By Damian Lawlor
On Sunday 10 December 2023, the 29th edition of the SPAR European Cross Country Championships takes place in Brussels. This will be the third time that Belgium have hosted the championships. In 1996 Charleroi was the venue and in 2008 although originally due to be held in the Belgian city of Ostend, record rain fall resulted in the championships being moved to Brussels.
Euro Cross in recent years has become a huge focus for Irish endurance athletes and the results achieved show the benefit of targeting this championship. In 2022 Ireland secured a record medal haul with Nick Griggs and Dean Casey winning silver and bronze individual medals in the U20 Mens race; the U20 Mens team finished second; the U23 Mens team won bronze medals; and the Senior Women’s team also finished third.
After the fantastic success of young Irish athletes at the European U20 and U23 Track and Field Championships this summer as well as by our senior athletes at the European Team Championships and World Athletics Championships hopes are high that the success of Ireland at Euro Cross 2022 can be repeated.
Over the next fortnight Irish Runner will profile those men and women hoping for selection for the Athletics Ireland U20, U23 and Senior squads to compete at Euro Cross. Today it’s the turn of the U20 Women.
U20 Women bidding for European Cross Country selection
Dearbhla Allen (St. Peter’s AC) – Dearbhla has had a stunning start to the Cross Country season with convincing wins in the Leinster U20 and U17 competitions. She has proved to be adept competing on hilly and mucky courses, both of which are valuable qualities with the Gowran course for the trials in mind. Dearbhla won the All Ireland U17 2000m Steeplechase in the summer and her PB of 7:16:55 is a decent mark.
Nicole Dinan (Leevale AC) – A class act. Her 1500m PB sets her out as one to watch. Only eighth in the Autumn Open International but will have gained invaluable experience at the European Youth Olympic Festival during the summer and can be expected to perform well under pressure.
Anna Gardiner (East Down AC) – Anna had victories in the 3000m in both the Irish Schools and Irish Club championships this summer. Her PB of 9:39.13 is pretty impressive too. Anna had a good win in the Ulster U18 Cross Country and is definitely one to watch in Kilkenny. 59th at Euro Cross last year. Can she make the Irish squad this year?
Clodagh Gill (Moy Valley AC) – Over the summer Clodagh set the track alight with some of her superb performances. Not only did she win the 3000m in the Irish Schools Championships, she also has a fine PB for the distance of 9:31.86. She bounced back from her fifth place finish in the Autumn Open International to win in the Connacht Championships.
Amy Greene (Finn Valley AC) – The dominant U20 woman in Ulster this autumn in Cross Country, the young Donegal woman will have taken confidence from her successes in the 3000m Steeplechase over the summer. Not only did Amy win the U20 All Ireland in Tullamore in a time of 11:12.85, she had earlier in the season won silver in the Irish Universities Track and Field Championships.
Ailish Hawkins (Dublin City Harriers) – A product of the famous Newbury Park High School in California, Ailish has a great 3200m PB of 10:32. Now a student at UCLA , Ailish is an accomplished athlete across a number of distances from 800m through to the 3200m so expect a tough competitor in Gowran.
Hannah Kehoe (Kilkenny City Harriers) – A rare talent Hannah has been to fore of the sport from her start in juvenile competitions. Today she is in the University of San Francisco. Her best run this autumn was at the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational where she completed 6000m in 21:54. Hannah won 1500m titles at both the Irish Schools Championships and the Irish U20 championships. She also has an excellent 3000m PB of 9:44.37. Last year Hannah finished 72nd at Euro Cross.
Avril Millerick (Youghal AC) – Avril had was first Irish U20 home at the Autumn Open International by a significant distance. Her track PBs of 9:42.2 for 3000m and 16:52.79 for 5000m mark Avril out as a top class performer. Avril competed in the European Athletics U20 Championships in the 5000m and will have learned a lot from that experience.
Neasa Ní Ainfean (Ennis Track) – Neasa had a good win at the Munster U20 Championships in October. Her track PBs of 10:27.65 for 3000m and 4:41.1 are decent but don’t show the potential she has in Cross Country. Expect a brave run from the young Clare woman in Gowran.
Louise O’Mahony (BMOH AC) – An eleventh place finish in the 5000m at the European Athletics U20 Championships marks Louise out as a leading contender for the Euro Cross squad. Her 5000m PB of 16:48.65 is notable too as is her 3000m best of 9:43.55. Yet to race this Cross Country season, if she lines out she is a serious contender.
Maebh Richardson (Kilkenny City Harriers) – Maebh is now based in Portland and has raced really strongly all Autumn on the Portland team which won the recent WCC Cross Country Championships. At the Nuttycombe Invite earlier this season she ran an impressive 21:30 for 6000m. Maebh’s 3000m is 10:00.7 but this mark is old, coming from July 2022.
Roise Roberts (North Belfast Harriers) – Roise will have gained valuable experience at the European Cross Country Championships in Italy last year where she finished 66th. Over the summer she raced sparingly but lowered her 3000m PB to 9:52.85. Her second place finish behind Amy Greene in Ulster shows she rounding into decent shape.
Expect also to see strong performances from Sadbh Mohan (Metro/St. Brigids AC), Edel McCreevy Rathfarnham WSAF AC), Julie Cleary (Donore Harriers), Ella Collins (Bandon AC), Laura Cooney (Clonmel AC), Maebh Eakin, (Dunleer AC), Eimear Cooney (Ace AC), Aimee Wallace (Mullingar Harriers), Heather Murphy (St. Michaels AC), Kirsti Foster (Willowfield Harriers), Annabel Morrison (Enniskillen RC), Eimear Hughes (Castlebar AC) and Caitlin Hughes (Swinford AC).