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It's All Set Up For A Fascinating European Cross Country Championships At Abbotstown

It's All Set Up For A Fascinating European Cross Country Championships At Abbotstown
By Conor Gleeson
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12 years on from the muck of Santry Demense, the Spar European Cross Country Championships will make its highly anticipated return to the Emerald Isle, with the Sport Ireland Campus in Abbotstown providing the location for battle tomorrow morning on its purpose-built cross=country track. A year on from its original scheduled date, the circus and hype of having Europe’s most elite women and men will roll into town at a time that could not be more welcome for the country and athletics fans among us. With it comes the opportunity to witness in the flesh, some of the greatest talents European athletics has to offer, along with providing the opportunity to get behind an exciting Irish team and round out what has been a positive year of performances for our athletes across the board. Following on from positive attendances at both the national cross country in Santry and the Autumn Open, the Abbotstown venue promises to attract a large crowd.

If we are treated to anything similar to the last time this festival of cross country racing came to our shores, we are sure to be in for a treat. That cold but uncharacteristically sunny afternoon in Santry on December 13th 2009 concluded with a youthful Mo Farah being presented his silver medal in a hospital bed in Dublin having left everything on the course after a titanic battle in the senior men’s race. However, going against script, it wasn’t the legendary Ukranian cross country specialist Sergiy Lebid who bet him to the title, instead, the winner came in the form of one Alemayehu Bezabeh, the controversial Spaniard who went on to have quite a few turbulent years with the authorities before returning to the sport and winning the title again in 2013. A little less than a minute back, Clonliffe Harriers’ Mark Keneally led home the Irish in an impressive 8th place.

13 December 2009; Mo Farah, Great Britain, who finished in second place, leads eventual winner Alemayehu Bezabeh of Spain, in the Senior Men's event at the 16th SPAR European Cross Country Championships. Santry Demesne, Santry, Co. Dublin. Picture credit: Tomas Greally / SPORTSFILE

The senior women’s race was a story of redemption, with Brit Hayley Yelling producing a superb front running performance to take a surprise victory a year on from announcing her retirement in a stacked field that saw two standout Irish performances. These came in the form of Kilcoole’s Fionnuala Britton and Sligo native Mary Cullen, finishing 11th and 12th respectively with the support of the large home crowd willing the ladies home. Other notable participants on the day were Alastair Brownlee for Great Britain in the u23 men’s race. Brownlee would go on to win his first of 2 Olympic gold medals in the triathlon 3 years later in London. He was well dispatched in Santry on that day however by a certain Stephen Scullion, who would become an Olympian for the first time in the same year the Euro Cross returns to Ireland.

13 December 2009; Ireland athletes Fionnuala Britton, right, and Mary Cullen, in action during the Senior Women's event at the 16th SPAR European Cross Country Championships. Santry Demesne, Santry, Co. Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Its fair to say Irish athletics has gone through a large transitional phase since 2009, which has included three Olympic cycles and a successful record of performances in the European Cross Country with impressive medal hauls in both individual and team events. In most recent times, the sport has seen some breakthrough performances in the quest for Olympic qualification that has progressed the standard of middle distance running in the country to no ends. There surely is no getting away from the fact that we head into next weekend with a healthy sense of expectation and excitement for the performances that could light up Dublin 15 from this vastly talented Irish team across all categories. None more so than that of the opening race of the day, the men’s u20 6000m. Having struck gold with a spectacular breakthrough performance in Tallinn at the start of 2021 in the European u20 3000m, 16-year-old Nick Griggs has also taken the domestic cross country scene by storm and is surely one for both present and future with 3 more years at this grade. Griggs and co, represent a fantastic chance of Irish success despite the unfortunate withdrawal of Cian McPhillips, who also medaled in the 1500m in Tallinn. Cathal O’Reilly of Kilkenny City Harriers will replace McPhillips in the Irish team which also includes Abdel Laadjel, Sean Kay, Scott Fagan and Dean Casey.



The women’s u20 race will follow this as the second event on the card and will also boast a full Irish contingent. The team will be led by Leevale’s national junior cross country champion Jane Buckley and also toeing the line will be the 4 finishers that followed her over the line in Santry two weeks ago including Emma McEvoy, Rebecca Rossiter, Aoife McGreevy and Róise Roberts. Laura Mooney of Tullamore Harriers will complete the team. If the team can group well, a big start to the day in Abbotstown could be on the cards for Team Ireland.


The women’s u23 outfit will be headed by Tokyo Olympian Sarah Healy, who got the better of compatriots Aoibhe Richardson and Roisin Flanagan to take second behind a dominant Michelle Finn in Santry just two weeks ago in the national cross country. If she can replicate this strong run again next weekend, she can spearhead the Irish team charge that will require big performances from the team to place Ireland up the team rankings. A good team placing is not beyond the realm of possibility after strong showings from fellow team members Aoife O’Cuill and Danielle Donegan in recent weeks on the domestic scene. The team is rounded out by Jodie McCann, Ruth Heery and Lauren Tinkler.

21 November 2021; Michelle Finn of Leevale AC, Cork, on her way to winning the Senior Women's event during the Irish Life Health National Cross Country Championships at Santry Demense in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

In the men’s U23, many will have been happy to see the sight of Olympic 1500m gold medalist Jakob Ingebrigtsen on the senior men’s start list. The Norwegian prodigy opting to make the jump straight from the u20 category to the senior grade alongside brother and 2018 European cross country champion Filip. While this is a welcome sight for gold medal hopefuls in the U23 grade, it may contribute to a more open affair that could go hard from gun to tape and has the potential to be the most exciting race on the program. This will be of no issue to Irish star Darragh McElhinney who has strung together impressive performances in the last number of years, his mature performance in the national 5000m on the track last year of note, taking the title from stalwart John Travers on a blustery evening in Morton Stadium. McElhinney will next week renew rivalries with Tom Mortimer, who he impressively outkicked on the final bend in the Autumn Open Cross country this year to take the win after running a controlled race to that point. Mortimer will represent Great Britain after securing his seat on the plane in Sefton Park last weekend and will surely have his eye set on overturning the result on McElhinney over the same course in Abbotstown in November. Another strong showing from McElhinney in Santry two weeks ago, just being narrowly pipped by Hiko Tonosa in the senior men's race, sets him in fine stead for a big performance in the Irish vest next weekend. The team will also be made up of Jamie Battle, Michael Power, Keelan Kilrehill, Thomas Devaney and Donal Devane.

The mixed team relay will provide the curtain raiser to the senior events and has been a brilliant addition to the European cross country program since its introduction in 2017. The relay will be contested over the larger 1500m loop of the Abbotstown circuit and each athlete will complete a single lap. Ireland boast a star studded team in the event consisting of 3 Tokyo Olympians in Andrew Coscoran, Ciara Mageean and Siofra Clerigh Buttner alongside a man who will no doubt make his Olympic debut in Paris in 3 years time, Luke McCann. One of the major success stories of the Tokyo Olympics this year was the performance of Star of the Sea’s Coscoran in the 1500m, making it to the semi final after a gutsy performance in the heats. The classy Balbriggan man has had a stellar year over both the mile and 1500m and will be a key part to the success of this mixed relay team. Manchester based 2018 European outdoor silver medalist and 2019 indoor medalist Mageean will no doubt relish the opportunity to add to her European medal haul on home turf and will bring an abundance of experience to the team that has concrete medal hopes. Cleirigh-Buttner, who ran an impressive 17.02 for 5000m on the road in the US last month in her first outing since Tokyo and McCann, who has ran 3.36 for 1500m this year both add an embarrassment of riches to the team that will undoubtedly have the crowd fully behind them in their quest for European glory next Sunday.

21 November 2021; Senior Men's race winner Hiko Tonosa of Dundrum South Dublin AC, Dublin, is interviewed by journalists Cathal Dennehy, left, and Greg Allen of RTE during the Irish Life Health National Cross Country Championships at Santry Demense in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

In the senior grades, Ireland will be up against it with many nations naming strong teams for both the women’s and men’s races. Despite this however, the Irish possess a rich array of experience with former two time European gold medalist Fionnuala McCormack leading the women’s charge and, very much dependent on how her recovery goes from this weekend’s Valencia marathon, will surely be looking to go one better than 4th place in the last European cross edition of 2019. She will be joined on the team by national cross country champion Michelle Finn, Flanagan twins Roisin and Eilish, Aoife Cooke and Kilkenny native Aoibhe Richardson, who has recently made the switch to Mary Cain’s Atalanta NY running group based in New York. Turk Yasemin Can will be back to attempt to make it her 5th title in a row in the senior women’s race.

7 March 2021; Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway celebrates winning gold in the Men's 3000m Final during the second session on day three of the European Indoor Athletics Championships at Arena Torun in Torun, Poland. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Athletics is sprinkled with many narratives that draw us in to the beauty of the sport and its success stories. None more so than the captivating and horrific story of men's national cross country champion Hiko Tonosa that was covered so well by Cathal Dennehy last year. He will once again pull on the green of Ireland and represents our greatest chance of individual glory in the men’s event which is a stacked field including the aforementioned Ingebrigtsens, charismatic French star Jimmy Gressier and former 3 time champion Aras Kaya of Turkey. Yeman Crippa of Italy also one to look out for on the day. The race promises to be an intriguing watch as many will want to get out early to test the resolve of the youngest of the IngEibrigtsens who is relatively untested across this distance on the cross country, although does hold the European Junior record of 27.54 for 10km on the road from 2019. There is no doubt many rivals will not be keen to have him for company in the closing laps with his impressive finishing speed. Tonosa will lead an Irish team that also includes DSD clubmates Paul O’Donnell and Emmet Jennings alongside Ryan Forsyth. The team will be completed with American based Cormac Dalton & Brian Fay who both recently put down impressive performances in the NCAA cross country finishing 34th and 38th respectively in the prestigious fixture on the American collegiate calendar that attracts the best athletes from across the states. Although conditions in Abbotstown will be somewhat different to that of Florida 2 weeks ago, both lads will no doubt take it firmly in their stride.

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