Britton looks to finally go the distance and realise Euro dream

EUROPE’S top cross-country runner, Fionnuala Britton will be one of the favourites for the gold medal when she leads the Irish women’s team into next month’s European cross-country championships in Slovenia.

The Wicklow athlete won a silver medal in the U23 race at the European championships in Milan in 2006 and, since then, while her transition to senior ranks was promising, she has failed to get a medal at this level.

Last year she was denied bronze on the line by Turkish woman Uslu Binnaz, and last weekend, in the Cross de Lacier in France, she had Binnaz behind her when finishing third in a race dominated by the Africans. A couple of weeks earlier in Burgos, Spain, she was also first European over the line when sixth behind Kenya’s Linet Masai.

A medal in Slovenia would be the perfect boost for Britton, who qualified for the steeplechase at next year’s Olympic Games in London.

With the newly crowned senior/U23 champion Sara Louise Treacy opting for the U23 race, Claire McCarthy (Cork), Aoife Culhane (DSD), Kerry Harty (Newcastle AC) and Eilish Kelly (Raheny Shamrock) will complete the senior team.

It will be the fulfilment of a lifetime ambition for Claire McCarthy (St. Finbarr’s AC), who has had her sights on an Irish singlet since she watched her older brother Stephen Gibbons represent Ireland in the junior race at the world championships in 1988. She subsequently followed him on an athletics scholarship to Western Kentucky. Now, at the age of 35, she gets her chance to represent Ireland at a major championships.

A mother of three, whose ages range from seven years down to nine months, she is coached by her husband Martin McCarthy, who is a former national senior cross-country champion.

Joe Sweeney (DSD), who won his third national senior cross-country title on Sunday, leads the senior men’s team with a very achievable target of a top 10 placing. He finished 21st last year, 38 seconds behind the winner, and his coach, Jerry Kiernan, reckons he is at least 20 seconds better than last year.

Ireland has yet to medal in this race despite big runs from Mark Kenneally, who was eighth in Dublin in 2009, Martin Fagan and Alistair Cragg in recent years.

Sarah Louise Treacy (Moynalvey AC), has been national U23 champion for the past three years and has also represented Ireland in the junior race at the European championships as well as twice at U23 level, but this year she will travel to Slovenia with genuine hopes after a perfect build up that culminated in her big victory in Sligo on Sunday. She will be joined by Fionnuala Britton’s younger sister, Una.

Michael Mulhare (North Laois AC), part of Ireland’s gold medal winning team last year, leads the men’s U23 team. Emmet Jennings (DSD), David Flynn (Clonliffe Harriers AC), Liam Tremble (Metro/St.Brigids AC) and David Fitzmaurice (Clonliffe AC) are also named in this team.

The junior women’s team has a couple of stand out athletes. Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (DSD AC) is a European Youth Olympic medallist, while Kate Veale (West Waterford) is reigning world youth race walking champion. She finished third behind the Dubliner in Sunday’s championships when she was overtaken by Claire McCarthy, a hill running star, on the run-in.

They will be joined by Mary Mulhare (North Laois AC), sister of Michael, Mary Ann O’Sullivan (Tinryland AC) but Ciara Mageean (City of Lisburn), who would have been regarded as a medal favourite, will not compete due to a foot injury.

Newly crowned champion Jake Byrne (Mullingar AC) leads the junior men’s team, joined by Kevin Dooney (Raheny Shamrock AC), Liam Brady (Tullamore AC), Sean Tobin (Clonmel AC) and European Youth Olympic gold medallist Ruairi Finnegan (Letterkenny AC). Shane Quinn (Ferrybank AC), reigning national junior inter-clubs champion, will be missing due to a stomach muscle injury.

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