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Athletics: Controversy over National 'merger'

ATHLETICS Ireland has controversially decided to incorporate their National 10km Championships into the Great Ireland Run.

This will be the eighth year of the Great Ireland Run which is ostensibly a commercial road-race run by Newcastle company Nova International (founded by Brendan Foster), which has attracted some very high-quality elite fields and a large mass-participation audience since it was first run in the Phoenix Park in 2003.

Joining forces with a commercial race is not without precedent for Irish athletic's governing body.

AAI already runs its national marathon championships in conjunction with the Dublin City Marathon which is independently run by a limited company.


Yet elements within AAI will be opposed to this move, not least because they regard commercial road-racing as a separate entity from national athletics.

Some blame the social running boom for contributing to a dilution of international distance-running standards while others feel it takes potential members from clubs.

The Irish 10km road race championships traditionally took place separately two weeks after the Great Ireland Run but now will be run in conjunction with the race which is expected to attract 12,000 on April 18.

AAI have negotiated that the usual Great Ireland Run entry fee (€29/€32) will be only €20 for registered AAI members which will incorporate their entry into the national championships.

The association clearly feels that the high quality of the event's elite competitors, and the publicity the race attracts -- particularly its live television coverage -- are worth the move.

And Clonliffe's Mark Kenneally, Ireland's best performer when eighth at the recent European Cross-Country Championships in Dublin, welcomed the decision at yesterday's announcement.

"It makes sense considering the national 10km was always so soon after it," he said. "Putting the two together should make this race really competitive."

Kenneally's second place in the 2006 Great Ireland Run was the best finish for an Irish male domestic athlete.

Sligo's Mary Cullen was the second woman home last year behind Portugal's Ana Dulce Felix and she too has already signed up for this year's event.

Among the celebrities who have already signed up to run it for charity this year are ex-Leinster rugby great Shane Byrne and former WBO world middleweight boxing champion Steve Collins. Collins now lives in St Albans in England where horse-riding, particularly (drag) hunting and cross-country chases, is his main sporting activity but he vowed yesterday to break 40 minutes and promised to give €100 for every minute he finishes outside that target.

Meanwhile, Kenneally is contemplating racing in Spain next weekend to prepare for the European Club Cross-Countries on February 6, followed, a month later, by the national inter-counties in the Phoenix Park.

His big track focus this year will be to get the 10,000m qualifying standard for the European Championships in Barcelona, most likely at the Stanford meeting in California after a short training spell in America with coach Mark Carroll.

Kenneally actually got Athletics Ireland's original 'European' standard in Stanford last year when he ran 28:44 but AAI have since lowered it to 28:30 and his performance in Santry has left him confident of running close to 28 minutes flat this summer.

Irish Independent