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Thursday 23 February 2017

Third time lucky for McCormack?

Fionnuala McCormack will lead the Irish team at the European Cross-Country Championships in Sardinia. Photo: Sportsfile
Fionnuala McCormack will lead the Irish team at the European Cross-Country Championships in Sardinia. Photo: Sportsfile

Fionnuala McCormack leads the Irish team at Sunday's European Cross-Country Championships in Sardinia with high hopes of repeating her victories of 2011 and 2012.

Since 2010, the Kilcoole athlete has never been out of the top-six in this race. She finished fourth last year as well as in 2010 and 2013. In 2014, her sixth place helped the Irish women to team bronze, which they repeated last year.

McCormack has prepared meticulously for this race, opting out of the National Cross-Country ten days ago to take part in a higher quality race in Spain, which she duly won, beating Etenesh Diro Neda of Ethiopia, the woman who famously completed the steeplechase at Rio minus one shoe.

With defending champion Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands concentrating on indoors this season, McCormack must fancy her chances in Chia. Her biggest rival could prove to be the 2014 champion Gemma Steel, who is back in top form and won the British trial race.

Also running is Norway's Karolina Grovdal, who beat McCormack to the bronze medal last year. One to watch is the Kenyan Yasmin Can, who runs in Turkish colours and sensationally won both the 5,000m and 10,000m at the European Track and Field Championships in Amsterdam last June.

Then there's the reigning U23 champion Louise Carton who has moved into the senior ranks and the Ethiopian Trihas Gebre who runs for Spain and threatened in the early stages of last year's race.

When it comes to the team, Ireland can call on Shona Heaslip of Riocht - 33rd in the U23 race last year - who is making her senior debut as is European track bronze medal winner Ciara Mageean, who ran for Ireland as a junior in 2009 when Dublin hosted the championships. Also on the team are Olympic steeplechasers Kerry O'Flaherty and Michelle Finn.

Leading the men's team is Mullingar athlete Mark Christie, who competed as a junior at the world Cross-Country Championships from 2002 to 2004.

He admits that he fell "out of love" with the discipline until earlier this season when he won the Autumn Open, the Leinster Championships and then the National Championships.

He joins a squad that includes Rio marathon men Paul Pollock and Mick Clohisey, who last year was best of the Irish team at the Europeans finishing 37th.

An off-form Pollock was 45th, but has a solid record at the race, with a 23rd place in 2014 his best result. The Irish men are up against teams from Spain and Turkey which feature east African athletes.

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