Novices head for cow park!
After the excitement of last weekend in Lisbon, grass-roots athletics returns with a vengeance this weekend with around 2,000 athletes signed up for Sunday's National Novice and Juvenile Uneven Ages Cross Country Championships in Dunboyne.
If the aptly named Cow Park course isn't already churned up before the first race (11.30), it certainly will be as the day goes on.
Novice races see promising young athletes moving up, taking on hardened club athletes who have never quite managed to take a medals before, making it one of the hardest races to win on the calendar and the toughest to predict.
Astonishingly, for an event as popular as it now is, the first National Novice races only took place in 1993 and a list of previous winners makes interesting reading.
Winners of the men's race in the 26 years since then have included Seán Tobin, who finished 18th at the European Cross-Country last Sunday, in 2014; Eoin Everard, also on the Irish team last Sunday, in 2011;, and brothers Dan and Michael Mulhare in 2005 and 2010. Younger sister Mary was adding to the family's list of honours by taking team silver with Ireland on Sunday in Lisbon.
Winner in 2005 - that's 14 years ago - was Alan McCormack, husband and coach to Fionnuala. Other winners include marathon man Sergiu Ciobanu in 2006. Most successful team has been Leevale with three wins.
Future Irish international athlete Rosemary Ryan was the first women's champion back in 1993.
Winners since then have included marathon woman Gladys Ganiel in 1999 and current Irish marathon champion Aoife Cooke in 2015. As for the teams, Sportsworld and Donore Harriers have five wins apiece. Last year's winners were Zak Hanna of Newcastle AC, who is currently Ireland's top-ranked male mountain runner, and Cheryl Nolan of St Abban's AC.
Team winners were the men of Togher AC and the women of Mullingar Harriers, who were taking a third title.
This year, the men's entry includes Ryan Creech of Leevale AC, better known as a track athlete with a 10,000m best of just over 30 minutes. Creech finished third in the Cork senior cross-county last October.
For the women's race, the entry includes a strong team from Leevale AC, which includes Andrea Bickerdike, Emma Bickerdike and Michelle Kenny. There's also a young team from Ballyroan Abbeyleix and District led by the McDonald sisters, Breda and Kate, that includes Louise Malone.
As for the juvenile races, last year's U19 winner was one Efrem Gidey of Clonliffe Harriers who, as everyone now knows, went on to take bronze in the U20 race in Lisbon last weekend.
Behind Gidey for second place last year was Shay McEvoy of Kilkenny City Harriers, who aims to go one better this year. McEvoy had won the U17 race a year earlier.
Leading the entry for the women's U19 race is Aimee Hayde of Newport AC, who has been burning up the track over the past few years. Hayde won the U15 race in 2017 and the U17 race last year.