Friday 15 December 2017

McCormack eyeing team glory

Fionnuala McCormack: “With my transition to the roads, it’s difficult to say what exact shape I’m in for an 8km cross country race”
Fionnuala McCormack: “With my transition to the roads, it’s difficult to say what exact shape I’m in for an 8km cross country race”

Cathal Dennehy

Fionnuala McCormack will once again spearhead the Irish challenge at the European Cross Country Championships in Hyeres, France, today, but having approached the event off an abbreviated preparation, the two-time former champion is keeping her ambitions in check.

"My preparations haven't been as specific this year," said McCormack, nee Britton, who spent much of the autumn preparing for the Chicago Marathon in October, which she completed in 2:33:15. "With my transition to the roads, it's difficult to say what exact shape I'm in for an 8km cross country race."

Instead of targeting another podium finish individually, McCormack, 31, is hoping she can help the Irish women's team to emulate their past success. In 2012, the team won gold, and last year they backed it up with team bronze. Of the six athletes comprising last year's team, only McCormack and Michelle Finn will return this year, but among the other four - Lizzie Lee, Caroline Crowley, Kerry O'Flaherty and Ciara Durkan - there is enough ability to suggest Ireland can secure silverware for the fifth time in six years at these championships.

Crowley, 27, will don the green singlet for the first time after finishing a surprise third at the National Interclubs Cross Country Championships last month and after a year of scandals in the sport, she's hoping the reality of international competition proves different from her perception.

"I don't really follow international athletics," she says, "one of the reasons being that the playing field isn't level, and it's heartbreaking to watch for the clean athletes, but I don't know any international athletes. Maybe after this weekend, I'll get to know them and be taken with international competition again."

The British team are overwhelming favourites to retain the women's team title, with last year's gold and silver medallists, Gemma Steel and Kate Avery, in their ranks.

Mick Clohisey will lead the Irish men's team, but the Dubliner is unlikely to challenge the leaders in a race that will be dominated by a trio of East Africans now running for European nations: Polat Kemboi Arikan (Turkey), Ali Kaya (Turkey) and Alemayehu Bezabeh (Spain).

In the junior races, Kevin Mulcaire of Ennis Track represents Ireland's best - and only - chance of a medal. The 18-year-old finished a close fourth over 5,000m at the European Junior Championships and has since converted his good form to the uneven terrain, taking gold in the junior race at the Interclubs Cross Country Championships.

Athletics Ireland decided against sending an under 23 women's team to France due to the lack of depth, with two athletes, Shona Heaslip and Emma Mitchell, toeing the line, but there will be a full complement in the under 23 men's race, with Brandon Hargreaves and Sean Tobin are expected to lead the team.

Live: RTE Two, 11:45am.

Highlights: BBC Two, 4.15pm

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