Britton off the pace in bid for Antrim treble
Double European Cross Country champion Fionnuala Britton finished two seconds off a rostrum place in the weekend's big Greenmount International Association of Athletics Federation Cross Country International.
All eyes were on the Kilcoo AC woman to see if she could make it a hat-trick of Greenmount victories following her recent good run in Brussels where she mixed it with the usual African challenge.
She faced similar pressures at Antrim. Britton initially led a tactical race where the opposition included the Bahrain couple Mimi Belete and Maryam Jamal. European U23 bronze medallist Charlotte Purdue and Senior silver medallist Gemma Steel were also well to the fore.
But, after taking the lead, Britton failed to stay up with the pace over the challenging and in places muddy course.
This resulted in the African contingent making a concentrated attack for most of the final lap.
In a feverish sprint in the home straight, Belete took the honours by one second from double World 1,500 metres champion Jamal, with bronze going to Almensch Belete, whom Britton had beaten in the recent European Championships.
Britton said: "The pace was slow at the start and I knew I would have problems if I didn't get rid of the athletes with good 1,500 metres times. I had clashes with Jamal, who kept elbowing me. I just couldn't close the gap on the last lap."
Britton, at least, had the consolation of beating European medallists Purdue and Steel, who were fifth and sixth.
The gutsy Purdue said she gave the race her best shot and was pleased with her run following a long period on the sidelines with injury. She will be renewing her rivalry with Britton and Steel in the big Edinburgh meeting this weekend.
There was a surprise winner of the Northern Ireland title, which was incorporated into the race.
Tiathlete Eimear Mullan (31) of Springwell AC finished 14th, which was a clear 31 seconds ahead of defending champion Gladys Ganiel of North Belfast. North's Danielle Fegan was third, ensuring victory in the team event.
In probably the highest quality 10k men's race in the 36-year history of the international meeting, sponsored by Antrim Borough Council and Sport Northern Ireland, there was a fascinating battle between current world champion Japhet Korir of Kenya, team-mate Emmanuel Bett and last year's Ugandan winner Thomas Akeyo.
In a frantic dash for the line, Korir's front running was rewarded with a two-second victory margin over Akeyo.
Earlier, the usual phalanx of six classy Africans vied for the lead with a hectic pace which ignored the tough underfoot conditions.
European bronze medallist Andy Vernon (below) valiantly stayed in contact in the early stages but eventually dropped back when Korir, Akeyo and Bett broke away.
These three fought a grim battle over the final lap with Bett desperately trying to register a second win over Korir in the space of a month.
However, 20-year-old world champion Korir was not to be denied and Bett had to settle for bronze, one second behind Akeyo.
Korir said: "The course was very tough and muddy. I am very happy with the win, especially after all my injuries" .
Vernon secured sixth place, ahead of Ireland's Michael Mulhare and ninth placed Paul Pollock, who took the Northern Ireland title.
The Annadale man said he was happy with the result and was now aiming for a 3,000 metres qualification time for the World Indoor Championships in Poland.
Stephen Scullion from South Belfast was the second home finisher in 14th place, while City of Derry took the team title.