Ireland men’s 4x400m relay team put in a magnificent performance to qualify for Sunday’s final and break the Irish record at the European Track and Field Championships in Zurich.
Waterford’s Thomas Barr led home the quartet to a third-place finish in their semi-final in a new national record time of 3.03.57, beating the previous best of 3.03.73.
Brian Gregan (Clonliffe Harriers AC) got the team off to the perfect start as he ripped around the track in 45.86 seconds with the Russians, Polish, Belgium and Spanish teams all still in contention. Brian Murphy (Crusaders AC) took over and moved the team up to third place battling all the way down the finishing straight to split 46.75 for his leg.
Richard Morrissey (Crusaders AC) took over on leg three and ran a superb tactical race, holding something back for the first 200m before storming through to hand Ireland over in third place, splitting an impressive 45.56 seconds.
It was all down to Irish 400m hurdle record holder Barr as he took over on the final leg. Barr (Ferrybank AC) went all out as he held off the Belgium team to cross the line in third place.
Barr’s split for his leg was a very impressive 45.21.
Commenting afterwards Barr said: “It’s brilliant, we had heard that the girl’s had set a national record earlier on so that really spurred us on.
"We knew we had a really good team and if we gave it our all on the day we would break the national record" - Thomas Barr
“We knew we had a really good team and if we gave it our all on the day we would break the national record. We can’t wait for the final now.”
The final takes place tomorrow at 2.42pm Irish time in the Weltklasse Stadium. Sunday's 1,500m final (2.05pm) will also feature Irish interest with both Paul Robinson and Ciarán O'Lionáird competing.
Both finals will be shown live on RTÉ One and www.rte.ie (ROI only).
There was mixture of disappointment and joy, meanwhile, for the women’s 4x100m relay team when they just missed out on qualification for the final, but then had reason to celebrate as they too managed to set a new Irish record.
Needing to run a time of 43.80 to at least qualify as one of the fastest losers, the Irish quartet of Amy Foster, Kelly Proper, Sarah Lavin and Phil Healy finished fourth in 43.84 in the second semi-final, breaking the national record time of 43.93.
Anchor-leg runner Healy said: “We can’t ask for any more than that, we came out today and broke the national record, the changeovers were good, and the practicing we have been doing has been really good.
"We will plan for next year with the World Championships to look forward to.”
Earlier Fionnuala Britton secured a top-ten finish in her maiden marathon at the championships.
The Dubliner came home in 10th place in a time of 2:31:46, six minutes behind gold medal winner Christelle Daunay of France who crossed the line in a time of 2:25:14.
Italy's Valeria Straneo (2:25:27 3) battled Daunay all the way to the closing kilometre but had to settle for silver, while Jessica Augusto of Portugal took bronze in 2:25:27.
Ireland finished seventh in the team event as Sarah Mulligan came home in 36th place in a time of 2:42:43, while Barbara Sanchez (2.43.59) followed just over a minute later in 41st place.
Commenting after the finish, Britton said: “I suppose I didn’t know what to expect and I definitely didn’t expect that. I heard coming in that the winning time was the fastest ever in Switzerland.
"I didn’t expect it to be that fast. I suppose I have to be happy enough with that, top ten. I went with the group because that’s what you have to do. There were bad patches and good patches, I enjoyed it.”
The race was not only the fastest ever on Swiss soil but also the fastest ever time in European Championships history.
All in all, the experience was a very positive one for the former double European Cross Country Champion Britton as she targets the marathon in Rio in 2016.
“I really wanted to get a championships race done ahead of Rio and this was the perfect opportunity to do that," she said. "I had to start somewhere and if I want to run that marathon in Rio I needed to get this experience.”