Amelia Kane the home banker in Irish Schools Cross Country Championships at Mallusk
ULSTER athletes will be looking to take advantage of a home venue when the Irish Schools Cross Country Championships make their four-yearly visit to the northern province.
The fixture is usually one of the highlights of the winter season and tomorrow's event at Mallusk promises to live up to that billing.
There are eight races on the programme, from minors (U14) to senior boys and girls (U19), with a victory at Irish schools level still an achievement to be cherished for life.
Last year, Ulster athletes found the going tough at a bitterly cold Sligo Racecourse. Only the junior boys of St Colman's, Newry managed to strike team gold, while not one individual title came north from the eight races.
However, local followers of the sport reckon they have at least one banker for an Ulster win this year with the impressive Amelia Kane in the junior girls' race.
The Strathearn schoolgirl won the London Mini-Marathon last April and destroyed the field in the provincial decider just over two weeks ago at the same venue.
Lumen Christi's Fintan Stewart carries northern hopes in the senior boys' race after a fine tactical victory in Ulster and should be able to match strides with the best of the southerners.
Expect a better run here from Bangor Grammar's Craig McMeechan who was unhappy with his bronze medal at Mallusk.
Banbridge Academy's Rebekah Nixon looked strong in winning the Ulster title and, along with Sacred Heart, Omagh student Toni Moore, should put up a strong challenge in the senior girls' contest.
Omagh CBS pupil Sean Corry turned in a solid performance to lift the intermediate boys' crown but may find Munster champion Darragh McElhinney too hot to handle tomorrow.
Similarly another Strathearn girl Murphy Miller leads a talented group of Ulster girls in the intermediate race but faces the outstanding Sarah Healy from Holy Child, Killiney.
Armagh Grammar's Joseph Haynes showed fine finishing speed in Ulster and has the ability to extend his reign nationwide in what promises to be a competitive junior boys' competition.
Grosvenor College's Dylan McBride also strolled away from the opposition in the provincials and should be more than prominent in the minor boys' championship.
Before that, local followers will be hoping that Wallace High's Victoria Lightbody can kick off the afternoon with an Ulster victory although Thornhill College, Derry's Cara Laverty may have something to say about that.
The top eight in the junior and intermediate age groups go on to represent Ireland at the SIAB Schools Cross Country International in Wales later this month.