English and Barr in race against time to stay on track for Rio
for two of Ireland's leading Olympic hopefuls, it's now a race against time.
With just six weeks to go until the Olympic Games, Mark English and Thomas Barr will hope to put months of injury behind them when they make their seasonal debuts at this weekend's GloHealth National Senior Track & Field Championships in Santry.
English finished 10th at the World Championships over 800m last year, but endured a nightmare start to 2016, suffering a metatarsal stress fracture back in March.
The 23-year-old only resumed training in recent weeks but is looking to regain fitness ahead of the European Championships in Amsterdam, which begin on July 6.
However, he will have to be near his best to retain his national title, with Declan Murray of Clonliffe Harriers arriving back to Ireland after a 1:47.49 run in Princeton, New Jersey last weekend.
Thomas Barr has also endured a difficult start to the season, having missed 10 weeks of training due to a persistent hip injury. However, the 400m hurdler believes the worst is behind him and is preparing with both the Europeans and Olympics in mind.
"I wouldn't mind being an underdog going into the championships," he said. "I wasn't able to do much fitness work while I was injured so I'm lacking there, but it's something I'll build up quick again. It could be a blessing in disguise."
Barr's biggest challenge this weekend should come from Paul Byrne, who has clocked 50.73 this season and trains with Barr at their Limerick base.
Elsewhere, Christine McMahon should take victory in the women's 400m hurdles, having set a lifetime best of 56.42 to win in Belgium last weekend, and the 23-year-old may have the Olympic standard of 56.20 in her sights.
The men's 400m is shaping up to be the race of the championships, with athletes vying for relay spots in Amsterdam. The field is led by Craig Lynch, the fastest Irishman this year with 46.90, though a repeat of that may be needed to take victory ahead of Brian Gregan, Richard Morrissey, Timmy Crowe and David Gillick, who returned this season after a four-year absence.
In the sprints, Marcus Lawler and Amy Foster will start favourites for the 100m races, while Ciara Mageean should have it all her own way in the women's 1,500m. The women's 3,000m steeplechase, in which Ireland has three Olympic qualifiers, is also one to watch.
The women's 800m should serve up the best duel as Síofra Cléirigh-Buttner takes on Rose-Anne Galligan, with both needing to run under the European B-standard of 2:02.90 to book their ticket to Amsterdam.
The action will be streamed live on nTrai's YouTube channel on both days, with highlights shown on RTE2 tomorrow night at 11.30pm.