Ryan Creech fighting back to form

Fionnuala McCormack is the star Irish name in the European Cross Country Championships in Hyeres, France tomorrow as she looks to lead the women’s team to more success but Leevale’s unheralded Ryan Creech will be looking to make some headlines of his own.

Creech last made the European Championships as a junior in 2009, when it was hosted in Dublin, but his transition to the senior ranks has been far from seamless.

The Glanmire man took up a scholarship in Lamar University, Texas — which proved a “disaster”, but his return to form has been put down to a man he describes as a “genius”. Donie Walsh has been building his stock as one of Ireland’s leading distance running coaches and he boasts a stable which also includes Lizzie Lee and Michelle Finn who will be on the women’s team, with McCormack looking to back up the bronze medals won last year in Samokov.

“You could say things have been a relative disaster in the States running-wise,” said Creech who is in his final year in Lamar. “I’ve had a few injuries and each year the coach has changed with a different philosophy. I’ve really only been back running properly since May and linking up with Donie has been great. I wasn’t too sure of him at the start but he’s a genius. He calls it straight and tells you what you’re capable of.”

Creech still gets advised by his college coach Tony Houchin but Walsh is the big influence on the 23-year-old, who won bronze over 10,000m at the National Championships last summer, a breakthrough performance, before going on to finish fourth at the Inter Clubs cross-country championships on November 22 to make the Irish team for the Europeans.

“I still have eligibility for indoors and outdoors but I’m really looking forward to getting back to Cork and working with Donie. He understands me.

“I’ll be looking to perform well in France and then go and try and run the European 10,000m standard (28:50) next year.”

Creech makes his senior bow alongside Sergiu Ciobanu — the Moldovan-born Clonliffe Harrier making his Irish debut in France. Ciobanu left Moldova in search of work a number of years ago and is now an Irish citizen and ran 2:15:14 in the Berlin marathon in September — an Olympic qualifying time.

The main medal hopes rest with the Irish women with McCormack (Kilcoole), a two-time individual winner of the event, focusing on a positive team performance.

“My preparations haven’t been as specific this year with my transition to the roads so it’s difficult to say what shape I’m in for an 8km cross-country race,” said McCormack. “I love running crosscountry though and hopefully we will be happy on Sunday with a positive team result.”

McCormack won the national championships following her Olympic marathon qualifying standard in Chicago on October 13 of 2:33:15 — easily inside the 2:45 standard.

Only Finn remains from the bronze medal-winning team from last year but her club mate Lee was on the gold-medal winning team in Budapest in 2012. Lee has also qualified for Rio in the marathon and will be looking to put her strength to good use in France. McCormack finished sixth last year and recognises it will be a challenge to win medals, with Great Britain the heavy favourites for gold — Gemma Steel and Kate Avery finished first and second last year return.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge, with Britain and France having very strong teams, but I believe we can be in contention if we all run well.”

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