Last year the Glenville athlete, a member of the Defence Forces based at Collins Barracks, waged the battle of his life against extremely hot conditions to finish second in a time of 2:34:34.
Fourth two years earlier in 2:32:12 he passed the defending champion, Roy Fahy, to grab second with Wieslaw Sosnowski (Eagle TC), who was second in the inaugural event, back in fourth place.
If the reigning national marathon champion, Sergiu Ciobanu, starts on Monday morning then it would be easy enough to predict the winner.
The Moldovan, who has adopted Ireland as his home, lives and works in Cahir and competes in the Clonliffe Harriers vest. On the October Bank Holiday when the national championship was run with the Dublin Marathon he won the title in 2:22:06 and a reproduction of that form would make him the red hot favourite.
However he could line up with one of the relay teams instead and if he does then the Cork showpiece could develop into an exciting head-to-head between Merritt and Sosnowski although someone will always be lurking in the background ready to pounce.
Sosnowski was working as a farmhand in Cork when he finished runner-up to Alan O’Shea. He returned from his native Poland for an unsuccessful attempt to win the race last year but he promised to be back in better condition for a third attempt.
Cork’s own Marathon Man, Cathal O’Connell (St. Finbarr’s) has competed in all the great marathons and three weeks ago competed in Rotterdam.
He has never been out of the top six in Cork – he was fifth last year – and if he has recovered from his most recent race he is bound to figure again.
Paul McNamara (Athenry), Ravis Zakis (West Waterford) and Vasiliy Neumerzhitskiy (Cahir), are among others who could figure.
Last year Lucy Brennan (Sligo AC) made what has become an annual pilgrimage to Cork to successfully defend her women’s title in 2:51:25 (2:54:47 the previous year) despite a hamstring problem that almost kept her out of the race.
With close on 20 marathons behind her she has a best time of 2:43 and she has won this title twice, the Longford Marathon four times, has been runner-up in Dublin six times and has finished second and third in Belfast.
Angela McCann, a working housewife and mother of three – the youngest two years of age – only started running two years earlier and was a surprise runner-up last year and returns this time while Mary O’Leary who hails from Midleton and is now based in Munich made the podium a couple of years ago and is also set to return.
Jill Hodgins was following in the footsteps of her father, Dick, a former national marathon champion and international when she made a 2:52 debut in New York last November and she will be appearing before the home crowd for the first time when she lines up for her second marathon.
Almost 10,000 runners will take to the streets of Cork for what is now a highlight of the calendar.
“This year we have the biggest ever number competing in the marathon itself,” press officer, Rhona Cashman, said. “It is estimated that the event will raise more than €3m for charity.”
This year organisers of the marathon have altered the course and removed the punishing hills along the 26.2 mile route to make it flatter and more enjoyable for all those taking part.
The main change to the route is the exclusion of the uphill stretch on Model Farm Road from Inchigaggin Bridge to Nangles Nursery and the tough downhill on Church Hill.
To compensate for the loss of two miles in the western section, the route takes in the walkway amenity along the Lough Mahon waterfront and the Rochestown/Blackrock section of the old Passage railway line. Two miles out from the line, the route also sees a shift from the Western Road to the Mardyke, a stretch of road with a more favourable camber for runners.