NI Olympics Trio set for European Cross Country Challenge in Italy

08 December 2016

European track medallist Ciara Mageean plus Olympians Kerry O'Flaherty and Paul Pollock intend to play a key role in the Irish teams competing in this weekend's televised European Cross Country Championship in Chia, Italy.

All eyes will once again be on the Women's team to see if they can secure a hat trick of medals following their bronze awards in each of the past 2 years. The team will be led as usual by former double European Cross champion Fionnuala McCormack who will be racing   at Greenmount in the New Year.

The Kilcoole AC athlete will have high hopes of making the rostrum once again this weekend particularly following an impressive victory in an international race in Spain a few days ago. She should once again inspire her team to meet the challenge presented by defending champions GB plus France and Spain.

Under 23 international Shona Heaslip was a surprise  winner of the Irish trials while Newcastle's O'Flaherty and Mageean from Portaferry fought a grim battle for the runner up spot where Kerry triumphed by a mere one second.  This was one of Kerry's best ever races over grass. The Rio Olympics steepechaser will therefore be aiming to be in the counting Irish team of four and make amends for missing out in the Euros a year ago. Her recent good form certainly indicates she should achieve this.

 European 1,500 metres bronze medallist Mageean is something of an unknown prospect over cross country as she rarely competes over grass. Her last European outing was in 2010 when she finished 7th in the Junior race.  A lot will depend on the ground conditions in Italy. If the course is firm and fast as expected the 24 year old UCD student could well surprise everyone.

In the Men's race the Irish challenge will be fronted by Mullingar's Mark Christie who was an easy Trials winner. Holywood's Pollock will be making every effort to improve on his relatively low 5th place finish in the Trials. Paul who was Ireland's top Rio marathon runner had however just returned from an energy sapping race in Delhi. He was 2nd Irish finisher in the Euros a year ago behind Raheny's Mick Clohissey. He will be determined to reverse the positions on Sunday.