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Irish set for Euro battle


Fionnuala Britton. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Fionnuala Britton. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Fionnuala Britton. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

OVER 600 athletes from 12 national teams are coming to Dublin for the European Team Championships division 1 match at Santry starting in 10 days' time on June 22. Places in the prestigious Super League are the reward for the top three teams.

Despite the presence of strong squads from Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland, the home team will hope to hold its own.

For athletes such as Brian Gregan, Fionnuala Britton and Derval O'Rourke, the competition provides a valuable early test of their fitness ahead of the World Championships in Russia later this summer.

Gregan, who will compete in the 400m, is in flying form and his 45.83 last month was enough to rank him eighth in Europe. He underlined his fitness with a new personal best of 21.05 for 200m at the AAI Games held in Santry last Sunday.

Among those he is likely to face in Santry are Pavel Maslak from the Czech Republic, who ran 45.50 last Sunday, and Kevin Borlee of Belgium with a 45.56 time from June 1.

Since her first appearance for Ireland at the European Cup in 2000, Derval O'Rourke has been a mainstay of the team. Although she hasn't recorded an outdoor mark so far, O'Rourke is an athlete who always rises to the occasion as proved by her fighting fourth place at the Europeans Indoors.

Good news for O'Rourke is that while Anne Zegre of Belgium could be a threat after running 13.01 last weekend, no-one else has come close.

If Deirdre Ryan is fit, she could pick up points in the high jump with Belgium's Nafissatou Thiam with 1.90m the highest ranked from the visiting teams, although she's hasn't competed since April.

American-based pole vaulter Tori Pena's new Irish record of 4.60m set in California last week puts her fifth on the European rankings, with Czech Republic's Jirina Svobodova on 4.61m just ahead of her.

Newly-crowned Irish heptathlon champion Kelly Proper is likely to finish among the top three in the long jump, with Erica Jarder of Sweden and Romania's Alina Rotaru her chief rivals.

Big favourite to win the 5000m is twice European cross-country champion, Fionnuala Britton.

So a competition not to be missed, with tickets still available for both days and a special deal on offer for clubs through Athletics Ireland.

Setanta Ireland will show all the action live, as will TV stations in Finland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Portugal and Bulgaria.