By Damian Lawlor
In the last three editions of the European Cross Country Championships, there have been consistent high-class performances by the Irish Senior Women’s team. In 2019 Fionnuala McCormack led the team to a set of silver medals with a score of 41 points. Two years and a global pandemic later and again Fionnuala led home the Irish squad in Dublin but this time they just missed out on medals finishing fourth with a score of 47 points. In Turin McCormack was not in action but Eilish Flanagan was first to cross the line for an Irish selection, which finished third. So over the last three times this competition has been staged the Irish Senior Women have had three top four finishes.
The fact that the Senior Women’s race at the trials will be run without the first four (and after the withdrawal of Aoibhe Richardson the sixth place finisher too) to cross the line in the 2022 senior race although not optimal is possibly irrelevant. The three scoring members of the senior women’s team at Euro Cross in 2022 were not among those finishers and all three are available for selection in 2023 as are a host of other exciting talents.
Senior Women challenge for European Cross Country spots
Nakita Burke (Letterkenny AC) – Fifth in the 5000m at the National Senior Track and Field Championships, Nakita has improved her PB for the distance this year by over ten seconds to 16:01.21. Her early season form in Cross Country is promising as her 4th place finish at the Autumn Open International shows. Nakita finished 13th last year in Donegal. It looks like she can improve on that performance in Kilkenny.
Nadine Donegan (Tullamore Harriers) – Nadine was near the front in Abbotstown at the Autumn Open International and ended up finishing 3rd. Having run 3000m and 5000m PBs of 9:33.15 and 16:34.02 over the summer the young Tullamore woman will be looking forward to the challenge in Kilkenny.
Fiona Everard (Bandon AC) – Fiona has plenty of experience in Cross Country. Earlier this year she won the IUAA Cross Country title by over twenty seconds. At the Autumn Open International, Fiona finished 5th. She also racked up a collection of new PBs in 2023 running 9:29.29 for 3000m; 16:46.93 for 5000m; and 35:16.38 for 10,000m.
Claire Fagan (Mullingar Harriers) – Claire has had a great 2023 so far running PBs of 16:23.41 for 5000m and 34:49.03 for 10,000m. Also on the track Claire won the bronze medal in the National Senior 10,000m. Claire has raced sparingly this autumn, winning the Rathfarnham 5km in September and the Leinster Senior Cross Country in early November. An experienced campaigner, Claire was part of the silver medal winning Irish U23 squad in 2019 and in the same year raced the 10,000m at the European U23 Championships.
Eilish Flanagan (Finn Valley AC) – Over the last few years Eilish has become a stalwart on Irish Cross Country teams. In 2019 she was a scoring member of the U23 squad which won silver and in 2021 and 2022 finished 15th and 11th respectively in the senior women’s race. Aged only twenty six, Eilish has already won four European medals. Three were as part of teams at European Cross Country competitions and she also won a fantastic silver in the 3000m Steeplechase at the European U23 Championships in Sweden. Her PB for the Steeplechase is a world class 9:34.86.
Róisín Flanagan (Finn Valley AC) – In 2022 Róisín and her twin sister Eilish almost crossed the finish line together in Turin. Róisín had had a fantastic run to finish 12th, significantly better than her 26th place finish in Dublin the year before. Róisín is no slouch on the track either. This year she topped the rankings for Irish women in the 5000m, running 15:26.32 in California in May.
Fionnuala McCormack (Kilcoole AC) – Fionnuala needs no introduction. Most athletics fans minds probably drift back to her gold medal wins at the European Cross Country Championships in 2011 and 2012. Alternatively they might think of her range on the track having ran 9:17.60 for the 3000m Steeplechase through to 31:18.25 for 10000m. Today though what is relevant is whether she can deliver for an Irish team at Euro Cross. Her 4th place finish in 2019 and 11th place in 2021 suggest she can.
Edel Monaghan (DCH) – Edel showed the good form she is in when she was clear winner of the Dublin Senior Cross Country in early October. Early in 2023 Edel ran a new 3000m PB of 9:46.94 in the NIA in Dublin.
Mary Mulhare (Portlaoise AC) – Third Irish runner across the line In Turin Mary rounded out the scoring for the medal winning Irish squad. The 27th place finish for the young Laois woman woman was an improvement on her 35th place finish in 2019, when she also was on the podium collecting a European medal. Mary has raced sparingly this autumn. In addition to her 2nd place finish at the Rathfarnham 5km in September, Mary also raced the Cardiff Cross Challenge in October where she finished 17th. Expect a battling performance from her in Gowran.
Íde Nic Dhómhnaill (Limerick AC) – In great form in 2023. Íde followed up her victory in the National Senior 5000m in July with a comprehensive victory in the Autumn Open International in October. Her 2023 PBs of 15:44.81 for 5000m and 33:24.10 for 10000m shows the progress she has made. Can anyone challenge her in the muck and on the hills of Gowran?
Cheryl Nolan (St Abban’s AC) – Over the year Cheryl has made great progress reducing her 3000m PB to 9.22.32 and her 5000m PB to 16:01.96. A 12th place finish at the Autumn Open International is a bit off that form but expectations are high for her at the weekend.
Fionnula Ross (Armagh AC) – In 2018 and 2019 Fionnuala was in action on the Irish Senior Women’s teams at Euro Cross. She competed well finishing 62nd in Tilburg and 47th in Lisbon. At the trials in 2022 Fionnuala narrowly missed out on making the team again as she finished 8th. Her outing in the World Athletics Road Running Championships in Riga in early October means she has a great base of fitness. That will be needed in Kilkenny.
Others likely to be in the shake up for places include Cliona Murphy (DCH), Avril Deegan (DCH), Celine Gavin (Unattached), Una Britton (Kilcoole AC), Emma McEvoy (DSD) and Lauren Dermody (Castlecomer AC).