Sweeney favoured to end long wait for local success in Dublin Marathon

Lack of elite overseas runners opens the way for first Irish men’s winner in 20 years

DSD club-mates Joe Sweeney and Maria McCambridge are the favourites to win the Airtricity Dublin Marathon on Bank Holiday Monday. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

DSD club-mates Joe Sweeney and Maria McCambridge are the favourites to win the Airtricity Dublin Marathon on Bank Holiday Monday. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

 

Not since John Treacy survived a minor hamstring cramp in the last mile to win the 1993 edition has the Dublin Marathon produced an Irish men’s winner – although the long wait, it would appear, is about to end.

Predicting marathon winners is always a risky business, especially when so much can and often does go wrong over the 26.2 miles. It doesn’t help either that this October Bank Holiday Monday is not ideal for marathon running, the stormy St Jude a little too close for comfort for the record entry of 14,500 runners.

What is certain is that there will be no elite international field, initially for financial reasons, then the logistical. Earlier this year, still without a headline sponsor, the Dublin organisers were forced to cut the elite race fund entirely, which meant no invitations were sent to the typically dominant East Africans (Kenyans, for example, winning 11 of the 19 men’s races since Treacy’s victory).

By the time Airtricity came on board as race sponsors it was too late to go back on that. By then the leading Irish marathon runners had been told Dublin was essentially there for the winning, and in fairness it was too late to go back on that, too.

All this means it will be something of an anti-climax if the first man to reach the finish at Merrion Square is not Irish, and it’s not necessarily guaranteed. The pre-race favourite is Joe Sweeney, even though he’s making his marathon debut, and if everything goes to plan for the 28 year-old Dubliner there is no reason why he can’t win.

Coached for former two-time Dublin Marathon winner Jerry Kiernan, Sweeney – all 6ft 2in of him – certainly has excellent marathon potential, racing 30km (about 20 miles), last year, in 1:34, which equates to about a 2:12 marathon. But lots of people say the marathon begins at 20 miles, and Kiernan himself is cautiously optimistic about Sweeney’s chances.

“Unless my eyes are deceiving me, Joe looks to be in pretty good shape,” says Kiernan, “and to be quite honest, I’d be disappointed if he didn’t win. Of course these things can blow up in your face, especially when it comes to your first marathon. He’s unusually tall for a marathon runner, and I would be concerned about him carting his big frame around, but he’s tough.”

One man Sweeney won’t have for company is Paul Pollock, the first Irish finisher last year, who managed ninth place overall, clocking 2:16.30, the fastest Irish men’s time run in Dublin in 13 years. Pollock isn’t running this time as he’s still recovering from his 21st place, and second European, in the World Championship marathon in Moscow just over two months ago.

But there are a couple of contenders back from last year. Clare athlete Sean Hehir, who now runs with Rathfarnham, clocked 2:17.19 in his marathon debut, and looks even better prepared this time, running 66:11 at the recent Cardiff Half Marathon, while Clonliffe runner Gary O’Hanlon is still steadily improving and has the experience over both Sweeney and Hehir.

Then there’s Moldovan-born runner Sergiu Ciobanu, based in Ireland for the last number of years and also representing Clonliffe. Ciobanu has been the first “domestic” finisher in the past, and is still a force to be reckoned with. There are also a couple of overseas runners, entered individually, who might upstage the Irish men, including Alun Evans from Wales, who can go sub 2:20.

Treacy ran 2:14.40 when he won in 1993, and even if that time is unlikely to be bettered, the sight of an Irish runner leading home the masses for the first time in 20 years would be more memorable than any finishing time.

The women’s race, also without an elite international field this year, hasn’t been waiting as long for an Irish winner, as Sonia O’Sullivan was the outright winner in 2000, just a month after winning the 5,000 metres silver medal at the Sydney Olympics. Dublin’s Maria McCambridge ran a lifetime best of 2:35.28 last year, the first Irish finisher, and although now aged 38, looks to be in similar form, having won all the Dublin countdown races.

McCambridge also knows the Dublin course extremely well, especially given it passes her family home in Rathgar, and certainly has the belief and experience to win the women’s title outright. Again, she won’t have it all her own way, with Cork’s Claire McCarthy thoroughly prepared to present a strong challenge, with veterans Pauline Curley of Tullamore Harriers and Annette Kealy of Raheny Shamrock not likely to be far away either.

Only something of a major surprise then will deny Dublin an Irish winner in both the men’s and women’s races, both of whom will drive away in a new Renault Fluence ZE electric car – the top prize, worth €30,000 – unless they still fancy running the short distance back home.

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