On Your Marks – Herald March 20

Fionnuala Britton at Gerry Farnan C-C

European champion Fionnuala Britton  of Sli Cualann and  North Sligo’s Mary Cullen lead an impressively strong Irish team at the  World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland next Sunday.
Also selected are DSD pair Linda Byrne and Ava Hutchinson and Leevale’s Lizzie Lee, all scoring members of the  winning Irish team at the European Cross Country Championships last December team.
Britton’s best ever placing was a 14th at the World Cross came in 2007 when the championships were held in Kenya. In 2011, she finished a fighting 16th in a far more competitive race hosted by Spain. With strong Kenyan and Ethiopian squads expected to dominate the race, Britton is aiming for a top 10 placing in Poland and warmed up by taking 3000m bronze at the European Indoors in Goteborg earlier this month. Non-Africans can produce good individual runs in this race;  Australia’s Benita Johnson won in 2004, while  in 2011, American Shalane Flanagan finished third.
Mary Cullen, whose career has been disrupted by injury, booked her place on the team when she had a comfortable victory over at the National Cross-Country in Tullamore.
Showing a return of the form that  saw her finish fourth in the European Cross-Country of 2008, she beat the defending champion, Linda Byrne, who had finished eighth behind Britton at the European Championships. After over a year’s break, Cullen had made her racing comeback with a clear win over Byrne at the Raheny 5-mile road race in January and then set a new course record at the Armagh International 3km.
Linda Byrne may have lost out to Cullen at the national cross-country, but her time of 16 mins 3 secs to win the St Patrick’s Festival 5km last Saturday was the perfect confidence booster and she is an athlete for the big occasion.
Ava Hutchinson has produced some solid performances over the past few months. At the European Clubs Cross-Country, she finished best for DSD in 9th position and just over a week later, was second behind Cullen at the Armagh International 3km. Most recently, she ran 33 mins 21 secs to finish second at the Trafford 10km.
Leevale’s Lizzie Lee, who was second in the Intercounty championships last November, has warmed up for the trip to Poland with a comfortable win at both the Waterford 10-Mile and the more recent Munster Road Championships. She also took the Irish 3000m indoor title in Athlone and is the quintessential team player.
Last December, this brilliant team ran its guts out to take European gold. They will need all of that commitment again next Sunday – and with a bit of luck and a following wind, they could snatch a medal. Exciting times!

A strong Irish masters’ team is in San Sebastian, Spain this week for the European Indoor Athletics Championships. Joe Gough of West Waterford, who set a new European M60 record for 800m recently, goes in both 800m and 1500m, while also competing are Paul Fleming of Rathfarnham WSAF M35 , Ciaran Doherty (Letterkenny) M35 3000m, Paul Cowhie (Civil Service) M45 and Pat Byrne (Tinryland) M40. Oldest member of the team is Nenagh’s Sean Naughton, now in the over 80 age group and still going strong.

* Updates: Sheila Champion won the W75 shot and javelin; Lucy Moore-Fox was 2nd W55 high jump and 6th shot; Pat Naughton was 3rd M80 high jump; John McMullin was 4th in the M65 walk. In the M60 800m heats,  Joe Gough qualified easily in second place with 2:26.91.

Despite bitterly cold conditions and driving rain, Maria McCambridge ran a time of  74 mins 15 secs to finish third in the Reading Half Marathon – not too far off her target 72 minutes, with the Rotterdam Marathon coming up on April 14. Clonliffe’s Ailish Malone,  who is also entered for Rotterdam, ran a personal best  79 mins.

On a good outing for the Marathon Mission,  Paul Pollock finished fifth overall in 66 mins 9 secs, Joe McAllister, ninth in 66 mins 58 secs, and Brian Maher 23rd in 69 mins 19 secs.

Closer to home, Raheny’s Fiona Roche set a new course record of  56.53 when finishing first woman at the KOSTAL Mallow ’10’ .  Roche was an impressive 11th overall and her time qualifies her for the Marathon Mission. Shewas already part of the  development squad. Philip Harty led home the 868 finishers in 51 mins 23 secs, with his West Waterford team mates Sandis Bralitis and Raivis Zakis second and third.

The Mulhare family was out in force for the Streets of Portlaoise 5km, with Michael  beating brother Dan for overall victory. Youngest brother David  was fifth and first junior, while sister Mary  was second of the women behind Tullamore’s Pauline Curley.  At the Borrisokane 10km, Clonliffe’s Sergiu Ciobanu was first home in 31 mins 41 secs. Siobhan O’Doherty of the host club was first woman and eighth overall in 35 mins 25 secs.

MSB’s John Coghlan raced away with his first ever victory in the St Patrick’s Festival 5km in Dublin – a race that commemorates his grandfather Bill Coghlan, a past president of Athletics Ireland.

Coghlan’s winning time of 14 mins 45 secs put him comfortably clear of the opposition.  First woman in 16 mins 3 secs was  Linda Byrne of DSD with Newcastle’s Kerry Harty second.

Irish javelin champion and national record holder Anita Fitzgibbon threw  49.29m at the European Cup Winter Throws Meet in Castellon, Spain. That mark, her best ever seasons opener,  came in the fourth round. In the women’s U23 discus, Claire Fitzgerald threw 49.09.

All roads lead to Dunboyne this weekend for Sunday’s Eirgrid Dunboyne 4-Mile. Entry at just €15 is available on the Athletics Ireland website. Winners last year were Joe Sweeney of DSD and Moynalvy’s Sarah Treacy, and with €400 on offer for the winners, a strong race upfront is expected. A feature of the day are the juvenile races (2pm); entry just €2 on the line. So make it a family day out!

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