ROBERT HEFFERNAN set the track ablaze in the Odyssey Arena a few years ago when he set a new Irish record for the 5,000m walk at 18mins 51secs and if he can reproduce his training form at the Woodies DIY Irish Indoor Athletics Championships in Belfast tonight, fans can expect fireworks.
His last outing was for the national 30k title around the Monahan Road Circuit in Cork last month when he smashed his own Irish record, despite having come off what was basically a block of speedwork training.
But he could hardly contain his excitement in advance of this weekend’s assignment which pits him against a field of 12, including some young braves looking for a big scalp.
He said: “I remember when I was in that situation and now those young fellows are reversing that,” he said. “I look at them twittering and tweeting and I have to laugh sometimes. But, at the end of the day, action speaks louder than words. There will be some interesting competition and the fact that they have put the event back to 6.10 means that there will be a good atmosphere in the Arena.
“I feel really motivated and my form is excellent. When I set the 30k record in Cork I was coming off a different block of training. This week I did a 3k in 11 minutes flat and if that was in a race it would have been an Irish record.
He added: “When I set the record in the Odyssey it was a really good time and I know it will be very difficult to repeat it. Having said that, I am going to go off at that pace and see what happens. Like I said, I am motivated.”
His wife, Marian, will be bidding to reclaim the title she won two years ago when she lines up for the women’s 400m alongside Brona Furlong and Michelle Carey. They are all members of the 4x400m team that qualified for this year’s world championships in Daego, while places on the team for the European indoor championships in Paris will also be at stake.
Cork sprinter Ailis McSweeney has already sealed her place on the team for the European indoors with a sizzling 7.34 60m run in Chenmitz on January 7.
Last year she smashed one of the oldest national records when she ran 11.40 for 100m in Liege, bettering Michelle Carroll’s mark of 11.43 set in 1978 — before McSweeney was born — and she went on to make the semi-finals at the European championships in Barcelona.
She has carried that form right through to the indoor season and her 7.34 was just .04 outside the Irish record held by Anna Boyle. She was hoping to better that in Lievin, France 10 days ago but her hopes were dashed by an ear infection.
“I was feeling terrible,” she said. “I thought my ear popped on the flight over. I went to the doctor when I came home and he told me I had a really thick ear infection. I finished a course of antibiotics yesterday and I am hoping I will be recovered in time.”
Celbridge’s Claire Brady, who was Athlete of the Meet last year following her 7.35 PB in to take the 60m title lines up again in a field that will include the new Irish universities champion, Amy Foster.
Two of the most exciting performances of the year so far came in Vienna at the beginning of the month when Brian Gregan won the 400m in 46.82, ranking him fifth in Europe. The other came from 19-year-old Darren McBrearty, who won the 800m in 1:47.87, placing him 10th in Europe this year. Both will be in action in Belfast.
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