Fionnuala McCormack returns to strengthen Ireland’s challenge

Former back-to-back champion will make her 18th appearance at the European Cross-Country Championships

Former two-time champion Fionnuala McCormack will once again return to next month’s European Cross-Country in Brussels, a welcome selection among the six Irish teams which last year won five medals between them.

McCormack, recently returned to full fitness after the birth of her third child, won the event back-to-back in 2011 and 2012, the now 39-year-old also finishing fourth, for the fourth time, in Lisbon in 2019, finding some consolation there in leading the team to silver medals.

Remarkably, this will also be her 18th appearance from 29 editions of the European Cross-Country Championships.

The return of the Wicklow athlete from Kilcoole AC certainly boosts the medal prospects in Brussels, the race set for December 10th, and also increases the prospects of her chasing qualification for a fifth Olympics, in the marathon.


McCormack ran 1:10:13 and secured 13th place at the Valencia Half Marathon last month, and at the 2021 European Cross-Country in Dublin, finished ninth, just a week after running a 2:23:58 marathon also in Valencia.

She will be joined on the senior women’s team by Eilish Flanagan (Finn Valley AC) and Roisin Flanagan (Finn Valley AC), part of last year’s bronze medal-winning team, along with Mary Mulhare (Portlaoise AC), Fionnula Ross (Armagh AC), and recent national champion Fiona Everard (Bandon AC).

The senior men’s team includes newly crowned national cross country champion Cormac Dalton (Mullingar Harriers), who will be supported by Irish 5,000m record holder Brian Fay (Raheny Shamrock), Hugh Armstrong (Ballina AC), Keelan Kilrehill (Mov Valley AC), Fearghal Curtin (Youghal AC), and a resurgent Kevin Mulcaire (Ennis Track Club).

Last year’s Under-20 silver medallist Nick Griggs (Candour Track Club) is also selected, despite falling close to the finish of last Sunday’s National Championships, while women’s Under-20 national champion Anna Gardiner (East Down AC) will head to Brussels buoyed by her impressive win in Gowran last Sunday.

The Under-23 teams will see the return of Danielle Donegan (Tullamore Harriers) who led Ireland home in the U23 race year, while the U23 men’s team will see Dean Casey (Ennis Track Club) graduate from the U20 category following last year’s brilliant bronze medal performance.

“In my short time in the role it has been heartening to see the stellar work being put in by athletes and coaches to prepare for these championships,” said Athletics Ireland national endurance coordinator Mark Kenneally

“In recent years we have enjoyed great individual and team success, and this has raised expectations, both within the team and externally in the wider athletics and sporting community. This is, again, fantastic to see, and while the standard of distance running generally in Europe is on the rise, I am confident that our athletes are capable of rising to the challenge.”

Last year’s championships in Piemonte, Italy saw Ireland claim a record five medals which resulted in Ireland finishing in second place on the overall medal table alongside Spain and France.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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