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English set for bye into 800m indoors final

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Mark English, right, on his way to setting a new Irish indoor record of 1:46.82s

Mark English, right, on his way to setting a new Irish indoor record of 1:46.82s

SPORTSFILE

Mark English, right, on his way to setting a new Irish indoor record of 1:46.82s

ATHLETICS IRELAND are contemplating giving record-breaking half-miler Mark English a bye into the 800m final at the National Indoor Championships.

The Donegal star, who broke the 13-year-old National Indoor record with his 1:46.82 season-opener last Sunday, has clinched a spot at the world-class indoor grand prix in Birmingham tomorrow week, which would rule him out of the heats.

It is not without precedent as byes have been given to athletes in a similar situation at outdoor nationals.

English's rivals look unlikely to quibble given what a draw he would be and it looks inevitable given his brilliant start to the season.

He followed up with a 1:47.69 victory in the 'B' race in Stockholm last night and Birmingham would give him an ideal barometer ahead of the World Indoors.

Fionnuala Britton has decided to skip indoors this season to concentrate on outdoors, despite winning a European bronze indoor medal last year.

Sligo's Mary Cullen is another who has decided to put all her eggs in the outdoor basket for next summer's European Championships in Zurich.

She matched Britton's indoor achievement – European 3000m bronze – in 2009 and has been through the wringer since with injuries, but she showed an encouraging return to form when running 25:35 at the Raheny 5 recently, where only eight men finished in front of her.

SESSIONS

She won't risk disrupting that form by running indoors and credits her return to the top-flight to "throwing away the Garmin and getting better recovery between my hard sessions."

She will be chasing the European 5,000m and 10,000m qualifying times when the track season comes around, but next up is the Armagh road race on February 20.

Cullen has always enjoyed the tarmac, but road-racing is an imperative for her these days because she hasn't had any grant aid since 2010.

Her injury history meant she was hit badly by Athletics Ireland's stricter results-based grant policy, which no longer takes injuries into account.

Details of this year's grant scheme will be released, in conjunction with the Sports Council, next Wednesday.

Derval O'Rourke, Ciaran O'Lionaird and Paul Robinson have all queried their allocation of €12,000, which is surprisingly low, given that O'Rourke and O'Lionaird both won European Indoor medals last year.

Cullen is frustrated by the 'carding' system, but is not bitter.

"What surprises me, though, is that AAI talk about investing in athletes yet won't take a bit of a risk for proven medallists," she said. "It's not like we have a lot of those.

"But I'm running well again. I'm sticking with it because I love running and I feel I can get back up there."

Cullen helped launch the upcoming Aviva Schools Cross-Country Championships this week and pointed out that competition is a great place for AAI to spot talent.

Three of the schools' provincial championships take place next week: Ulster in Mallusk (Tuesday), Leinster in Santry (Wednesday) and Munster in CIT (Thursday). Connacht Schools are on February 25 and the All-Ireland finals are in Cork on March 8.

Irish Independent