Friday 24 November 2017

All eyes on women's sprint battle

Ciara Neville is flourishing in a golden age for emerging sprint talent. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Ciara Neville is flourishing in a golden age for emerging sprint talent. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Seven seconds - it may seem a relative eye's blink when set against the eight hours of athletics unfolding in Abbotstown this weekend, but sometimes brevity is the soul of entertainment.

It's been many years since a sprint event was the highlight of the National Senior Indoor Championships, but nothing will rival the women's 60m for sheer explosive intrigue.

Sure, the eight athletes who contest tomorrow's final will rocket to the finish before those watching can draw breath, but in doing so they'll prove that the future of Irish athletics is in safe hands.

For that, look no further than Ciara Neville, the 17-year-old Limerick sprinter who last month obliterated the national junior record with a run of 7.30 seconds, equalling the fastest time by any Irishwoman in history.

In any normal year, Neville's class would see her as unbackable favourite for tomorrow's race, but she is flourishing in a golden age for emerging sprint talent.

Her chief rival tomorrow is Phil Healy, the Bandon woman who became famous last year thanks to a video of her unlikely comeback at the Irish University Championships going viral internationally.

Healy (22) has emerged this year even better, proving her versatility from 60m up to 400m, both of which she is entered for this weekend. She came within a hair's breadth of the national record when running 7.31 this week, and with a shorter frame than Neville, she's likely to spring to the lead from the start in the final and play catch-me-if-you-can thereafter.

Phil's older sister, Joan, is another formidable athlete at this distance, as is 17-year-old Molly Scott, who clocked 7.41 this year.

In the middle distance events, all eyes will be on Ciara Mageean, who appears to represent the sole Irish chance of a medal at next month's European Indoor Championships in Belgrade.

With Mark English sidelined through injury, many will be hoping Mageean - who is set to choose between the 800m, 1500m and 3,000m - can bounce back to form after a sub-par run at the Athlone International this week.

Fionnuala McCormack, who has yet to race indoors this season, holds an intriguing entry in the 3,000m, alongside Olympian Kerry O'Flaherty.

Eoin Everard, John Travers and Paul Robinson finished close together over a mile earlier this week, and with all three entered for both the 1500m and 3,000m, they should serve up more battles that will make the journey to Abbotstown worthwhile.

Indo Sport

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