Tomorrow, Saturday 9th of March, over 250 athletes will travel north to Belfast for the Irish University Athletics Association Cross Country Championships. Hosted by Queen’s University, it will bring some intriguing battles between prodigious talents graduating from the junior ranks, and a number of established athletes already with IUAA and senior accolades to their names. Strong squads can be expected from last year’s team champions DCU and UL, while entry lists also include a number of individual medallists from 2023 going in search of silverware once more. Action gets underway at the Dub, Queen’s Sport Belfast, at 2pm with the women’s 5000m, followed by the men’s 8000m at 2.35pm.

Women’s Race Preview

It was 5-time Olympian Fionnuala McCormack who took gold when the IUAA XC Championships were last held in Belfast in 2005, leading home her DCU team mates to a clean sweep of team titles. 9 years on, DCU’s women will hope to replicate such success with a young but formidable team led by last year’s silver medallist Róise Roberts. Roberts will line up alongside the Youghal duo of Avril Millerick and Emma Landers, with National Intermediate XC Champion Amy Greene also looking to build on her recent rich vein of form. A strong challenge could come from TCD, bidding to regain the title having previously won three-in-a-row from 2020-2022. They field a full 14-woman team, with TCD’s 800m indoor record holder Sophie Jackman and previous IUAA XC silver medallist Celine Gavin likely to be among their top scorers.

The absence of 2023 IUAA XC & National Senior XC Champion Fiona Everard has undoubtedly left the individual race wide open. The Cork native pulled away from silver and bronze medallists Róise Roberts (DCU) and Hannah Gilliland (QUB) very early on in last year’s race, but both return again this year in the hopes of moving up the rostrum, Gilliland

buoyed by home advantage. National Novice XC Champion Lucy Holmes (MTU) won’t want to be making the journey back to Cork empty-handed, while Edel Monaghan (TUD) will look to convert a pair of 5th places at recent indoor championships into a podium placing.

Men’s Race Preview

Just 9 points separated UL from DCU in the men’s competition in 2023, but the strength and depth of both of their squads this year hints at an even tighter affair. DCU’s team is a dynamic mix of track, road and cross-country pedigree, including both 2023 IUAA silver medallists at 5000m and 10,000m, Harry Colbert and Cathal O’Reilly. Daniel Stone moves down in distance following his recent 66-minute half marathon in Barcelona, while National Novice XC Champion Michael Murphy & IUAA 3000m Steeplechase record holder Seán McGinley will bring considerable strength to the team. UL’s attack is just as impressive, boasting National U23 XC Champion Oisín Spillane, UL’s Indoor 1500m record holder Mark Hanrahan, IUAA 10,000m Champion José Ignacio Gimenez Perez and National U20 XC Champion Niall Murphy. Both UG and UCC will field large teams with the hopes of causing an upset as the race progresses.

Like the women’s individual race, a new champion will be crowned in the absence of last year’s winner, Keelan Kilrehill (DCU).  Jonas Stafford (UCD) was ruthless in stringing out the field to take gold in the men’s 3000m at the IUAA Indoor Championships last month, and may well employ the same tactics as he goes in search of another title this weekend. The 19-year old will face stiff competition from experienced athletes from UL and DCU, along with IUAA Indoor 3000m silver medallist Oisín Murray (UG) and National Intermediate XC Champion Paul Hartnett (UCC) likely hoping to be in the mix.

Preview supplied by IUAA.

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