Irish athletes look to finish best-ever Euros with a flourish

The women’s 4x400m relay team have a big medal chance on Wednesday evening

Lauren Cadden, Phil Healy, Sophie Becker and Sharlene Mawdsley
The Irish women's 4x400m relay team – from left – Lauren Cadden, Phil Healy, Sophie Becker and Sharlene Mawdsley after winning their heat in the on day five of the 2024 European Athletics Championships at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile (Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

THE Ireland team will be hoping to finish its most successful European Athletics Championships ever with a flourish tonight.

The championships conclude in the Olympic Stadium, Rome with Ireland already having garnered two golds and a silver, eclipsing the two golds and one bronze won in 1998.

The women’s 4x400m team have genuine medal prospects, while Andrew Coscoran could surprise in the men’s 1500m. Brian Fay, Cormac Dalton, Peter Lynch and Efrem Gidey are all listed for the 10,000m final.

The women’s 1600m quartet were the only one of three Irish relay teams to advance to a final from the heats on Tuesday morning.

The team management decided to rest individual silver medallist Rhasidat Adeleke, with Sligo’s Lauren Cadden getting the nod over Tír Chonaill athlete Kelly McGrory for the vacant spot.

Sophie Becker ran a confident opening leg, handing over in fourth place with a 51.64 second split. Phil Healy was slightly quicker on the second lap, moving up to third in 51.29. Cadden responded admirably on the third leg to the challenge of her first appearance on the international championship stage with a 52.12 split, handing over to Sharlene Mawdsley for the anchor leg.

Mawdsley showed no sign of fatigue from her exertions in the individual 400m final the previous night as she was quickly away and into her stride.

Displaying the same composure as she did in taking the mixed medley to gold, the Tipperary athlete bided her time until the final straight when she moved effortlessly through to take the victory in 3:24.81.

It was the fastest time of the two semi-finals and Mawdsley’s 49.76 timing was possibly the most effortless sub-50 clocking seen at these championships.

Ireland’s main opposition is likely to come from the Netherlands, who almost paid the price of resting their two star performers, Femke Bol and Lieke Klaver, when the experienced Lisanne de Witte had to scramble for the third and final qualifying spot in the other semi-final.

That she achieved by a mere six-hundredths of a second or it would have been the exit door as their timing would not have seen them advance.

The Irish selectors took a gamble on including 17-year-old Sean Doggett on the key third leg of the men’s 4 x 400m. Jack Raftery opened soundly with a 46.68 second clocking for sixth at the first changeover.

Chris O’Donnell improved that to give the baton to Doggett in third place with a 45.26 second split. Doggett went off hard and qualification looked possible for the first 300 metres but he ran out of steam on the home straight fading to eighth at the final exchange in 47.33 seconds.

Undaunted, Ballymena & Antrim’s Callum Baird took up the chase and saw Ireland home in fifth with a 45.14 timing, his fastest ever relay split. Unfortunately the combined time of 3:04.41 was not fast enough to qualify to advance to the final.

The Irish men’s 4 x 100m was also well short of qualifying with a seventh place in their semi-final recording a time of 39.34 seconds.

For success in the sprint relay, slick baton changing is needed, but also four top-class sprinters at international level. Ireland does not appear to have the latter at present.