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Proper set to go a long way

While the country remained blanketed in snow, a small group of intrepid athletes from the Ferrybank club headed for an indoor meet in Loughborough.

For Kelly Proper, field athlete of the season in 2009, it was an encouraging start to the year.

In the long jump, a best of 6.33m was enough to put her just 6cm behind world heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis. Proper also ran in the 60m, clocking 7.66 seconds in the heats and 7.72 in the final.

Sprinter Niamh Whelan finished third in the 60m with a time of 7.60 having run 7.61 in the heats. In the men's 60m Chris Russell ran 7.08 in the heats and 7.09 in the final, while in the women's long jump Nicola Power jumped an indoor personal best of 5.55. With luck all of them will continue their winter campaign at the Nenagh Indoor Games on Sunday -- weather, of course, permitting.

With the European Championships looming next summer in Barcelona, Proper is just one of a number of Irish athletes to watch. Last season she jumped consistently around 6.50, with her Irish record standing at 6.51. To qualify for the World Indoors in Qatar, she needs to jump over 6.60.

Like Proper, 400m man David Gillick is looking forward not only to the World Indoors but to the European Championships, where he has serious hopes of a medal. At the World Championships Gillick finished a fighting sixth and first European. Behind him were Britain's Michael Bingham and Leslie Djhone of France. Irish 400m running is looking particularly strong, with Brian Gregan also aiming for at least the semi-finals at the European Championships as a stepping stone to London 2012 and beyond.

The Tallaght athlete, a second year student at DCU, has just turned 20 and won the national 4500m title at Santry with a time of 46.44.

He aims to knock at least a second off that time and become the second Irish 400m runner to break 45 seconds -- Gillick's 44.77 last July made him the first. Also looking good at 400m is Ferrybank's Billy Ryan.

In the hurdles, apart from Derval O'Rourke, Ian McDonald has moved up to fourth on the all-time Irish rankings for the men's 110m hurdles. Also worth keeping an eye on is high jumper Deidre Ryan, who tops the all-time rankings with a best of 1.92 indoors.