European Cross-Country: Irish women chasing big wins at home

Fionnuala McCormack will be a pivotal presence at Abbotstown on Sunday

Such is the unquestionable service and unfailing commitment and consistency of Fionnuala McCormack when it comes to the European Cross-Country that it feels almost unreasonable and unfair to be asking for more right now. Even with the natural excitement of the home event that is Sunday at Abbotstown.

Just last Sunday in Valencia, four months after running the Olympic marathon, McCormack produced a brilliant new lifetime best by almost three minutes, her 2:23:58 moving ever closer to the Irish record which has stood untouched for over 23 years. Now 37, McCormack would feel perfectly entitled to sit at home in Wicklow this weekend, feet up, with her husband and two young daughters.

Instead, she committed to Abbotstown weeks back, in her own words “unable to resist the allure” of a home European Cross-Country, and in truth if the Irish women’s team are to win another medal (they’ve won four in the last eight editions of the championships, including gold in 2012, McCormack the leading scorer every time), then her presence is indeed pivotal. Exactly how well she’s recovered from 26.2 miles of racing, seven days later, only Sunday will tell.

What is certain is McCormack will relish the competition. Only Catherina McKiernan, with her Irish record of 2:22:23 from Amsterdam in 1998, is faster on the Irish all-time women’s list, and McCormack continues to follow in her footsteps in other ways too, McKiernan having won the inaugural European Cross-Country in 1994.

Sunday also marks McCormack 17th appearance in the event, more than any other woman in European athletics history, the first as a junior back in Thun, Switzerland, 20 years ago this same weekend. In 2011 and then 2012, she became the first woman to win back-to-back titles, also finishing fourth on four different occasions, including the last edition in Lisbon in 2019.

Join the hunt

McCormack isn't the only returning scorer from two years ago, Aoibhe Richardson from Kilkenny also back to join the hunt, the addition of Michelle Finn, the runaway winner of the National Cross-Country in Santry last month, ensuring they'll be in that medal chase again.

At senior men's level, Ireland have only once made the podium, 21 years ago, when the quartet of Peter Matthews, Seamus Power, Gareth Turnbull and Keith Kelly won bronze in Malmo, Sweden. It's not a great return in 21 years since and Sunday is unlikely to change that, though Hiko Tonosa Haso won't fear this level of competition,his first European Cross-Country for his adopted country, the presence of Norway's Olympic 1,500m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen, just turned 21 and the best runner in the world right now, one obvious measure of the opposition.

There are medal hopes among the other five Irish teams, including the mixed 4 x 1,500m relay, introduced in 2017, which includes three Tokyo Olympians in Andrew Coscoran, Ciara Mageean and Síofra Cléirigh Büttner, plus the highly promising Luke McCann, and if all four run to form and make the most of the home support at the Sport Ireland campus, they'll be hard to beat.

The under-23 races can sometimes be hard to predict, Sarah Healy and Darragh McElhinney certainly coming into form, the long, sweeping nature of the course probably to their liking too. The women's Under-23 team, who won silver in 2019, are certainly capable of repeating that feat.

Then there's Nick Griggs, the Tyrone runner still a week shy of his 17th birthday, who won the European under-20 3,000m title this summer with such a fearless display of front-running and still-astute tactical awareness that anything seems possible. Despite his tender age, it doesn't feel too unreasonable to expect Griggs to get the day off to a winning start.

Irish teams for European Cross-Country at Abbotstown

SENIOR MEN
Hiko Tonosa Haso DSD AC Feidhlim Kelly
Paul O'Donnell DSD AC Donal Hennigan
Emmet Jennings DSD AC Donal Hennigan
Ryan Forsyth Newcastle & District AC Richard Rodgers
Brian Fay Raheny Shamrock AC Andy Powell
Cormac Dalton Mullingar Harriers AC Taylor Gulley

SENIOR WOMEN
Michelle Finn Leevale AC
isín Flanagan Finn Valley AC
Aoibhe Richardson Kilkenny City Harriers
Aoife Cooke Eagle AC
Fionnuala McCormack Kilcoole AC
Eilish Flanagan Finn Valley AC

UNDER-23 MEN
Darragh McElhinney UCD AC
Keelan Kilrehill Moy Valley AC
Jamie Battle Mullingar Harriers
Micheal Power West Waterford AC
Donal Devane Ennis Track Club
Thomas Devaney Castlebar AC

UNDER-23 WOMEN
Sarah Healy UCD AC
Aoife O'Cuill St Coca's AC
Danielle Donegan UCD AC
Lauren Tinkler Dublin City Harriers
Ruth Heery Waterford AC
Jodie McCann Dublin City Harriers

UNDER-20 MEN
Nick Griggs Mid Ulster AC
Dean Casey Ennis Track Club
Scott Fagan Metro St Brigid's
Sean Kay Clonliffe Harriers
Cathal O'Reilly Kilkenny City Harriers
Abdel Laadjel Donore Harriers AC

U20 WOMEN
Jane Buckley Leevale AC
Emma McEvoy DSD AC
Rebecca Rossiter Loughview AC
Laura Mooney Tullamore Harriers
Aoife McGreevy UCD AC
Róise Roberts North Belfast Harriers

MIXED 4 X 1,500m RELAY
Andrew Coscoran Star of the Sea AC
Luke McCann UCD AC
Ciara Mageean City of Lisburn AC
Síofra Cléirigh Büttner Dundrum South Dublin

Sunday’s Schedule

(Live on RTÉ One, RTÉ Player and european-athletics.com)

10am Under-20 men (6km)
10.28am Under-20 women (4km)
10.50am Under-23 men (8km)
11.23am Under-23 women (6km)
12.21pm Mixed relay (4x1500m)
1.13pm Senior men (10km)
1.53pm Senior women (8km)