Kerry O'Flaherty clears a hurdle to Rio on way to France
Kerry O'Flaherty, the first Northern Ireland track and field athlete in 16 years to make an Olympic Games qualifying time, heads for this weekend's televised European Cross Country Championships in Hyeres, France, boosted by an early Christmas present of vital sponsorship from three local firms.
Kerry, one of Ireland's best track and field athletes, has already met the qualifying time in the 3k Steeplechase required for the Olympic Games next summer in Brazil. Now with the help of three Downpatrick businesses - McGrady Insurance, MB McGrady & Co Chartered Accountants and McGrady Financial Services - the Newcastle-based athlete will be able to fund months of altitude training in the Pyrenees as part of her preparation for Rio.
This weekend, Kerry is part of the Irish team competing in France and there are high hopes that the women can repeat their surprise bronze medals from last year.
Kerry said: "In 2009, I decided to follow my dream of reaching an Olympics and since then have committed 100% to competing in Rio next year. To perform at the highest level, you have to be absolutely dedicated 24/7, therefore there's not the normal security of employment for living expenses, travel and training.
"The support of all three McGrady businesses will ensure that I can train in Font Romeu in the Pyrenees mountains after Easter, and I'm incredibly grateful for their support as it will help me get into the best shape possible for achieving my goal."
Holywood's Paul Pollock, Emma Mitchell from Banbridge and Lisburn's James Edgar are also part of a 32 strong Irish squad aiming to repeat last year's success in Bulgaria .
Irish Inter County champion Pollock will certainly want to prove a point by again finishing first Irishman in the Senior race as he did last year when he was 23rd overall. He will be particularly keen to defeat Irish Inter Club champion Mick Clohissey of Raheny who was a convincing winner of the Trials race where Pollock was third.
Marathon man Pollock is also an agonising three seconds slower than the Raheny runner who is currently the third fastest marathon qualifier for the Ireland team for Rio. Paul will therefore be looking at a further marathon race early next year to elevate himself to the top three.
Seventeen year old James Edgar of Lisburn AC will be one of the youngest competitors in the Junior event. The Ulster and Irish Schools age group champion will be able to use the experience of racing at this level as further encouragement in a highly promising career.