.15pm) are the hammer-throwing men. On the track, Brian Gregan competes in the 400m (2.20pm), taking on Pavel Maslak of the Czech Republic with a 45.40 to his credit this season and Kevin Borlee of Belgium who has run 45.56 – slower than Gregan's 45.53 from last week.
This is followed by the women's 800m, where Rose-Anne Galligan, who is getting ever closer to the two-minute barrier, lines out for the home team.
Leading the opposition is Sweden's Abeba Aregawi with national records of 1:59.20 for 800m and 3:56.60 for 1500m this season.
Belgium's Pieter-Jan Hannes, currently ranked third in Europe with a time of 3:35.97, takes on Eoin Everard in the 1500m. Hannes has also run 7:54.06 for 3000m this season.
Derval O'Rourke takes centre stage on Sunday (2.30) when she competes in the 100m hurdles, with Belgium's Anne Zagre top-ranked of the visitors.
Just before that, Anthony Leighio replaces Mark English in the men's 800m (2.14pm).
He has a PB of 1:48.74 this season and faces tough opposition from the Czech Republic and Sweden.
Other names to watch out for include Churandy Martina of the Netherlands, who has run 10.16 for the 100m this season and takes on teenage sensation Denis Dimitrov of Bulgaria, as well as our own Jason Smyth. Martina is also ranked second in Europe for 200m with a time of 20.23. The weekend ends with the 4x400m relays, where Gregan again takes to the track.
3Tickets on the gate for just €10 (children free) on both days. Timetable at www.dublinathletics2013.ie.