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Sweeney out to cop Euro berth

Defending champion Joe Sweeney leads a strong Dublin squad at Sunday's Woodie's DIY National Intercounty Championships in Sligo -- the trial race for the European Championships next month.

Last year, Sweeney battled blizzard conditions in Derry to beat Mark Christie of Mullingar for the title and has dominated Irish cross-country since then, winning the Gerry Farnan race a few weeks ago. He didn't turn out for the Dublin Championships, leaving John Coghlan of MSB to take a memorable victory over Sean Hehir from Rathfarnham.

Both these men, along with Christie, Dan Mulhare of North Laois, and Leevale's Mark Hanrahan are among likely contenders on Sunday, although Christie lost to Andrew Ledwith and Paddy Hamilton at last Sunday's Seeley Cup 10km in Belfast.

Only the first two across the line are sure of a place at the European Cross-Country Championships in Slovenia. It means that the Irish men's U23 team may not defend the title they won so heroically last year in Portugal.



Rigorous

It also means that a full junior team, the basis for future U23 and senior teams, may not be sent. Standards for selection are rigorous -- if an athlete is outside the top two, he or she must be capable of a top-16 placing as an individual, or a top-30 placing in the case of a likely team member at the Europeans.

Last year the junior men, led by Shane Quinn in 12th place, finished a commendable fifth in Portugal.

With Quinn currently in the USA, Dublin-based athletes Emmett Jennings of DSD (who was second last year), the much-improved Kevin Dooney of Raheny and Donore's John Travers will all fancy their chances.

One athlete sure of her place is Fionnuala Britton of Kilcoole, fourth last year in a blanket finish; Britton was just seven seconds behind the winner Jessica Augusto of Portugal.

With UCD's Ciara Mageean injured, the women's junior race is wide open. Leading the Dublin team is 16-year-old Siofra Cléirigh-Buttner.

Her biggest rival could be Emma Mitchell of Banbridge, a comfortable winner of the Ulster U19 title recently.


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