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Healthy deal for school athletics

Irish athletics received an early Christmas present when Aviva Health Insurance announced that it will sponsor Irish schools athletics for the next three years.

Aviva Health Insurance has been the major sponsor of athletics including schools and grassroots programmes in the UK for over a decade.

"It is my fervent hope that this sponsorship will help unearth and nurture the next generation of champion Irish athletes," said chief executive Jim Dowdall at the announcement in the Aviva Stadium.

"The sponsorship comes at an ideal time with the 2012 Olympics around the corner. This, I am certain, will lead to an upsurge in the numbers participating in schools' athletics and in the identification of future Olympians," said Michael Hunt, president of the Irish Schools' Athletic Association.

A special guest at the launch was former world 5000m champion Eamonn Coghlan.

First big event under the new deal will be the Aviva All-Ireland Schools' Cross-Country Championships in the ALSAA, Dublin Airport on Saturday March 12.

Leading up to this, around 17,000 young athletes will participate in regional competitions from January, followed by provincial deciders a few weeks later. Santry is the venue for the Leinster Schools Championships on February 16.

On March 26, the Irish Schools' Athletic Association will welcome teams to Greenmount Campus, Co Antrim, from England, Scotland and Wales for the Aviva Schools Cross- Country International.

April, May and June bring a packed schools' track and field programme with around 20,000 young athletes involved in 14 regional qualifiers.

After that comes the provincial deciders and then the pinnacle of schools' athletic achievement -- the Aviva Health Insurance All-Ireland Track and Field finals in Tullamore on Saturday June 4.

For the intermediate age group, the Aviva Tailteann Interprovincial follows at Santry on June 25, with winners invited to compete for Ireland at the annual Aviva Schools Track and Field International, which this year takes place in Cardiff, Wales on July 16.