Muddy Masters in Tuam
Berkely heads strong DSD contingent with Matthews and Crossan also lining out in thriving cross-country event
With the marathon her priority, Fionnuala Britton has opted not to run next month's World Cross-Country Championships in Guiyang, China.
It means that Ireland will have no representative at an event won in the past by John Treacy and Sonia O'Sullivan. There were also four second places for Catherina McKiernan and two third places for the Irish women's team.
Two years ago in Poland, the Irish women's team finished a credible fifth after winning the European title a few months earlier. Last December, the Irish women took bronze at the European Championships. Sonia O'Sullivan, for one, feels that there should be an Irish team in China.
No-one can deny that cross-country at senior level is in crisis and a forum on the subject is scheduled for Athlone on February 14.
Yet next Sunday, around 500 athletes will head to Tuam, Co Galway for the annual Masters' Cross-Country Championships. At this level, cross-country is thriving and record numbers turned out for the Dublin Championships last month, where virtually every club in the county was represented.
Winning the men's race was John Dunne of Donore, who finished third at the national championships last year behind Declan Reed from City of Derry and the ageless Pauric McKinney of Letterkenny.
Leading this year's entry is Noel Berkeley, part of a strong DSD team that includes previous winner Peter Matthews and marathon man Gary Crossan. These are all likely winners of the men's race on Sunday, although the day can always throw up a surprise, such as Maria McCarthy's victory in the women's race last year.
Bad news for her opponents is that McCarthy, from the Farranfore Maine club, won the Munster masters title comfortably last December.
Behind her came many times British and Irish champion Niamh O'Sullivan of Riocht, a contender for the W50 title on Sunday. Tullamore's Pauline Curley, who has won this title more than once, always put up a good fight, as does Colette Tuohy from Mayo AC.
Likely to beat runners up to 20 years her junior is Carmell Parnell, who equalled the record for the most wins at the British and Irish International last November. Dublin champion Niamh Fitzgerald of Lucan is one that won't be running. As a track specialist who won the W35 800m indoor title last year, she's concentrating on the indoors.
Also taking place in Tuam are the national intermediate championships and the juvenile B championships, making for a total of around 1,200 athletes. Not bad for a supposedly dying branch of the sport!