So the Olympic dream is still alive, just about, with the Irish men’s 4 x 400 metres relay team giving themselves one last shot at qualifying for Rio next month by scraping into the final at the European Championships in Amsterdam.
No one said it would be easy, and indeed the Irish quartet did it the hard way, finishing fourth in heat one, with only the top-three certain of progressing. It was only after the second heat finished marginally slower that they made it through, taking the last non-automatic qualifying spot by .23 of a second.
So, so close, yet just about near enough to give them another shot at Rio. The look on their faces afterwards said it all, for the quartet of Brian Gregan, Craig Lynch, David Gillick and Thomas Barr clearly realising how close they'd come to letting their last chance slip.
Here’s the deal: their finishing time here of 3:04.42 moves them into 17th on the world rankings, with only the top 16 invited to Rio. Monday is the deadline, which means they’ll go into Sunday’s final in Amsterdam (6.50pm Irish time) knowing they’ll need to run quicker again, which in fairness championship finals invariably help produce.
Great Britain won their heat in 3:01.63, the fastest in Europe this season, followed by Poland (3:02.09) and the Czech Republic (3:02.66).
Gregan got Ireland off to a fighting start, but found himself fifth on the first changeover. Lynch battled hard to move into fourth, and Gillick held that position, before passing off to Barr on the final leg.
Despite come under intense pressure from Turkey, Barr held on for fourth – crucially, as the Turks were the ones to just miss out, clocking 3:04.65 in fifth. It meant Ireland go through as the eighth-best ranked team, knowing only another improvement will see them on the plane to Rio.
As of now the time they’re aiming for is the 3:04.25, run by Venezuela, currently ranking them the 16th fastest time in the world, those rankings based on the two fastest aggregate times of each country. Indeed they will almost certainly need to run significantly quicker than 3:04.25.
That’s because there is still room for other teams to manoeuvre themselves ahead of Ireland in the rankings, including the Czech Republic, who ran 3:02.66 in their heat; a repeat of that sort of time in the final would see them jump ahead of Ireland in the rankings.
Still, at least the Irish men are still in the hunt, their fate at least partly in their own hands. “We’re exactly where we want to be, in the final, and we believe we can go quicker,” said Gillick, who came out of retirement earlier this year, partly inspired by the prospect of another Olympics.
Gregan, incidentally, was clocked at 46.4, Lynch 45.9, Gillick at 46.01, and Barr at 46.04.
Earlier, however, the women's 4 x 400m relay team bowed out, the quartet of Sinead Denny, Phil Healy, Jenna Bromwell, and Ciara McCallon running a season best of 3:34.02, yet only good enough for eighth it their heat.
There was more personal disappointment for Mary Cullen after she confirmed her withdrawal from the 5,000m later this evening, due to the recurrence of an injury: "Just gutted," said the Sligo woman. "I know I'm not the only athlete to deal with setbacks but this might take a minute."
Ireland’s sole male field event athlete, Barry Pender, was making his major championship debut in the high jump, although his best clearance of 2.14 metres wasn’t enough to go progress to the final.
He did clear 2.09 at his first attempt, then got over 2.14 at the second, before moving to 2.19, where he failed on all three attempts. He needed 2.25 metres to qualify.