Britton just one of many to shine on new track


ATHLETICS:So that’s what we’ve been missing – a proper indoor arena that spurs a cross-country specialist to an awesome turn of speed, writes a fresh chapter in the old Coghlan family history and brings out the best in the new generation, including a unique championship treble.

With confirmation too that Brian Gregan is now definitely a European Indoor title contender, and that Mark English is the most exciting middle distance prospect of our time, no wonder the Irish Indoor Championships, staged for the first time at the new Athlone Institute of Technology arena, felt like a truly welcome homecoming.

It was Fionnuala Britton who found herself playing the opening act, dropping down to the 1,500 metres, and after injecting some very impressive speed, moving to the front 300 metres from home, took the title in 4:13.93 – a full five seconds quicker than her previous best, actually run outdoors.

“Well happy with the time,” said Britton, “a five-second PB. That was the plan, to make one break for it, and it was a bit like the European Cross Country, telling myself not to look back.”

Not bad for a two-time European Cross Country champion, in the midst of training for next month’s World Cross Country, and also a qualifier for the European Indoor championships, set for Gothenburg on the first weekend in March: Britton has already qualified for the 3,000m, the event she will run in Gothenburg.

“The priority for me is very much the World Cross Country, at the end of March, so I have to be realistic, knowing I can’t do all the speed work for indoors, trying to do the endurance as well for cross country.”

Perfectly content

Brian Gregan also dropped down from the 400m to the one lap, his victory over 200m in 21.33 just shy of his best of 21:27, run on this track last month, yet he was perfectly content – and happy to have avoided to false-start curse that upset so many of the other sprinters over the afternoon.

“I was slightly conscious, with all the false starts, not to break too fast,” said Gregan, “and just eased into it, really. But it’s exactly where I want to be, and that’s it now until Gothenburg, I’ll just polish off the training, go there to make that final, then take it from there.”

Jason Harvey, presumably, took advantage of Gregan’s absence in the 400m by winning the national title in 47.94, the Crusaders man holding off Tommy Crowe from Doneen AC while Belfast veteran Paul McKee found his quest to turn back the driven-off track at the bell lap, and he pulled up.

Earlier, Athlone also witnessed John Coghlan eclipsing his famous father, Eamonn, by bringing a first Irish indoor title to the family: it was actually his first senior Irish medal of any colour – although his 3:47.43 won’t qualify him for Gothenburg. “Well I never look at history,” he said, “just delighted to win, big time. The times doesn’t matter here either, it was all about the win.”

Which indeed it was, and Coghlan was made work hard for it, holding off Eoin Everard (3:48.96) and Joe Warne (3:54.08).

John Travers came to Athlone looking to run sub-8:00 in the 3,000m to book his ticket to Gothenburg – and he did exactly that, the Donore athlete, now attending Athlone IT, running the 15 laps alone and event to clock 7:58.54. His only challenge was getting past lapped runners, but he kicked hard, a 28-second last lap bringing him home bang on target.

Cruising home

“That was the plan, roll out 32s, just go for it. I’ve done a few sessions on this track, and it makes a big difference, having this facility here to train on,” he said.

Ciara Everard, still fresh from lowering the Irish indoor 800m record to 2:02.54 on this very track a week ago – did all that was required to secure the national title, her 2:07.77 looking as perfectly comfortable as the finishing kick required to win. Likewise with English in the men’s 800, who won back the title in typically controlled fashion, cruising home in 1:48.44, and although that also qualifies him for Gothenburg, he’s likely to pass on selection.

Unfortunately there was no Derval O’Rourke, a late withdrawal after sustaining a muscle twinge on Saturday, when finishing sixth in Birmingham, in 8.15. Her absence cleared the way for Sarah Lavin, to claim the title in 8.36 seconds, improving again her recent Irish junior record of 8.44.

All of this on the back of Ciarán Ó Lionáird’s superb run Stateside, at Saturday night’s Millrose Games, where he moved himself up to fourth on the landmark all-time Irish milers indoor list, clocking 3:52.10 to finish third in the Wanamaker Mile.

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