Thornton gets late call-up to Ireland team


ATHLETICS CROSS-COUNTRY:GARY THORNTON, the strong- running Galwayman, has received a late call-up to the Ireland team for the European Cross-Country Championships in Portugal’s Algarve on Sunday week.

Thornton was listed as first reserve on the men’s team but yesterday the Irish selectors received word from Olympic marathon runner Martin Fagan from his training base in Arizona he was giving up his place in the squad because of loss of form.

The selectors had left a vacancy for Fagan to give him time to improve his fitness after running disappointingly in a big road race in New England last Thursday.

“Martin was keen to help out the Irish team but he did not want to come all this way and not be sure if he would run to his true form” said Ireland manager Ann Keenan-Buckley yesterday.

“So we felt it was only right to give him an extra few days but after a couple of training sessions in the last few days he contacted us and said he felt it might only be robbing a more deserving Irish runner of a chance to run in the championships.

“We are glad to have a runner of the calibre of Gary to take his place and of course he is the national 10,000m champion and will be suited by the fast course in the Algarve.”

Three years ago Fagan was heading for a medal in the 10km event when he was tripped in the penultimate lap, lost ground but battled on to finish a creditable seventh. Last year he was 26th in Dublin and had been working to make up for that disappointment.

The selectors have, in the main, used the form from the National Inter-Counties last Sunday as the basis of their selections but have decided to give fit-again Mark Kenneally his place although he did not run in Derry. However, he was the Irish saviour last year when he finished eighth.

The team will be led by the new Inter-Counties champion, Joe Sweeney of Dundrum, together with the runner-up, Mark Christie.

Unfortunately, Séamus Power, a team bronze medallist in the past, feels his recent injury would not allow him run at his best and he is not included at his request.

All three athletes who finished in the top eight in the senior event on Sunday are included in a strong looking Under-23 team, Brendan O’Neill, John Coghlan and Michael Mulhare. They are joined by three very useful US-based runners, David McCarthy, Ciarán Ó Lionaird and David Rooney and have every chance of a medal.

Former Under-23 silver medallist Fionnuala Britton, fresh from her big win in Derry on Sunday, leads the women’s team and is another leading medal prospect now she is back to her best form, while brilliant Co Down teenager Ciara Mageean will carry big hopes in the junior women’s.

Irish selections European Cross-Country Championships, Albufeira, Portugal, December 12th:Men: J Sweeney, M Christie, D Mulhare, B Farrell, A McCormack, M Kenneally, G Thornton. Women: F Britton, E Lee, S Doherty, A Hutchinson, K Harty, H Murphy. U-23 Men: B O’Neill, J Coghlan, M Mulhare, C Ó Lionaird, D McCarthy, D Rooney. U-23 Women: SL Treacy, B Woods, B Treston. Junior Men: S Quinn, E Jennings, J Travers, P Robinson, D McBrearty, K Dooney. Junior Women: C Mageean, E Mitchell, L Behan, F McKenna, A O’Donoghue. Team Manager: A Keenan-Buckley.