Athletics: Britton hopes to profit from late Morato exit
BEING caught in an Arctic grip for the past fortnight was hardly ideal preparation for this weekend's 17th European Cross-Country Championships in the Algarve, but Irish team manager Anne Keenan-Buckley has remained philosophical about it.
"Three of our national champions -- Fionnuala Britton, Joe Sweeney and Brendan O'Neill (U-23) -- have been out in Portugal for the past week training," she explained.
"And the rest of the team have been able to access gyms and alternate between treadmills and outdoors.
"It's not ideal, but you just have to adapt, most of them have been able to keep ticking over."
Britton (Sli Chulain) won silver in the U-23 race in 2006, and her hopes of a senior medal improved yesterday when last year's silver medallist, Spain's Rosa Morato (hamstring), pulled out.
But the Wicklow Olympian who was sixth in 2007 and 11th last year, still faces a loaded field.
Portugal's women, who placed fourth, fifth and sixth, won team gold last year and, with home support, are hoping to do even better individually.
Spain still field a packed team and last year's surprise winner Hayley Yelling --Higham and Steph Twell will lead the strong British challenge.
Last year's bronze medallist Adrienne Herzog (Netherlands) and dangerous Turks Binnaz Uslu and Sultan Haydar are also in the field.
Britton came fourth ahead of all the top Spanish and Portuguese in a big IAAF international race in Spain in mid-November, but cautioned against reading too much into that.
"It was good to get it in because it's a full 7km, but that race is very early, it can look much better than it is," Britton said, pointing out that Morato finished well back in Burgos last year and went on to take silver in Santry.
After failing to capitalise on 'home advantage' last year -- Mark Kenneally's eighth was Ireland's top finish -- Irish expectations are muted, but rising Down star Ciara Mageean (18) is a clear medal hope in the junior races.
She finished ninth in the U-20 race last year, won a 1,500m silver medal at the World Juniors since, and the fast course will suit her.
Irish men's champion Joe Sweeney would do extremely well to make the top 10 in men's senior race, which, while without Britain's Mo Farah, features Spain's defending champion Alemayehu Bezabeh, multiple winner Sergey Lebid and all of Spain and France's top distance men.
Ireland's best 'team medal' hope is the U-23 men, who include three currently on US college scholarships -- Ciaran O'Lionaird, David McCarthy and David Rooney -- but they face a stiff test considering that the entries for their grade have soared to a record 100-plus this year.
- RTE2 has live coverage from Albufeira from 2.0, Sunday.
- Clonliffe Harriers, which celebrates its 125th anniversary next year, is looking for contributions from members, past and present, for a new club history book, especially old photos/memorabilia. Contact email@example.com