Athletics: Heffernan can prove surprise packet as Irish target 'two Euro medals'
IN the past 52 years Ireland has won only 10 medals at the European Championships -- and half, remarkably, were won by Sonia O'Sullivan alone.
However, with the Caribbean and African invasions driving world sprinting and distance-running standards stratospheric, the European Championships represent Ireland's best chance of gaining podium finishes in a major event.
Team manager Patsy McGonagle stuck his neck out yesterday, saying "two medals and five to six finalists" is the target for this large group in Barcelona.
World silver medallist Olive Loughnane is clearly a main contender but Cork's Robert Heffernan (Togher) might just surprise people in today's 20km walk, which will also include Jamie Costin, who is dropping down from his usual 50km.
Sixth in the 2007 World Championships and eighth at the last Olympics, Heffernan is ranked seventh this season but was second behind top-ranked Alex Schwazer (Italy) earlier this year.
Eleven of Ireland's 33-strong team are in action on the opening day.
Brona Furlong, who won an All-Ireland with Wexford, quit camogie to concentrate on 400m hurdles and is one of three Irish in today's heats, along with Michelle Carey and new national champion Justine Kinney, a Cambridge native and Loughborough-based athlete who recently declared for Ireland.
Newbridge's Rose-Anne Galligan (22) lowered her PB to 2:02.39 in May but her second 800m heat features four sub-two-minute runners and only eight go through from all three heats.
Ferrybank's Kelly Proper (22) is another senior outdoor debutante who will need to improve her season-best 6.41m to get through long-jump qualifying.
History-making Paralympian Jason Smyth (10.32) would do really well to qualify from the last 100m heat, which includes France's new sub-10-second man Christophe Lemaitre. Thomas Chamney, Rory Chesser (both 1500m) and Joanne Cuddihy (400m) were expected to race today, but go straight through to the semi-finals as their heats were cancelled.
IRISH IN ACTION TODAY (all Irish time)
7.05 -- 20km race walk final: Robert Heffernan/ Jamie Costin.
9.0 -- 400m hurdles heats: Justine Kinney (9.0)/Michelle Carey (9.08)/Brona Furlong (9.16).
10.0 -- 400m heats: Gordon Kennedy (10.0)/David Gillick (10.16)/Brian Gregan (10.24).
11.30 -- Long jump qualifying: Kelly Proper.
6.15pm -- 100m heats: Jason Smyth (6.47).
7.10pm -- 800m heats: Rose-Anne Galligan (7.20).