Britton lays marker for European hat-trick tilt
Fionnuala Britton underlined her status as Irish athletics' biggest star with an assured performance both on and off the course at the Woodie's DIY National Inter-County Cross-Country Championships in Santry.
No sooner had Britton crossed the line for an easy victory in the women's 8km race than she was mobbed by hundreds of young supporters.
For the next 15 minutes, she was kept busy signing autographs, having her picture taken and chatting freely.
"The support I had today was unbelievable – it felt like the Europeans but even better!" said the twice European cross-country champion, who goes for a third victory in Belgrade next month.
She was gracious in victory, giving credit to her fellow athletes who were fighting it out for places on the women's team in the Serbian capital. There the Irish will defend the team title they so memorably won last December.
"The other girls were not going to hand it to me. I knew I had to put in an effort," said Britton.
That effort, it has to be said, was barely visible as the 29-year-old Kilcoole athlete sped around a course that had been designed to simulate what she can expect in Belgrade, with plenty of twists and turns.
With one lap to go, she had built up a 40-second lead. That lead had stretched to a minute by the time she reached the finish line.
Behind her, junior doctor Sara Treacy of Moynalvey in Co Meath had taken up the chase on the first lap. She was soon caught by Clonliffe's Sarah McCormack, who then stretched away from Treacy and the chasers.
Not far behind was a group including marathon woman Maria McCambridge of Dundrum South Dublin, Ciara Durkan of Skerries and Siobhan O'Doherty of Borrisokane.
Behind that group, Lifford's Ann Marie McGlynn made steady progress and, on the final lap, unleashed a fearsome kick to finish fourth behind Britton, McCormack and Treacy.
Durkan in fifth place and McCambridge in sixth look like making up the team for Serbia.
Marathon man Paul Pollock of Annadale Striders was the pre-race favourite for the men's race and he lived up to his billing.
Since his great run in the marathon at the World Championships, Pollock, a doctor, has been training full-time in London, with victory in the inter-counties his immediate target.
He spent the first few laps of the 10km race keeping a watching brief in a pack that included Martin McCarthy of West Waterford, Portlaoise's Michael Mulhare and Joe Sweeney of DSD, who was going for a fourth victory in the race.
With three laps down, Pollock made a decisive move and soon had the race in his pocket. In the fight for the minor placings, Dan Mulhare of Portlaoise was battling it out with younger brother Michael, Stephen Scullion of Clonliffe and Sweeney.
In the chase for the line, Michael passed Dan to take second, with Scullion a close fourth.
"Knowing the quality of the race, I decided to sit and wait for the first lap or so. With three laps gone, I was feeling good and kicked," said Pollock after the race.
His aim now is a medal at the Europeans. "I think I can definitely compete with the best in Europe. I've been training well and my confidence has been growing," he said.
"But there are maybe 20 others who could also win on the day. I know that I'll have to up my game and you need some luck as well."
Racing away from the field in the combined women's U-18 and junior race was Siofra Cleirigh Buttner of DSD.
Her DSD clubmates Megan Ryan, Sarah Fitzpatrick and Clare McCarthy filled the next three places.
Sean Tobin of Clonmel was a clear winner of the men's U-18 and junior race, with Ruairi Finnegan from Letterkenny in second place after he sprinted past Kevin Mulcaire from Ennis Track Club in the final few hundred metres.