Thousands in the mix as Connolly targets Ballycotton glory

OVER 3,000 runners will go to the starting line for tomorrow’s “Ballycotton 10”, Ireland’s most enduring and successful road race.

Last year, 2,402 finished the course but the man behind the race, John Walshe is confident that most of the 3,340 entrants will reach the finish line tomorrow.

There were 1,700 entries in the first three days, a far cry from the inaugural event’s total of 39 in 1978.

Sean Connolly (Tallaght AC) is the raging hot favourite to lead them all home this time around.

Last year he was something of an unknown quantity going into the race but, in the end, provided tough opposition for his former Iona College team mate, Vinny Mulvey.

Since last year Connolly has impressed in all of his races. He was second in the national inter-counties cross-country championships in Kilbeggan last November and was a member of the Irish team that competed in the European championships in Santry in December.

But it is on the road that his true potential lies. Last Sunday he finished second to Mark Christie in the St. Patrick’s Festival 10k in Dublin.

A week earlier he sidestepped the national cross-country championships for the Trafford 10k in Manchester and finished second in a smart 29.38.

Last year was Connolly’s first attempt at the classic 10 miles distance and he finished second in 49:13 — Mulvey used his knowledge of the course to retain his crown in 49:06.

Now coached by Ireland’s legendary marathon runner, Dick Hooper, Connolly will be better prepared and has to be regarded as the raging hot favourite although there is still the possibility that the newly-crowned cross-country champion, Mark Kenneally (Clonliffe), will return to Ballycotton.

Cork doctor Alan O’Shea (Bantry), a former winner, is another man in form. He won the inaugural Bord Gais Energy Cork City Marathon three years ago after winning Ballycotton and, since then, took a year out from the sport to work in Australia.

Since his return he has taken much the same route as 2007. He won the tough Bantry 10 by a margin of five minutes in 52 mins flat on February 14 and he followed that up with a 30:57 win in the Dungarvan 10k.

Sandis Bralitis from Poland, who runs with West Waterford, underscored his form when he won the 10 miler in Dungarvan while Wieslaw Sosnowski, another athlete from Poland, who runs for Eagle AC, is back in Ireland for another bid at the Cork Marathon in June. He has been second, fourth and third in the three previous editions of the event.

Sean McGrath (East Cork), who hails from Ballyandreen just two miles from Ballycotton, will be out to please the local fans. A landscape gardener, he was busy preparing the finish area yesterday while James McCarthy who finished in front of McGrath in the Munster Road Championships last Sunday is another local athlete likely to figure in the shake-up.

Pauline Curley (Tullamore Harriers), who has won the women’s title three times in the past four years and was second to Rosemary Ryan the other year, returns in defence of the title.

Caithriona Jennings (Sportsworld), the national half marathon champion, Siobhan O’Doherty (Borrisokane), who followed up her victory in the Dungarvan 10 miles with second place in the national cross-country championships, Claire Gibbons-McCarthy and Jill Hodgins, daughter of the former national marathon champion, Dick Hodgins who made a 2:52 marathon debut in New York last November, are included in a competitive field.

Martin Fagan (Mullingar Harriers) will compete in the LA Marathon tomorrow while Alistair Cragg makes his half marathon debut in the NYC Half-Marathon.

Newly crowned national senior cross-country champion, Linda Byrne, competes in the world cross-country championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, tomorrow. John Travis (Donore Harriers) the national junior men’s and Irish schools champion, will compete in the junior men’s race there.

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