Athletics: Massive blow to Irish medal prospects as O'Rourke pulls out of Indoors
IRISH medal hopes at the upcoming World Indoor Championships were dramatically hit yesterday when Derval O'Rourke, a winner at the event in 2006, was forced to withdraw with injury.
O'Rourke missed three full weeks of training in January with a calf tear, yet looked in excellent form with a season-best 60m hurdles time of eight seconds flat in Norway last week.
However, the Cork woman suffered hamstring problems with her trail leg this week and had a scan yesterday. While devastated at having to pull out, she has decided not to jeopardise her chances in this summer's European Championships by racing on it at the Indoors.
One man with his eyes still firmly on a gold medal at domestic level in Sunday's Woodies DIY National Inter-Club Cross-Country Championships is Mark Kenneally, who was the first Irishman home (in eighth place) at December's European Cross-Country.
Not once, not twice but three times has the rangy Clonliffe man been runner-up in the blue-riband event of Irish cross-countries, despite leading his club to several team titles.
He was second to Keith Kelly in Santry last year and runner-up to Gary Murray in both 2007 and '05, so victory in the Phoenix Park on Sunday would be especially sweet.
Kenneally's main rivals are 2007 champion Murray, Alan O'Brien (Crusaders), Mick Clohisey (Raheny), Brendan O'Neill (DSD) and Mark Kirwan (Raheny).
Having missed out through injury last year, the 2007-08 two-in-a-row women's champion Fionnuala Britton (Sli Chulainn) is back to take on reigning champion Maria McCambridge (Letterkenny) and 2009 runner-up Linda Byrne (DSD).
Host club Donore Harriers provide one of the main contenders, John Travers, in a much anticipated junior men's race which will feature Ferrybank's Shane Quinn and last year's bronze medallist Liam Tremble (Metro-St Brigids); Mary Mulhare (North Laois) is tipped to take the junior women's title.
Elsewhere, Mary Cullen, currently training in Australia, kicked off her track season in fine style by winning the 5,000m at the Melbourne Classic in 15:27.75, with Australia's Benita Willis among those well behind her.
Kilkenny City Harrier Joanne Cuddihy was an encouraging third in the 400m in 52.95 at the same world-class meet.
Cuddihy moved to Australia last August to train with a new coach, Tudor Bidder, at the Australian Institute of Sport. She will race twice in New Zealand in the coming weeks en route home.
Timetable for Sunday's Woodies DIY National Inter-Club Cross-Countries at Phoenix Park: junior women (4,000m) 1.0; junior Men (8,000m) 1.30; senior women (8,000m) 2.15; senior men (12,000m) 3.0.