Heaslip primed to strike in McCormack absence
The star of the show may be missing, but wherever there are spots at a European Championships on the line, drama should be in plentiful supply.
And sure, a weekend in Slovakia in December may not be everyone's idea of heaven, but tomorrow afternoon in Abbotstown the cream of Irish distance running will gather, ready to run through a brick wall to get there.
The Irish Life Health National Cross Country Championships are set to take place in swamp-like conditions, and whoever emerges victorious will certainly have earned their titles.
Two-time European champion Fionnuala McCormack has chosen to bypass the event to prepare specifically for the Europeans in a fortnight, and on Thursday evening she made an unusual outing over 4,000m in an indoor meeting in Abbotstown, sharpening her fitness for the 8,000m race in Slovakia.
In her absence, Shona Heaslip of An Riocht looks the favourite for the senior women's race, having racked up a series of impressive performances at home and abroad this autumn.
It will come as a massive surprise if she fails to secure one of the two automatic qualifying spots on offer in tomorrow's race, though there is no shortage of depth in the field.
Her closest challenge may well come from a talented Leevale team which includes 2016 Olympians Michelle Finn and Lizzie Lee along with Claire McCarthy and Sinead O'Connor.
Dundrum South Dublin (DSD) also have two Olympians in their ranks, with Linda Byrne and Maria McCambridge set to go to the line.
Another Rio Olympian likely to be in the mix is steeplechase specialist Kerry O'Flaherty, while Borrisokane's Siobhan O'Doherty may also stake a claim to European selection.
The men's race appears wide open, though the ever-reliable Mick Clohisey of Raheny is sure to feature at the front.
The 2016 Olympian is sure to be well suited by the tough conditions, though will have to defeat his marathon team-mate from Rio, Paul Pollock, to take gold.
The Belfast man clocked 29:20 at the Leeds Abbey Dash 10K in recent weeks.
Others to consider are the Dooney brothers from Raheny, Kevin and Conor, along with Adam Kirk-Smith of Derry Track Club, while Joe Sweeney of DSD, who previously finished fifth at the European Cross Country, will also toe the line.
In the U-20 categories, Darragh McElhinney of Bantry looks an overwhelming favourite for the men's race while the U-20 women's 4,000m looks a wide-open affair.