Ireland into 4x400m final with third-place finish

Brian Gregan, Brian Murphy, Richard Morrissey and Thomas Barr set new Irish record in Zurich

Thomas Barr may have missed a place in his hurdles final but he delivered a terrific run over the 400 metres flat to anchor Ireland's place in the European Championship relay final - their time of 3:03.57 also beating the long-standing Irish record.

The quartet of Barr, Brian Gregan, Brian Murphy and Richard Morrissey needed to nail third or better to ensure their place in tomorrow's eight-team final, and in the end they did exactly that, closing right up on relay giants Russia and Poland on the finishing line.

Better still, Barr was being chased down hard by Belgium's Kevin Borlee, who won the individual 400m title in Barcelona in 2010, yet found the legs to hold him off, blazing the last 100m, much to the obvious delight of his three team mates at the finish.

Their time finally eclipsed the 3:03.73 which had stood the Irish 4x400m since the 2002 European Championships in Munich. The time here also ranked them sixth fastest overall across the two semi-finals, which suggests they won’t be out of their depth for tomorrow’s final (which goes off at 2.42pm Irish time).

Gregan took the initial leg, and immediately put the Irish in contention, with Murphy actually heading into the second leg in front: he was passed by the Russians, then Poland, with Belgium briefly pulling level, before Morrissey fairly smoked the third leg to keep Ireland firmly in contention.

So to Barr, and clearly fired up by his disappointment at not making the 400m hurdles final, he produced a stunning lap to hold off Borlee, the Belgium team finishing fourth in 3:03.83, although they did still secure one of the two fastest losing positions for the final.

Barr’s split time for the last 400m was every bit as fast as it looked, 45.21 seconds to be exact, while Gregan was clocked at 45.86, Murphy at 46.75 and Morrissey at 45.56.

“Well, the lads put me in a great position,” said Barr. ”I did feel a little bit nervous, taking off in third, but I knew all I had to do was maintain what I had. I was going to try and pass the two lads around the top bend, but they just kicked ahead. Then, I heard footsteps of someone coming on up me, obviously Borlee, and I just thought no way was he getting past me.”

Russia won the race in 3:03.19, while Great Britain won the first semi-final in a very impressive 3:00.65, anchored by individual champion Martyn Rooney, and they’ll certainly start the final as favourites.

The Irish 4x100m relay woman were also out on the track a little earlier, but for them it was a case of so near and yet so far - as they set their own national record of 43.84 seconds when finishing fourth in their semi-final, but just missed out on a place in the final by .04 of a second.

That's because Sweden qualified as one of the fastest losers by finishing fifth in the first semi-final after running 43.80; so, mixed feelings then for the Irish quartet of Amy Foster, Kelly Proper, Sarah Lavin, and Phil Healy, who improved the Irish record of 43.93, set at the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona (and which also included Foster).

Ireland were helped into fourth place after the German women dropped the baton, while victory in their race went to Great Britain in 42.62, ahead of Ukraine and Russia.

For the men's 4x400m, meanwhile, it remains to be seen which quartet will run tomorrow's final. Mark English was pencilled in one of the four positions, but was rested for this semi-final as he was still recovering from his bronze medal-winning performance over 800m last night. It's possible now that Ireland may stick to these same four - Gregan, Murphy, Morrissey and Barr.

Meanwhile, Irish distance running is still on course to get some further reward as both Ciarán Ó Lionáird and Paul Robinson prepare to take their place in the tomorrow's 1,500m final (2.05pm Irish time).

Robinson went through as an automatic qualifier, finishing fourth in his heat in 3:39.83, while Ó Lionáird went through as one of the fastest losers, running 3:39.79 in the first heat, when finishing seventh.

“I went through all the gears on the last 200m, and that last 100m, I was running for my life,” said Robinson. Ó Lionáird, too, found himself running hard down the stretch, still finishing fast enough to ensure he went through. “I’m back in a European final, 10 months after surgery, so that’s a good point, better than what I expected at the start of the year.”

Indeed, both athletes are now exactly where they wanted to be, and in a 12-man final, medals are always a possibility - not beyond either of them.