Athletics: McSweeney sparkles ahead of Paris odyssey
Ailis McSweeney, Mary Cullen and Donegal teenager Mark English provided the big talking points at the Woodies DIY Irish Indoor Championships at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast yesterday.
Leevale sprint star McSweeney won 'Athlete of the Championship' after coming within two hundredths of a second of equalling the national 60m record, while Cullen beat Ciara Mageean in an absorbing 1,500m final and rising junior star English won a thrilling men's 800m decider.
McSweeney, who broke the 32-year-old Irish 100m record last summer, came agonisingly close to breaking the 60m equivalent, winning in a personal best of 7:32. Her winning time was just short of Anna Boyle's four-year-old 7.30 record in a race where defending champion Clare Brady (Celbridge) had to settle for third (7.63) behind Ulster star Amy Foster (7.44). McSweeney's form proved that the Cork sprinter is in great shape ahead of the European Indoors in Paris in two weeks.
Mary Cullen is also heading to Paris and the North Sligo star, despite running 8:53.62 for 3,000m in Birmingham a day earlier, won a terrific tussle with title favourite Ciara Mageean in the metric mile. Cullen outsprinted the young Down star to win in 4:19.25 and the world junior silver medallist had to settle for bronze (in 4:26) after UCC's Orla Drumm got up for silver in the run-in.
Mark English, who has already set an Irish junior record of 1:48.63 this season, caught the eye in the 800m final, winning in 1:51.62 ahead of Letterkenny team-mate Darren McBrearty (1:52.08) and Ferrybank's Niall Tuohy (1.52.06).
Kilkenny's Eoin Everard was just edged out of the medals but his sister Ciara won the women's 800m in 2:12.01.
All 10 starters in the men's 1,500m broke four minutes and Joe Warne (Doheny) led with two laps to go but it was another rising teenager, Paul Robinson of St Coca's Kilcock (the Irish junior mile record holder) who came through to win in 3:52.60 ahead of Letterkenny's Daniel Mooney with Warne third.
In an exciting men's long jump David Quilligan (Leevavale) threw down the gauntlet to Adam McMullen by leaping 7.11m in the last round but the Mid-Ulster star responded with a winning jump of 7.13m.
Ferrybank's Kelly Proper retained both her long jump and 200m titles while Timothy Crowe (Dooneen) won the men's 200m and, in Derval O'Rourke's absence, Proper's clubmate Mairead Murphy took the women's sprint hurdles in 8:46 while Crusaders' Ian McDonald won the men's equivalent in 8:05.
Husband and wife Robert and Marian Heffernan took gold in 3,000m walk and 400m respectively and while the women's walk was won in a 12:47 PB by Leitrim's Laura Reynolds (Mohill), runner-up Kate Veale of West Waterford smashed her own Irish junior record with 12.49.