Fiona Everard excited about lining up with legendary McCormack at European Cross Country Championships

Sunday’s event in Brussels will also mark a first Irish senior international cap for the now 25-year-old from Bandon

Among the many things which has Fiona Everard rightly excited about Sunday’s European Cross-Country championships, six years after her first and last, is the chance to race alongside Fionnuala McCormack. Simply because no Irish athlete has ever raced with more experience.

They’re not at entirely opposite ends of their running careers: Everard is not exactly starting fresh, and by all accounts McCormack is not yet near finished, although it will be the first time they’ve raced together, Everard duly relishing all that.

Sunday’s event in Brussels will also mark a first Irish senior international cap for the now 25-year-old from Bandon, Everard previously running the under-20 race in Slovakia back in 2017, before a long cycle injury stalled any real progress.

For McCormack, Brussels comes just seven days after she qualified for her fifth Olympics, running 2:26:19 for the marathon in Valencia, and she will extend her women’s record of Irish senior international caps in athletics to 44, plus mark her 18th appearance in the event, the former two-time champion running more than any other woman in European athletics history.


“It’s really cool, I’ve been following her for such a long while,” says Everard. “Even when she was Fionnuala Britton, and then the first time she was running as McCormack I was like, ‘who’s this after coming out of nowhere’ before I was like, ‘oh, it’s the same person’.

“And hearing about her making her fifth Olympics, so anything she says, I’ll stick with, and take as much guidance as I can from her. It’s a unique experience and I know I’m lucky to be on her team, I won’t take that for granted either.”

McCormack’s latest run also came just five months after giving birth to her third daughter, and the 39-year-old will again lead the Irish women’s team on Sunday, having attempted this sort of marathon-cross country double; two years ago, she ran her marathon best of 2:23.58, also in Valencia, then finished ninth at the European Cross-Country in Dublin, the team finishing just outside the medals in fourth.

Like McCormack, Everard first showed some prospect as a young teenager, before progress was repeatedly stalled by injury on top of various other growing pains: “The biggest one was June 2021, I got a stress fracture of my tibia. It took quite a while to get back running after that, then I kept getting stress reactions on the same bone.

“I’d have two or three weeks on then take two or three weeks off. It was my own fault. I was just in a bad cycle of getting small enough injuries and not giving it the time it needed, rushing back into it and getting injured again.”

The first sign her luck was about to change came just under a year ago, when Everard won the National Novice Cross-Country, which coincided with her move west, studying for a Masters in Biomedical Science at the University of Galway while also starting with a new coach, Matt Lockett.

Then came the quite startling progress rarely witnessed in any sport, Everard winning last month’s National Senior Cross-Country over a brutally tough course around Gowran Demesne.

“I’d like to believe that I wouldn’t ever have completely called it quits,” she says. “Throughout those years I didn’t know a lot about what my potential was, but I knew I enjoyed it, so thought it would be worthwhile staying with it.

“My last year as a junior, I think I was the last person on to that team, and finished down in the 60s. So it wasn’t anything special. I think as well I emphasised making the team a lot, didn’t set myself up for anything much after it, just went too full on, ‘we have to kick on’.

“That was the one thing that showed me there was a little bit of potential. But I think it was maybe the summer of 2019 when I actually sent my then coach Ronan Duggan a message saying ‘I don’t want to compete any more, I’m fully done with it’.

“He was like basically, ‘no’, so I was like, ‘Okay I’ll suck it up and stay with it’ and glad I did because it is after working out.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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