ATHLETICS: THIRD WORLD; Ireland Take Cross Country Bronze Thanks to Super Sonia

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Byline: Colm KEYS Chief Sports Writer

SONIA O'Sullivan inspired Ireland to a bronze medal in the world cross country championships ladies team event at Leopardstown racecourse yesterday.

But the Cobh heroine immediately paid tribute to team-mate Ann Keenan-Buckley for the run of her life before an enthusiastic home crowd.

The Laois housewife ensured that Ireland made it into the medals with a fantastic 10th place beyond all expectations.

Keenan-Buckley missed the 1997 championships in Turin when the Sonia-Catherina McKiernan axis steered Ireland to bronze.

But it was sweet compensation for this durable athlete to perform so well in front of a home crowd.

The Irish womens' team had to sweat it out before discovering that they had pipped the Russians by just one point.

Rosemary Ryan finished 19th while Maria McCambridge was last to score adrift in 62nd place.

The Irish authorities had gambled by leaving US based Breda Dennehy-Willis out of the team for missing the Irish trials.

And that gamble would surely have backfired if O'Sullivan and Keenan-Buckley had not run so well.

The organisers may have been a little disappointed with the numbers that showed up to the Foxrock venue but nothing dampened their enthusiasm for the Irish athletes.

At one stage Sonia, who only gave birth to a second child 13 weeks ago, felt strong enough to win the race.

But once the pace quickened and the mid African contingent began to enforce their will Sonia began to concentrate on securing the highest place finish to boost the team.

"I really have to pay tribute to Ann.

"She pushed me all the way and I felt she was on my shoulder all the time," said Sonia.

"At one stage early on I felt I might actually have a chance of a medal," she reflected. "But then the pace got stronger and the leaders went away."

But nothing could hide her delight at leading he team to a coveted medal.

"It's my third time to finish seventh in the worlds. …