Sonia O’Sullivan: Plenty at stake as our top athletes gather for National Championships

Given the talent on display, there is every possibility that a number of championship records will be set at Santry this weekend

It’s not just about the All-Ireland football final this week.

The 150th running of the Athletics Ireland National Championships takes place at Morton Stadium in Santry and, given its timing on the final weekend of qualifying for the upcoming World Championships and the quality of athletes competing, it truly promises to be a bumper edition.

Already, there are no fewer than nine Irish athletes and the men’s 4x400 metres relay team automatically qualified for the World Championships in Budapest in Hungary next month. A further seven athletes and the women’s 4x400m relay team are within World Athletics’ rankings quota having achieved the minimum standard set by Athletics Ireland.

These numbers reflect the high bar now being achieved by Irish athletes across the board.


Even as the qualifying standards are being set at an ever higher level, Ireland this year will be sending one of its largest teams ever, and also one of the strongest, as our athletes have shown in their performances at recent Diamond League meets in Oslo, Stockholm, Poland and Monaco.

A number of those performances also saw Irish records broken: Andrew Coscoran in the 1,500m; Ciara Mageean in the mile; Rhasidat Adeleke in the 200m and 400m; and, in every race she is running, Sarah Lavin is knocking on the door of Derval O’Rourke’s 13-year-old record in the 100m hurdles. You’ve got to feel it is only a matter of time before she too breaks that national record.

I can’t remember there ever being a greater record-breaking spree on the track, not just for Irish athletes but also with world, European, national and stadium records at the different meets that have taken place so far this summer.

And there is every possibility that a number of championship records will be set at Santry this weekend. Aside from the times on the track and marks on the field, there will inevitability be some very competitive races and, at just €10 entrance fee, I would encourage people to get to Santry and experience first hand, up close and personal, the very best Irish athletes competing and finalising preparations ahead of the World Championships.

Ireland has only ever won six medals at the World Athletics Championships – four gold and two silver – with the last of those claimed by Rob Heffernan when he took gold in the 50k walk. That was 10 years ago!

Part of the qualification process for the Worlds is a requirement for athletes to compete at the national championships. However, for some countries where the depth is not so great, including Ireland, athletes can choose to compete in an event that is not their primary event at the Worlds.

This can create a problem in that it makes it difficult to promote specific events and build up match races as some athletes will enter more than one event, but likely won’t actually decide which to compete in until the day of competition.

Adeleke, for example, has already said she will only compete over 200m on Saturday afternoon. She is the highest ranked Irish athlete in the event lists (currently ranked fourth in the world over 400m) and this will be the only opportunity to see Rhasidat compete on home soil this year.

The finals on Sunday evening will provide the most competitive and tactical races as athletes vie for coveted national titles.

This is a great opportunity for spectators to enjoy a great sporting weekend; and the timing on Sunday is such that those attending the All-Ireland final in Croke Park can also include the athletics in their plans. If you can’t get there in person, RTÉ's live television coverage starts at 6pm with the men’s 5,000m and also includes the men’s and women’s 100m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m finals.

Personally, of course, I’m looking forward to another duel between recent European Under-23 gold and silver medallists Sophie O’Sullivan and Sarah Healy.

Sarah took the national 1,500m title in 2021 and no doubt will be looking to turn the tables on Sophie after that European final, while Ciara Mageean may step in to spoil things on the two of them. As yet, it is not clear if Ciara will run 800m or 1,500m or both, as she did in winning the two events in 2018.

There could also be spice in the men’s 800m with the eight-times national champion Mark English likely to challenged by the new 1,500m national record holder Coscoran. English will need to show his fitness if he is to be selected for Budapest and Coscoran is expected to step down from the longer discipline to test his speed over the shorter distance.

For a number of athletes, the national title brings more than the gold medal as there are also bonus points on offer for the World Championships rankings quota.

Michelle Finn in the 3,000m steeplechase and Nicholas Griggs in the 1,500m could very easily jump a few spots and secure a qualifying spot with national title bonus points as they sit just outside the World Athletics quota.

These athletes will be aiming to solidify their rankings positions and secure invitations to the Worlds, with a number of other countries also holding their national championships this weekend in what is the last opportunity to qualify and to boost their team numbers.

So far this year it has been all about fast times and breaking records in what is a changing of the guard in many respects.

Mageean recently broke my long-standing Irish mile record, which had been in the books for 29 years. You start to think it might last forever then, when it’s broken, you wonder why it took so long.

It’s funny how people have reacted to me when meeting them since Ciara’s new record was set.

Some express commiserations and others see the significance of the time and congratulate me on setting the bar so high nearly 30 years ago, and that it took major changes in sports technology to provide such a shift in how athletes attack races and realise records are there to be broken. And, I believe, once you crash through a barrier, it then becomes easier to do it over and over again.

As a result, records won’t last so long. You see it with Coscoran. He has beaten the Irish record of Ray Flynn’s that lasted for 41 years on three occasions already this year!

Still, when it comes to championships, times are just the entry to the race. When the gun goes off, the tacticians will be at play in taking advantage of the lack of pace setters and the wavelight technology used to set up invitational races.

Championships retain the unpredictability of the result and that is what should be the main attraction for anyone considering going to Santry on Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening. I promise, you won’t get better live entertainment with the prospect of so many head-to-heads and with national championship medals on the line.