English and Barr lead Irish team's European mission
A strong Irish team led by Mark English and Thomas Barr could cause a few surprises at the European Athletics Team Championships League 1 in Heraklion, Greece this weekend.
UCD's English is the fastest man in the field for the men's 800m, while 400m hurdler Thomas Barr is top-ranked, not just for this competition but in Europe this season.
In what could be the race of the weekend, Barr faces European champion Kariem Hussein of Switzerland and Estonia's Rasmus Magi who was second behind Hussein at last year's Europeans.
Ireland's third winner from last year is Brian Gregan of Clonliffe. In the 400m, he faces a tough battle with Pavel Masack of the Czech Republic, the class of the field with a best this season of 45.39.
Of the Irish women, UCD's Ciara Everard is back to her best in the 800m and takes on a field led by European indoor champion Selina Buchel of Switzerland.
Kerry O'Flaherty of Newcastle and Dunboyne's Sarah Treacy are top of the rankings for the 1,500m and 3,000m respectively, while not to be discounted are Leevale's Michelle Finn, ranked third for the steeplechase, and Maria McCambridge of DSD in the 5,000m, where Kristian Maki of the Czech Republic and Portugal's Ana Dulce Felix look the danger women.
When it comes to the sprints, a time of 20.74 seconds this season puts St LOT's Marcus Lawler second only behind Greek sensation Likourgos-Stefanos Tsakonas in his specialist 200m.
Greece has assembled a strong team and Konstadinos Douvalisix is the class of the field for the 100m hurdles, although Ben Reynolds of North Down has a good record in this competition.
Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands is a strong favourite to win the women's 100m, where Lisburn's Amy Foster aims to make the top three. Foster will also compete in the 200m after the late withdrawal of Ferrybank's Kelly Proper.
For a second year, Kevin Batt of DSD goes in the 5,000m, where only Belgium's Bashir Abdi has gone faster this season, while Donore's John Travers is one of four eight-minute men in the 3,000m.
In the steeplechase, John Coghlan of MSB takes on an entry led by Tarik Langat Akdag, a Kenyan running for Turkey.
Strongest of the Irish field eventers is long jumper Adam McMullen of Crusaders whose 7.77m this season ranks him third of the entry.
Of the throwers, Finn Valley's Dempsey McGuigan in the hammer should make the top six.
With the Borlee brothers not turning out for Belgium, Ireland - aiming to qualify relay squads for Rio '16 - has a great chance of ending the weekend tomorrow afternoon with a win in the men's 4x400m. Only the Netherlands are ranked ahead of them this season.
European Team Championships, Live, BBC2, 1.00pm