Strong medal potential for Ireland at European Cross-Country in Turin

On paper runners look well capable of surpassing the three medals won last year in Dublin

Paper comparisons can sometimes prove futile. A year on from their medal-winning exploits at the European Cross-Country Championships, staged in Dublin, several Irish athletes will return for next month’s event Turin, a year older, though still in the same age category.

On paper that would suggest medal hopes are substantially stronger this time round across the six races, with other medal winners of late, including Ciara Mageean, also among the 40 Irish athletes selected for the 28th staging of the event.

Set for December 11th at Piemonte-La Mandria Park, just northwest of Turin, the minimum Irish target will be matching the three medals won at the Sport Ireland Campus last December. The potential is certainly there for more.

Last year’s event wasn’t without hints of disappointment, given that medal haul could easily have been greater, three fourth place finishes – both senior team races and the mixed 4x1,500m relay – proving home advantage doesn’t always make winning any easier.


That also fell short of the four-medal haul from the previous time out, in Lisbon 2019, though it still left Ireland fifth on the overall medal table.

Leading that medal chase in Turin will unquestionably be the men’s Under-23 team, which won gold last year, Darragh McElhinney showing the way that time by finishing second place in his individual event. With six team members set to run and the best three scoring, McElhinney is back a year older, like team-mate Keelan Kilrehill, and the addition of Efrem Gidey makes the Irish team look stronger still.

Only it’s not that straightforward: defending Under-23 champion Charles Hicks from Great Britain, also still young enough for the grade, won the American NCAA Cross-Country last Saturday, the first athlete representing Stanford University to win that race, which was first staged in 1938.

McElhinney has made no secret of his desire to at least make the podium: “I’m way fitter,” says the 22 year-old Glengarriff athlete, who won a first senior cross-country title in Rosapenna last Sunday.

“My whole profile as an athlete has changed. Last year I was doing things in training in the lead-up to nationals where I was always checking my watch twice after to make sure it was right. I was coming off a summer where all I had ran was a 7.52 for a 3km and 3.58 for a mile. Then, all of a sudden, when I was putting in numbers in training I knew were similar, that surprised me.

“Whereas now, after running 13.17 over the summer, I see myself more as a 13;00s guy, hopefully next year. So because of the nature of what we did last year, nothing is going to satisfy me unless I win individually and gold for the team. We have an unbelievable team, there’s no two ways about it.”

The men’s Under-20 team, who won silver last year, also return with two of the same members, Nick Griggs and Dean Casey. They finished first and second last Sunday, although the top three from the Under-20 race in Dublin last year are also back, including runaway winner Axel Vang Christensen of Denmark.

For Mageean, who broke Sonia O’Sullivan’s long-standing Irish 1,500m record with 3:56.63 for victory in the Brussels Diamond League, on top of her silver medal runs at the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships, the women’s race is her target. Last year Mageean ran the 4x1,500m, Ireland well clear at halfway only to finish fourth; the relay this year looks at least as strong again, with Tokyo Olympians Andrew Coscoran and Nadia Power joining Georgie Hartigan and Luke McCann.

One notable absentee from the senior women’s race is former two-time champion Fionnuala McCormack, a veteran of 17 editions of the European Cross-Country Championships, who helped the Irish team to fourth place last year.

The Irish senior men also finished fourth last year but now look even stronger, with three of the six athletes named – Brian Fay, Cormac Dalton and Barry Keane – returning from the US after nailing top-20 finishes at those same NCAA championships, Fay 13th, Dalton 15th, and Keane 17th.

With Hiko Tonosa Haso also on board, a close second to McElhinney on Sunday, on paper that team also looks more powerful. Sarah Healy, who won the women’s senior race on Sunday, will stick with the Under-23 grade: fifth last year, she’ll also have to contend with last year’s winner Nadia Battocletti from Italy, not that home advantage necessarily makes winning medals any easier.

Irish Teams, European Cross-Country, Turin, December 11th

Senior Men:

Hiko Tonosa Haso (Dundrum South Dublin)

Peter Lynch (Kilkenny City Harriers)

Pierre Murchan (Dublin City Harriers)

Brian Fay (Raheny Shamrocks)

Cormac Dalton (Mullingar Harriers)

Barry Keane (Waterford AC)

Senior Women –

Ciara Mageean (City of Lisburn)

Michelle Finn (Leevale AC)

Ann Marie McGlynn (Letterkenny AC)

Mary Mulhare (Portlaoise AC)

Aoibhe Richardson (Kilkenny City Harriers)

Roisin Flanagan (Finn Valley AC)

Under-23 Men –

Darragh McElhinney (UCD AC)

Efrem Gidey (Clonliffe Harriers)

Keelan Kilrehill (Sligo AC)

Jamie Battle (Mullingar Harriers)

Thomas McStay Galway City Harriers

Shay McEvoy Kilkenny City Harriers

Under-23 Women –

Sarah Healy (UCD AC)

Danielle Donegan (UCD AC)

Laura Mooney (Tullamore Harriers)

Aoife Ó Cuill (St Coca’s AC)

Jodie McCann (Dublin City Harriers)

Niamh O’Mahoney (An Ríocht AC)

Under-20 Men –

Nicholas Griggs (Mid Ulster AC)

Dean Casey (Ennis Track AC)

Jonas Stafford (Ashford AC)

Mark Hanrahan (Ennis Track AC)

Callum Morgan (St. Malachy’s AC)

Sean McGinley (Finn Valley AC)

Under-20 Women –

Anika Thompson (Leevale AC)

Anna Gardiner (East Down AC)

Róise Roberts (North Belfast Harriers)

Hannah Kehoe Kilkenny City Harriers)

Jane Buckley (Leevale AC)

Fiona Hawkins (Dublin City Harriers)

Mixed 1,500m Relay –

Andrew Coscoran (Star of the Sea AC)

Luke McCann (UCD AC)

Georgie Hartigan (Dundrum South Dublin)

Nadia Power (Dublin City Harriers)

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics