Friday 15 December 2017

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Irish team capable of taking three medals at Euros

With most of the athletes under the age of 25, the team announced for the European Track and Field Championships starting in Zurich on August 12 has a fresh look about it. Gone is the generation led by Derval O'Rourke and David Gillick both of whom won European medals although, in Gillick's case, it was indoors.

On form, the Irish team could take three medals, with Mark English, Thomas Barr and world champion race walker Robert Heffernan all well capable of taking on the best that European can offer.

Yet it is worth recalling that only six Irish athletes have won European outdoor medals - Sonia O'Sullivan took five, including three gold and Derval O'Rourke two. Ronnie Delany, Frank Murphy, Eamonn Coghlan and Mark Carroll are the other four.

So it won't be easy. Experience will count for much which is why Rob Heffernan, the world 50km walks champion, is most worthy of a punt. At the last European Championships, he just missed out on not one but two medals, finishing fourth in both the 20km and the 50km.

At 21, 400m hurdler Thomas Barr is at the start of what looks like a brilliant career. His breakthrough time of 48.90 seconds earlier this season puts him top three in the European rankings, although - ominously - a total of 19 men have run under 50 seconds this season.  

Like Barr, 800m runner Mark English, will hope to qualify safely for his final and take it from there. Last year, he came agonisingly close to breaking David Matthews' Irish record of 1:44.828. This year, he has run under 47 seconds for 400m and put in one of the most convincing performances of the day to win the national title last Sunday.

Another man who proved his form last Sunday was Ciaran O Lionaird. He'll be joined in the 1500m by Paul Robinson and John Travers, both in the best form of their young lives.  

Of the women, Fionnuala Britton is one of the team's more experienced campaigners with three European Championships to her credit. She's selected for both the 5000m and 10,000m. Her 5000m time of 15:23.37 for 5000m puts her 15th in Europe; she's also run under 33 minutes for 10,000m this season.

Sprinter Amy Foster, pole vaulter Zoe Brown and hurdlers Ben Reynolds, Jason Harvey and Christine McMahon face a busy few weeks, with the Europeans coming immediately after the Commonwealths starting in Glasgow today.

For the first time, Ireland will field teams in both the men and women's marathon, with Paul Pollock leading the men and Nicola Duncan the women. Not everyone relishes a summer marathon however and there have been rumours of team defections.

p Members of the women's 4x100m squad will be announced on Sunday.

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