Ciara Mageean has collected European bronze medals both indoors and outdoors in her long and esteemed career over 1500m but a medal of an even brighter hue potentially beckons on Sunday (12) at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
Mageean spearheads the Irish mixed relay team and as she told the media at the pre-event press conference which was held at the Sport Ireland Campus on Saturday, the quartet is certainly not lacking in ambition on the eve of the championships.
"We haven't spoken specifically about what position we are going to finish but believe me: we go into every race competing for the gold. We are all aware we have possibly one of our strongest relay teams on paper to date so we are looking forward to getting out there and running some good, fast loops. It's going to be extra special with the Irish crowd carrying us around and hopefully we will give them something to cheer about,” said Mageean.
The Irish team will face strong opposition particularly from reigning champions Great Britain & NI and Spain who have monopolised this race since it was added to the programme in 2017 but the hosts are still rightly considered to be in the reckoning.
However, Mageean believes this is an Irish team that can deliver medals all across the programme - not just in the mixed relay. For posterity, their haul of four medals in Lisbon two years ago was Ireland’s best campaign to date and one which could quite possibly be improved upon tomorrow.
"Racing in front of a home crowd is something really special and I believe this team is going to bring home medals. There are plenty of fantastic athletes out there to race but I think we have a really good chance. I want to see the tricolour raised. We will give everything,” said Mageean.
Mageean has a long and varied affiliation with the European Cross Country Championships dating back to the late 2000s when she competed in the U20 race. Since then, Mageen has become a mainstay of the senior women’s team with the mixed relay posing a new and different challenge tomorrow.
But regardless of which are-group or distance she is competing in, the European Cross Country Championships has always been, and will always be, a very significant race on the calendar for her.
“I really cut my teeth in cross country. I'm pretty sure the European Cross in Brussels in 2008 was my first Irish vest. It wasn't until I stepped on the track that I probably realised my true potential was there and I'm not quite as strong at cross country but it doesn't take away from the fact that every single year I try and compete at my very best.
"I've had a strong history of being on Irish teams. I was on the Irish team in 2009 when I was a junior that raced in Santry - I can barely even remember it now! - but the event has played such an integral role in my development. As a middle distance runner it builds you up for a strong base in the winter heading towards the track season in the summer. It's something I will continue to do until I hang up my spikes,” said Mageean.
On her personal highlights, Mageean has many to choose from but she identifies her team silver medal in Lisbon two years ago as one of her fondest memories of competing at the European Cross Country Championships so far.
"Getting on the podium with the senior women in Lisbon was truly special. I try my best to get an individual medal but I know whenever I'm out there, I'm competing for the team and every single position counts so to have the senior women getting among the medals was fantastic.
"But even the editions I haven't competed in, whenever I was sitting at home sulking because I was injured or didn't make the team, have still been fantastic. I've enjoyed the Euro Crosses I've raced in and ones I've observed. It's a truly special event and I can't wait for the Irish to host it again tomorrow,” she said.
The senior Irish men’s team includes Ryan Forsyth who came so close to an individual medal in the U23 race in 2018 when he finished fourth in a race won by France’s Jimmy Gressier.
On his individual and team chances he said: “We expect to be competitive in any race we enter. We have a great squad and we expect to be competitive for a team medal. Individually I always hope to be competitive in any race and I look forward to many more experiences at European level and hopefully beyond that as well. I hope I have a successful race tomorrow.”
Up to 7000 spectators are expected to travel to the Sport Ireland Campus on the outskirts of Dublin tomorrow morning and Forsyth, who spends much of the year based in the United States, is still counting on a big cohort of family and friends to spur him on.
“My family is coming down from County Down. This is so special - we don’t see it as pressure, we see it as an opportunity and something to be super proud of. We can’t be more thrilled and we hope to give the fans a show.”