Thursday 26 April 2018

Santry extravaganza likely to be a sell-out despite absence of Irish marquee performers

Jason Smyth in flying form
Jason Smyth in flying form
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

ORGANISERS of this weekend's prestigious European Team Championships (first league) in Morton Stadium insist that the absence of so many of Ireland's marquee stars will not affect the crowd.

"Absolutely not," said event marketing manager Pierce O'Callaghan. "The feedback we are getting is that there will still be close to 4,000 in Santry, probably the biggest crowd there has been there since the great days of Billy Morton."

The 11th-hour withdrawal of Derval O'Rourke, Fionnuala Britton and Mark English due to illness, on top of the unavailability of Ciaran O'Lionaird and Deirdre Ryan, has left Ireland fielding a particularly young and inexperienced team.

At least half of them are making their senior international debuts in Europe's second tier (Gateshead is hosting the premier league) of a competition previously known as the Europa Cup.

So, avoiding relegation against the top athletes from Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland is a big ask, especially as race walking isn't among the disciplines.

When Ireland bid to host the championship for the first time since 1997, no one could have predicted that the home side's elite roster would be so weakened, but O'Callaghan said there are just 500 tickets (priced at €15, with U-16s free) still left and it looks like selling out.

"This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see world-class athletics in Ireland," he said. "It includes two Olympic champions (Hungarian hammer thrower Krisztian Pars and Estonian discus hero Gert Kanter) as well as a bucket-load of Olympic finalists and European medallists. It also has the potential for the first sub-10 and sub-11 100m ever run on Irish soil."

They could come from Churandy Martina (Holland's European 200m champion and three-time Olympic sprint finalist, who finished sixth in the London 100m) and Bulgaria's reigning European 100m champion Ivett Lalova, who has already run 11.04 this year.

Irish team manager Patsy McGonagle sent out a letter to every club in the country this week, urging them to get behind his young team and this certainly offers fans a great chance to witness the changing of the Irish guard with so much underage talent on the cusp of a senior breakthrough. Jason Smyth, who has a PB of 10.22, will be taking on Martina, while exciting young Carlow sprinter Marcus Lawler races in the stacked 200m that includes European 400m medallists in Belgium's Jonathan Borlee and Czech Pavel Maslek.

Borlee's twin Kevin, the reigning European champion and an Olympic finalist, will be up against in-form Clonliffe star Brian Gregan in the 400m.

Newbridge's Roseanne Galligan, so close to breaking two minutes this summer, actually leads the 800m rankings and Crusaders' Jason Harvey looks close to breaking the Irish 400m hurdles record.

The women's 400m features the Czech Republic's Zuzana Hejnova, an Olympic bronze medallist over hurdles last summer, and her team-mate Jirina Svobodova was sixth in the pole vault in London, which gives some idea of the quality of athlete on show.

It offers Ireland's rising talent a great chance to showcase their talents in a competition with a particularly exciting format for spectators, as every performance – men's and women's – counts for the final team score.

The action starts on both days at 12.15 and runs to 5.0 and there is live TV coverage on Setanta.

Irish Independent

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