For Olympic hopefuls, Mark English and Thomas Barr, the last few months had been nothing short of a nightmare, but the two great hopes for Irish athletics are now daring to dream once again.
The young duo, who are widely expected to spearhead the Irish challenge on the track at the 2016 Olympics, bounced back to form after long injury layoffs to retain their national titles with ease at yesterday’s GloHealth National Senior Championships in Santry.
What’s more, they showed more than just subtle glimpses of the class which led them to top-12 finishes in their respective events at the World Championships last year.
Barr missed 11 weeks of training due to a hip injury earlier this year, and was understandably a little ragged during his comeback race in Saturday’s 400m hurdles heats, but the Ferrybank athlete showed his class in yesterday’s final, surging away up the home straight to win in 50.28.
“I’m delighted and relieved to have got around in one piece,” said Barr.
"With the conditions and the fact I’m coming back with just two or three weeks training I’m happy.” Barr will now target the European Championships in Amsterdam, which begin on July 6, as part of his build-up to the Olympics.
“Because I’ve missed so many races, I’ll get into another week of training now and use the Europeans as race practice.
"I’m just happy to be back running and back in shape.”
Another to demonstrate that rumours of his demise were greatly exaggerated was Mark English, who looked utterly casual in dismissing his rivals in the men’s 800m, moving through the gears and away from runner-up Declan Murray in the home straight to win in 1:51.48.
English revealed afterwards he only resumed running three weeks ago after missing almost three months with a stress fracture.
“It was a good blowout,” said English. “I only did three sessions before that, but I felt good and ran well. I planned to wait until 200 metres to go and wind it up from there.”
English is undecided about the European Championships and may bypass them in favour of getting more training under his belt ahead of the Olympics.
“The foot is completely pain-free now, but I never had an intention of doing an individual event at the Europeans after I got the injury,” he said.
“I’ll see how the body recovers and then make a decision. I know now I’ve got the speed at the end of the race, which is the important thing.”
Brian Gregan also made an impressive comeback in the men’s 400m, though it was not injury but a mysterious virus which had laid him low in recent months.
“I was in the best shape of my life in April but the last two months have been absolute hell,” he said.
“I wake up in the morning and still don’t know how I’m going to feel, but I want to get a little bit of quality training in now and have a go at the Europeans.”
Gregan beat Craig Lynch of Shercock, who ran 46.40, into second. David Gillick was third in 46.44 in a race where the first six finishers ran below 47 seconds.
Elsewhere Cork’s Michelle Finn proved her Olympic preparations are right on track by taking a commanding win in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase. The Leevale athlete clocked a season’s best of 9:46.81 to come home well clear of Kerry O’Flaherty.
“This is my third national title, but it’s the first time I’ve had a proper race to win one,” said Finn. “I think I need to get a bit more aggressive in the bigger races, and that run will give me a lot of confidence.”
Ciara Mageean impressed in the women’s 1,500m, accelerating away from the field on the final lap to win in 4:24.33, while John Travers came from behind to edge Eoin Everard in a thrilling men’s 1500m, the Donore Harrier taking victory in 4:01.19.
Jason Smyth bounced back to form in the men’s 100m, regaining the national title with a 10.71 clocking into a strong headwind, while the women’s title went to Amy Foster in 11.83. Sinead Denny of Dundrum out-battled Bandon’s Phil Healy to win the women’s 400m in 53.64.
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