SEAN Connolly made a welcome return to road running at the Tallaght 5-Mile, winning in a course record time of 24 mins 11 secs.
Earlier this year, Connolly ran a personal best of 2:16.42 for the marathon in Rotterdam, narrowly missing out on a place at the Olympics. It had been his second attempt at qualification -- in Dublin last October, he was first Irishman home, but his time was a disappointing 2:18.52.
He made up for it with a series of fine track performances over the summer, in particular a personal best of 28:36.17 for 10,000m at the UK Trials last August.
Since taking the American scholarship route and coming home injured, Connolly's career has had its ups and downs.
He is now settled in the north of England, where he works as a primary school teacher.
Although he trains with the local club, he remains a staunch member of Tallaght AC and a strong supporter of the Marathon Mission.
"Standards are improving and I think more distance runners will turn to the marathon," he said.
"A time of 27 minutes for the 10,000m is out of reach for most of us but the marathon standards of two hours 15 minutes for men and two hours 35 minutes for women are attainable for those who want to compete internationally. They can fit only so many in a 10,000m on the track, but they can take a 100 in a marathon, which gives us more of a chance."
The focus provided by the Marathon Mission and a team of dedicated coaches led by Dick Hooper is paying off.
"As recently as five years ago, not a single Irish man was breaking two hours 20 minutes for the marathon, but last year, Mark Kenneally ran 2:13.55 and another five or so were under two hours 20, while four women made the Olympic A standard," he said.
After a short break over the past few months, Connolly won't be running the Dublin Marathon. "I'm not a big fan of cross-country, so over the winter I'll do a few road races, aiming for a spring marathon," he added
First woman in Tallaght was Orla Drumm of Crusaders in 28.11.