Michelle Finn bidding for Cross-Country glory on home soil

32-year-old is a model of consistency and will be leading home challenge in Europeans

Michelle Finn will be leading the Irish challenge in this weekend’s European Cross-Country. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Michelle Finn will be leading the Irish challenge in this weekend’s European Cross-Country. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

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For the best part of two years now Michelle Finn has been quietly plotting her plan of attack, and Sunday will see the final unleashing of it. If team medals are to be won at a European Cross-Country back on home ground for the first time since 2009 then Finn intends on leading the chase and the hunt.

A year later than originally scheduled, drawing some of the strongest runners from across Europe, Sunday’s event is in part about making up for 2019, when she missed out on making the Irish women’s team that came away from Lisbon with silver medals. Finn felt she was good enough to be there that day, still feels that way.

So when team places for Abbotstown were on offer, at the National Cross-Country in Santry last month, Finn reached out early and grabbed hers, taking over the senior women’s race after the opening lap and winning by 12 seconds from Sarah Healy. It was a statement of style and substance, and Sunday should be too.

The chances of team medals in the women’s race may ultimately hinge on how well Fionnuala McCormack recovers from running that brilliant lifetime best of 2:23:58 at Sunday’s Valencia marathon, especially given conditions aren’t looking great for Sunday. The women’s race gets headline treatment, the last of seven, potentially the game-maker.

“I had made five European Cross-Country teams in a row,” says Finn, her first appearance in 2014 also yielding team bronze medals. “Missing out in 2019, and I think I was fitter in 2019 than any of the previous five years, I know what it felt like to be that disappointed, so I was like, nothing is going to make me more disappointed.

“So going into Nationals, obviously I wanted to run well, but I was going to take a risk because if I died, missed out again, I’ve been there before. But I was confident I was fit enough, and prepared to take the risk.”

At 31, having run two successive Olympics in the 3,000m steeplechase, two World Championships, plus European Championships indoors and out, Finn may in some ways be a victim of her own consistency. She ran her lifetime best of 9:29.25 this summer, now just a second shy of the national record, and while originally think she may retire after Tokyo, Paris 2024 is now back on the radar.

Her move to train with the Dublin Track Club, under coach Feidlhlim Kelly, has also paid dividends – though Leevale AC will always be home – and she feels that consistency should be transferring to some more satisfying results.

“I think maybe one of the reasons I’m so consistent is that I wasn’t performing at my very best. Like, I’ve made so many different championships, and I’m always disappointed. I feel it’s easy to be consistent when you’re running 80 per cent of your ability, or something like that. I kind of feel I was making these championships, just not really doing anything really good.

“I’m not injury prone, feel I’ve a good idea when to push hard, when to ease back, not tip over the line. That’s one of my better strengths as a runner, just stay in one piece, which is one of the main things in staying consistent. But I also think in order to get better I do need to push on a bit, hopefully I can do that this year.”

She feels in the best shape of her life now: “I probably am, because I just ran a 3k PB as well, at the same time it’s hard to compare cross-country, I don’t feel I did anything absolutely spectacular at Nationals, so I think there is room for improvement.”

Finn ended up with a kidney infection, two days after racing in Tokyo, still she’s committed full-time to her training and progression, one of the new Irish athletes in a position to that, relishing the chance that Sunday brings.

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