Double European 1,500m medallist Ciara Mageean and marathon runner Kevin Seaward are the strongest contenders for glory in Northern Ireland’s 15-strong team that will compete in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games next month.
The size of the team is much as anticipated but excludes injured 800m runner Katie Kirk, 2018 Games hammer participant Dempsey McGuigan and marathon runner Anne Marie McGlynn, who has instead opted for the European Championships in Munich.
Northern Ireland trio Rhys McClenaghan, Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer are still hoping to overturn their respective FIG bans having previous represented Team Ireland at other events.
Mageean, who was captain of the 2018 Gold Coast team, has hit perfect form recently with a couple of excellent Diamond League performances against world-class opposition.
The 30-year-old Portaferry woman will be hoping to match her Northern Ireland record of just outside four minutes, which she set in the 1,500m final of the 2019 World Championships.
With two European bronze medals, she has proved over the years that she has the ability and determination to make another major Championship final.
Seaward, who hails from Belfast, has fond memories of the last Games in Australia, where he defied the vicious heat to just miss out on a bronze medal by 18 seconds.
He is the model of consistency and a man for the big occasion, which he showed recently when he ran under two hours and 12 minutes for third spot in the Manchester Marathon.
The Loughborough teacher has a wealth of experience with no fewer than two Olympics and two European Championship appearances to his credit.
After last weekend’s bizarre developments, Belfast Marathon winner Paul Pollock will now join Seaward on the Birmingham start line.
Athletics NI had originally stipulated that Pollock had to prove his fitness before the end of the month but backtracked.
Holywood doctor Pollock has a wealth of international experience with two World Championships and two Olympics under his belt. Completing the marathon line-up is Stephen Scullion, the fastest ever Irishman over the distance with two hours, nine minutes and 49 seconds.
Sprint star Leon Reid will attempt to get close to repeating his somewhat surprising bronze medal over 200m at the Gold Coast Games.
The NI team will have a first with the selection of Tyrone twins Eilish and Roisin Flanagan. The pair from Gortin in Co Tyrone turned 25 recently and have set a series of Northern Ireland records in recent months.
Roisin goes in the 5,000m, while Eilish is selected for the steeplechase following her spectacular Tokyo Olympics time of 9.34.86 last autumn.
The distance strength in the team is also emphasised by Cambridge athlete Hannah Irwin.
The 23-year-old was runner-up in January at the Dundonald International Cross. She then took some 25 seconds off the Northern Ireland 10,000m record a month ago and then represented GB in the European Cup.
Lisburn AC’s Megan Marrs has been listed for the 100m hurdles. The GB athlete was on a high last March when she competed in the Belgrade World Indoors, but then suffered an Achilles injury. However, she has fought her way back to fitness.
Club-mate Ellen McCartney is at peak fitness with three Commonwealth pole vault standards this year. The British Universities champion has a best of 4.24m, achieved in France in February.
Newry’s Kate O’Connor has been selected for the heptathlon. She has now recovered following her recent illness at a big event in Austria and joining in the same discipline is Lisburn AC’s Anna McCauley. Finn Valley’s Sommer Lecky is picked for the high jump following her 1.83m in Belfast. The 22-year-old was a silver medallist in the 2018 World Juniors with 1.90m.
Completing the line-up are two Paralympians, North Down’s 100m T38 Paralympic athlete Eve Walsh and wheelchair athlete Mark Miller, who goes in the Marathon.