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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Greek summit for Irish team

A top six place is the target of the Irish team heading for the European Team League 1 Championships in Heraklion, Greece this weekend.

For the past two years, the Irish team has finished a fighting seventh and two years ago, were just eight and a half points off sixth when the competition was held in Dublin.

In Greece, they will take on eleven other teams led by the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Turkey, all relegated from the Super League.

Promoted from League 2 are Latvia and Switzerland. Also competing are Belgium, Portugal, Lithuania, Romanian and host nation Greece. The top three teams at the end of the weekend win promotion while the bottom two drop down to League 2.

Ireland is strongest when it comes to the middle distances and included in the team are three of the four Irish winners from last year - Brian Gregan in the 400m, Mark English 800m and Thomas Barr in the 400m hurdles.

Good news for English, who ran 1:46.12 in New York last weekend, is that he's the top ranked 800m man in the field.

Barr, the top man in Europe at the moment thanks to his time of 48.65 secs from Rome last week, faces a tougher battle. European champion Kariem Hussein of Switzerland has run 48.76 secs this season while Rasmus Magi, from Estonia, is not too far behind with a best of 49.14 secs.

In the 400m, Brian Gregan will face a revitalised Jonathan Borlee from Belgium. Last year, Borlee ended the season ranked eighth in Europe with a fastest time of 45.37 secs. This season, his time of 44.91 secs in Oortegem, puts him right back on top of the rankings. In what looks like becoming one of the races of the weekend, Gregan will also take on the Czech Republic's European indoor and outdoor champion, Pavel Maslack.

Contenders for top three places include Ben Reynolds, who finished third in the 110m hurdles last year and has a season's best of 13.79 secs set in May. There's also John Travers in the 1500m, Kevin Batt in the 5000m and Adam McMullen, who is the strongest of the Irish field eventers, in the long jump.

Of the women, Ciara Everard goes in the 800m after running an eye-catching 2:01.21 last month. Kelly Proper in the 200m and pole vaulter Tori Pena are both reliable performers, while thrower Claire Fitzgerald is improving all the time in both the shot and discus.

Although she hasn't been competing this season, Ciara Lavin is picked for the 100m hurdles.

Rounding of the weekend's action on Sunday is the 4x400m, where the Irish again aim to pick up big points after finishing second last year.

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