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Kerry O'Flaherty and Ciara Mageean to lead quest at European Cross Country Championships

By Brian Hill

Northern Ireland Olympians Kerry O'Flaherty and Ciara Mageean are celebrating after yesterday securing automatic selection for the European Cross Country Championships in Italy after finishing second and third respectively in the National Championships in Abbotstown.

Newtownards woman O'Flaherty and Portaferry's Mageean recorded what could well be regarded as their best ever cross country performances in the 8km event, which was somewhat surprisingly won by Irish U22 international Shona Heaslip.

Steeplechase specialist O'Flaherty showed great improvement after coming fourth in these trials a year ago and will now be determined to shine in Italy in three weeks' time.

Her experience - she was a member of the Irish bronze medal winning team last year - will come as a major boost, though the European Cross Country Championships will be new territory for Mageean.

The European 1,500m bronze medallist has had her best ever track season this year, culminating in yet another Northern Ireland record of four minutes and one second in Paris. Her speed could be a major advantage.

Meanwhile, there were upsets in the 900-strong Podium 4 Sport Joe Seeley 10km road race at Ormeau Park at the weekend.

Derry's John Paul Williamson took the honours in the Men's event while an in-form Emma Mitchell of QUB clinched the Women's title.

Mitchell took advantage of the perfect conditions and powered clear, leaving Irish Marathon champion Laura Graham struggling in her wake. Her 80m lead at halfway merely lengthened as the race progressed.

She crossed the line in an impressive 33 minutes and 57 seconds, the second fastest ever.

A jubilant Mitchell said: "I am delighted to break 34 minutes. I just worked hard with the men from the start. I have had 10 solid weeks of training and will now be aiming for some indoor races."

Mourne's Graham came home second in 34.30. Lisburn's Judith Lonnen was third (36.40) and Catherine O'Conner of East Down was fourth (36.53).

In the Men's race, Foyle Valley's Scott Rankin - who came third last year - seemed destined for victory when he opened an 80m lead by the halfway stage. However, Williamson had other ideas.

The 24-year-old kept his cool and finally overtook Rankin to secure a five-second winning margin in 31 minutes, five seconds. Williamson's team-mate Conan McCaughey was third in 31.12 and Neil Johnston of Springwell (31.24) and William McKee of Mourne Runners (32.07) followed.

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