Irish women battle for cross glory in Santry and Kentucky
Elizabeth Egan previews the GloHealth Inter Clubs Cross Country Championships this Sunday and the NCAA Championships the day before in Kentucky with a focus on the women.
Success Breeds Success
The battle for the Euro Cross selection is always intense, but the competition to get into the senior women’s team – our most successful team at this level – is particularly fierce. This year will be no exception, and those selected will be likely to challenge for their fourth set of Euro Cross medals on 13 December. The Junior and U23 women’s teams are also shaping up well, and come the European Championships in the French town of Hyères on 13th December, those selected will be hoping to improve on last year’s team performances.
The action this weekend is not confined to Santry, and five Irish athletes (including three females) will be representing their respective colleges at the Saturday’s NCAA championships in Kentucky.
With the majority of the major contenders and recent stars available for selection and a number of new faces showing good early season form, Sunday’s trial race promises to be a cracker. There are more than a dozen athletes with realistic aspiration of making the team.
Two-times European champion Fionnuala McCormack will race sparingly over cross country this season with her main target being next summer’s Olympic Marathon. She will, however, be racing on Sunday and has made herself available for team selection. Her reputation at this level is impeccable, with six top 12 finishes in the last six years, and her inclusion would be a major boost for the team.
Ann-Marie McGlynn has been on fire so far this season and, having raced more than her counterparts, looks to have one foot in the team already. After an injury-interrupted summer, the 2014 team captain ran the 4th fastest time at the hotly contested English National Cross Country Championships, was the first woman home in the 8k race at the Autumn International Cross Country, and was a run-away winner at last Saturday’s British & Irish Masters Cross Country in Santry.
Last year’s second counter Sara Treacy has been busy catching up on her junior doctor duties since returning for the World Championships in Beijing, and her only race so far this season was a 9:46 3k leg at the English National Cross Country relays on 31 November. But Treacy always seems to get into good shape just in time for the big day, and she will be looking to make her 9th consecutive Euro Cross appearance in Hyères.
Michelle Finn, who followed Sara home in 22nd place at last year’s championships and finished runner up to Fionnuala at the 2014 trials, has also raced sparingly recently. She is yet to open up on the country but ran for UL at the Munster Road Relays in October and at the IUAA Intervarsity Road Relays on Saturday, where she ran the fastest long leg of the day. Michelle is likely to be particularly buoyed after a dream track season, and, should she make the team, will be looking to break into the European top 20.
It’s difficult to talk about Sara and Michelle these days without mentioning the other athlete in our trio of Olympic steeplechase qualifiers. Kerry O’Flaherty has ran Euro Cross on three previous occasions, and just missed out on making last year’s medal winning team when finishing 7th at the trials. She was 17th at last Sunday’s IAAF Cross Country race in Burgos and, depending on the underfoot conditions in Santry, may be a contender again this time.
Lizzie Lee, fresh from her breakthrough marathon performance in Berlin is also among the list of entries for Sunday. Lee, a member of historic gold medal winning team in Budapest, would be another welcome addition to the team.
Ciara Mageean is enjoying her longest injury-free spell in years, and looks set to put herself among the qualifiers on Sunday. Mageean ran the second fastest long leg at last Saturday’s IUAA Road Relays, running just two seconds slower than Finn.
Teresa Doherty, 8-times Donegal senior champion and third women home at the Autumn International; Ciara Durkan, who recently put in a big performance at the British Athletics Cross Challenge in Milton Keynes; Siobhan O’Doherty, a member of last year’s medal winning team and another Euro Cross regular; and Caroline Crowley, the clear winner of the 5km race at the Autumn Cross Country and recently crowned Dublin Champion, will also be in contention.
McGlynn’s Letterkenny teammates Natasha Adams and Fionnuala Diver also showed good form at the Master’s International, and will be dreaming of making their first Irish senior team. The DSD marathon-running duo of Maria McCambridge and Michelle McGee should also be to the fore. Letterkenny and DSD could be the ones battling it out for club honours.
It’s interesting to see track specialists such as Rose-Anne Galligan, Claire Tarplee and Laura Crowe using cross country on the road to possible Olympic qualification. Irish 800m record holder Galligan ran her first cross country race in six years in Burgos on Sunday, and while she’s unlikely to feature in Santry, Tarplee, a training partner of Treacy at the University of Birmingham, is showing her best form in some time and could well be a dark horse. Crowe, who finished a surprise 3rd at last year’s trials and was a member of the bronze medal winning team in Samokov, is another to watch out for.
Mary Cullen, who has unfinished business at this level having finished 4th in Brussels in 2008 and being a member of the team which finished 4th in Dublin the following year, is not entered for the trials. She may still be considered for selection.
And expect someone unexpected to make an impact. This early in the season it’s difficult to pick out all the contenders, and no doubt there is someone out there, inspired by the team’s heroics last year, with the head down, training hard, under the radar.
One this is for sure – Sunday’s race is not to be missed! The top three across the line will gain automatic qualification.
The U23 team could be one of the strongest in recent years. Shona Heaslip and Rachael Smyth really look to have benefited from competing in Somokov last year, and both will be looking to build on their 2014 performances.
Heaslip in particular looks to be growing in confidence with every race, and is likely to be among the top seniors on Sunday. She was second to McGlynn at the Autumn Cross Country and ran a strong race to finish 7th at the Lotto Cross Cup in Mol.
Smyth finished 15th at the British Cross Challenge in Milton Keynes and had a strong run at the Autumn Cross Country in the Phoenix Park.
Jessica Coyne, the National Senior steeplechase bronze medallist, should be among the contenders.
Former world youth racewalk medallist Kate Veale is also among the entries.
The first two across the line will be selected automatically. There is no guarantee that a full team will be sent to Hyères.
With four of last year’s team eligible again this year, including the first three athletes home in Somokov, the girls will be confident of improving on their 8th place finish from 2014.
Hope Saunders, the reigning Inter-Club and Inter-County champion, looks set to retain her title. She was a convincing winner of the junior 4k race at the Autumn Cross Country, before topping the podium at the Lotto Cross Cup in Mol.
Aoibhe Richardson, second to Saunders in the Phoenix Park and third Irish Junior home in Mol will be looking to make her first Euro Cross team and is likely to battling it out for the medals with Isabel Carron, second to Sanders in Mol and 4th in the Phoenix Park. Emma O’Brien, who finished ahead of Carron in the Phoenix Park will also be looking to break into the team.
Clodagh O’Reilly and Rhona Pierce, the other athletes still eligible from Samokov, will be battling to keep their places in the team, while early season form suggests that Sophie Murphy and Nadia Power are among those hopeful to break into the team.
There are 87 entries for Sunday’s race.
Just hours before the trials get underway, three Irish females will toe the line at the NCAA National Division 1 Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. The event, affectionately known as ‘The Big Dance’, is one of the toughest domestic competitions outside of Africa, and the top 40 finishers will receive All-American honours.
Cork-born Sarah Collins (Providence) is our top representative this year, having finished 2nd at the North East regional qualifiers, and winning the Big East conference meet. She finished 10th in 2012, and will be looking to improve on that result this time round.
Tara Jameson (Iona) won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference before finishing 38th at the North East Regionals. She finished 78th last year and will be looking to improve on that.
Siofra Cleirigh Butner (Villanova) will be making her first appearance at this level. She finished 9th at the Big East Conference, and 17th at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Qualifiers.
The Irish U23 team for Euro Cross would receive a major boost should Collins or Cleirigh-Buttner be available for selection.
Irish athletes Sean Tobin and Kevin Dooney will compete in the men’s race on Saturday.