Friday 17 January 2020

Atheltics: 'Victory proves stars can stay in Ireland'

Cliona Foley

STAY at home... you can do it from here. That was the message from Ireland's cross-country team manager Ann Keenan-Buckley yesterday.

The former international insisted that Fionnuala Britton's Euro success -- and those of Joe Sweeney, who finished fifth in Velenje, and Linda Byrne, who recently qualified for the marathon at next year's Olympic Games -- proved that Irish athletes can make the grade without taking the previously well-trodden scholarship route to America.

"To see home-based athletes like Fionnuala and Joe doing so well at the Europeans was just fantastic and proves you can do it from home," said Keenan-Buckley.

"For years we were losing athletes to America because the (support) system at home wasn't good enough but the way it has progressed, this is proof now that it really works.

"Of course there is still a lot of work to be done, but things have improved.

"There is a vision and a system there now, between Athletics Ireland, the Institute of Sport and the Sports Council, and hopefully this success will move that forward even more quickly."

Keenan-Buckley also feels that more athletes should be using cross-country racing to lay down a firm base for their track seasons.

"For Joe to be just two seconds off third place and eight off a gold, that's a fantastic run, but Joe has worked hard for this too, that wasn't by accident," she stressed.

"Unfortunately there is a lot of hype around track and field, especially with the Olympics next year, but Fionnuala and Joe deliberately targeted this competition and you have to do that.

"I still believe that cross-country is vital for track runners. Sonia (O'Sullivan) used it, so did Paula Radcliffe and (Britain's 5,000m World champion) Mo Farah in recent times -- top-class people use it.

"It is up to individual coaches if they want their athletes to do it. Okay, it can be difficult to fit in if you're taking in an indoor season, but you're only looking at just 12 to 14 weeks and I think more people should do it."

Irish Independent

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