Gidey will be focus for Irish
After a year's absence, Fionnuala McCormack of Kilcoole AC again leads the Irish team at Sunday's European Cross-Country Championships in Lisbon, Portugal.
Along with Ines Monteiro of Portugal, McCormack tops the women's list of European cross-country 'regulars' with 15 appearances since she first competed as a junior at Thun in Switzerland in 2001.
She finished second U23 when that category was introduced in 2006 and as a senior had memorable wins in both 2011 and 2012.
Despite her brilliant marathon time of 2:26.47 at the Chicago Marathon last October which qualifies her for the Tokyo Olympics, cross country remains McCormack's first love and she was back in magisterial form when winning an eighth national cross-country title a few weeks ago.
In Lisbon, she takes on a field led by the Kenyan-born Yasemin Can, who is going for a fourth consecutive victory in the race. She's had a quiet year, running a 68-minute half marathon and later competing on the track, where her form was unexceptional.
Also entered is Norway's Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal, third last year and always a reliable performer.
Last year, the Irish senior women's team finished 11th with Sara Tracey in 26th place the first finisher followed by Ciara Mageean 43rd. Mageean is back on the team this year, along with Michelle Finn and Fionnuala Ross from last year's squad.
In the U20 women's race, Nadia Battocletti defends her title as does Anna Emilie Moller of Denmark in the U23 race.
Moller, the top European finisher at the World Cross Country last March, was a winner at the Warandeloop in Tilburg a few weeks ago. Ireland's U23 team is headed by Stephanie Cotter and includes the Flanagan twins, Eilish and Róisín.
Leading the men's senior team is national champion Liam Brady of Tullamore Harriers who won the race of the day at the national championships. Behind him came Brian Fay of Raheny Shamrock who will compete in the U23 race in Lisbon. Third was defending champion Sean Tobin of Clonmel AC, tenth and best of the Irish at the 2018 race in Tilburg.
After a summer recovering from injury, Tobin is getting fitter by the week.
Defending champion is Filip Ingebrigsten - the only one of the three Norwegian brothers entered this year. Isaac Kimeli of Belgium, runner-up last year, is also entered, as is Napoleon Solomon of Sweden, fifth last year.
Two to watch are the up-and-coming Mike Foppen of the Netherlands, winner of the Warandeloop in Tilburg. and Robel Fsiha of Sweden, originally from Eritrea, who won the 30km race at the annual Lidingoloppet in Sweden.
In the U23 men's category, Brian Fay and the Irish team will take on Jimmy Gressier of France who is going for a third title. At U20 level, all eyes will be on Eritrean-born Efrem Gidey of Clonliffe Harriers, who makes his debut in an Irish vest just three years since arriving in Ireland.
Also on the team is Darragh McElhinney of UCD AC, who finished 16th last year. With three-time winner Jakob Ingebrigsten of Norway not competing, the race looks very open.