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third is magic for irish aces

A never-say-die run by the Irish senior women's team proved the highlight of the Irish performance at the European Cross-Country Championships held in Samokova, Bulgaria.

Fionnuala Britton may have missed out on a medal but even as British pair Gemma Steel and Kate Avery pulled away, she never gave up on the tricky course which was icy in some parts and muddy in others.

Behind her, Sara Treacy and Michelle Finn, both of them better known as steeplechasers, ran the races of their lives, knowing that the Irish had an outside chance of a medal.

Treacy made a cautious start and was at the back of the field in 47th place after the opening lap of the 7.8km race.

She then fought her way through the field to finish 12th. Finn, who is having the season of her life, wasn't far behind in 23rd place.

With team captain Anne Marie McGlynn 46th, Siobhan O'Doherty 47th and an ill Laura Crowe still managing to finish in 53rd place, the Irish women's total score was 87 points - just one point ahead of France, led by Sophie Duarte in fifth place.

Buoyed by the Irish women's battling performance, the men then set off, with the Irish doing their best to stick with the frantic early pace set by Turkish pair Polat Kemboi Arikan and Ali Kaya.

They held on to their lead and finished first and second, crossing the line almost together and given the same time.

Irish intercounty champion Paul Pollock, along with Brendan O'Neill and Kevin Batt, kept their cool in the middle of the pack and were soon picking off some of the more impetuous starters. In the end, Pollock finished 23rd, with O'Neill and Batt on his heels in 29th and 31 places. With Mick Clohisey 44th, the Irish men finish a creditable sixth.

For newcomers on the junior and U23 team, the standard and the pace of the racing must have come as a shock.

Kevin Dooney proved best in the U23 men's race, holding out for 18th place in a race that came after a busy NCAA season. Liam Brady wasn't too far behind, finishing 26th. In the women's U23 race, first of the Irish was Orna Murray in 40th place. Both U23 teams finished ninth.

In the junior men's race, national intercounty champion Kevin Mulcaire, running on the team for a second year, briefly led in the early stages but faded to finish 33rd. One place behind was David Harper. The team was 12th.

Hope Saunders underlined her recent good form when she finished best of the junior women in 35th place. All of the younger athletes will have learned from the experience.