MORE than 1,200 athletes from over 500 schools will pack Tullamore Stadium for Saturday's Aviva All-Ireland Schools' Track and Field Championships – the biggest athletics meet of the year.
In the sprints, all eyes will be on Marcus Lawlor of Carlow CBS who won the Aviva Leinster schools 100m in 10.38 seconds – the sixth fastest Irish time ever and enough to put him second behind Jason Smyth on the current Irish rankings.
Now 18, and with his Leaving Cert starting next Tuesday, Lawlor aims to repeat his 100m and 200m double of last year in his final appearance at these championships. He also has his sights set on the oldest of all Irish schools records – the 10.7 for 100m set by Tony Flannery 43 years ago in 1970.
While Lawlor is hot favourite to win his events, Cliodhna Mannion of Loreto Kilkenny, the Leinster girls' senior champion, has a tougher task. She lines up against Phil Healy of Coláiste Na Toirbhirte in Bandon, who ran a wind-assisted 11.64 to win the Munster 100m title and a legal 23.95 for victory in the 200m.
At inter level, Zak Irwin of Sligo Grammar defends the 100m and 200m titles he won last year.
His most recent outing was at a Dublin graded meet where he won the 200m in 21.92 secs – a time that was just outside the schools record of 21.8.
Over the longer distances, Síofra Cléirigh Buttner of Coláiste íosagáin aims to continue her schools winning streak by taking the senior 800m. At the Leinster Championships, she improved the record to 2:06.67 – a time that is well inside the All Ireland best of 2:10.07.
Seán Tobin of High School Clonmel was another athlete in record-breaking form when he won the senior 800m and 1,500m at the Munster Championships.
He ran 1:50.33 for the 800m and, if he repeats that on Saturday, will add another record to his collection.
Race of the day could prove to be the inter girls' 800m. At the Irish Milers Club meet in Greystones last Friday, Munster champion Louise Shanahan of Scoil Mhuire in Cork beat Leinster champion Carla Sweeney of St Mac Dara's. Shanahan's time was 2:10.88, with Sweeney running 2:11.56.
In the field, Leinster high jump champion Jamie Murtagh of Ashbourne CS soared over two metres to win at Santry. But Munster champion David Cussen, of Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh Cork, has gone even higher at 2.05m. Aiming to break 60m for the first time is Leinster javelin champion Stephen Rice.
pAction starts at 10.0 on Saturday and finishes at 3.50.