A great day for Clonliffe: National league winners

Jul 29, 2008 [Killian Lonergan] A great day for Clonliffe Harriers.


David Duval and Davis Love III fought for years to lose the tag, Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia and Jim Furyk would love to loose it – that of ‘best player never to win a major’. On Sunday, Clonliffe Harriers finally removed itself from the list of ‘ biggest club never to win the National League’!!!!


The winning of the National League by the Clonliffe Harriers team was not something achieved this past weekend, nor in the two qualification rounds in May and June. The nucleus of this team has been forming for the past three years and even longer. With a runner-up position in both 2006 and 2007 we had been knocking at the door of victory for some time. North Down, the champions for the past two years, were steely competitors and were not easily going to give up of the opportunity to become one of the few teams ever to win the title 3 years in a row.


Due in no small part to the Clonliffe reputation of being a Cross Country or distance running club, capturing this title had become Captain Joe Cooper’s Holy Grail for the past 7 years. The team that Joe built wasn’t done overnight nor was it done without the assistance of the club’s many coaches.


The naming of an O’Leary in our starting line up, in the walk, will have raised an eyebrow or two. The realisation that the O’Leary in question, wasn’t the 1992 Olympian Bobby, but rather his father, will have raised the other eyebrow, and a few uni-brows at that! Johnny was presented an award by the club last autumn to commemorate his 50 + years as a Clonliffe member and his collection of a National Senior medal at this stage in his career is another wonderful acknowledgement of his enduring contribution to the club. When he received the call from Joe three weeks ago that his services would be required there was no hesitation in stepping up to be counted. His daily training regime took in St. Anne’s park and the mantra of ‘I wouldn’t see Joe let down’, heard often in Tullamore was surely used as a daily motivator. His 6th place finish was worth just as much a win. Thanks a lot Johnny.


After his personal disappointment last weekend in having to pull out of the National Senior Championship 400m Hurdles final, Jeremy Lyons was unable to take up his talisman position in our early to bat events – both the 110m and 400m hurdles. His early season heroics had set a great barometer for the other athletes of what the club hoped, nay expected of them on League days. However, like the great Club man he is, Jeremy and clip board were on hand all day as he was constantly called upon to update Joe and team with our scoring position.


Chris Minn’s approach to this event over the past three years has been exactly the same. His presence on the team bus at round and final days has always been greatly appreciated and his desire to see the club win the big one was never questioned. Once again 2008 saw him step up when asked and he donned the black and amber for both hurdles races, earned points that could have easily been lost due to Jeremy’s withdrawal.


Another early season club record breaker, Paul Marry had also picked up a recent injury and was far from ready to perform at his best. Still, he was willing to do what was asked by Joe and he travelled to Tullamore knowing he probably only had one or two throws in him. Fortunately, his arm held out and he was able to pick up another win.


Out of view of the main stadium Eamonn Byrne was busy trying to squeeze out another few centimetres in the Hammer event. Having come through the Phil Conway school of knocks in Belvedere College, Eamon had been well versed in the understanding of how a team’s momentum can be influenced from the outside field. His 4th place finish was good, but his performance in raising his game from Nationals a week before boded well for the rest of us. Another Conway influenced athlete, Luke Mangan was holding his own in both shot and discus events. Ripleys ‘Believe it or not ‘ have long since stopped questioning Luke’s schoolboy status but they may very well have been on site once again as word filtered back that he had picked up the 9 points in the Shot Putt. An outstanding performance for such a young athlete.


Our middle and long distance prowess was there for all to see as we picked up 3 of the 4 wins on offer – 1500m with Colm Rooney, Mark Kenneally in the 5000m and David Flynn in the 3000m Steeplechase.


Rooney, winner of the National title a week earlier, had had a bad week with injury and was forced to pull out of his attempt at cracking the 4 mins mile in Friday’s Morton Memorial. However, he was willing to toe the line and go after the 9 points in the League Final. Facing Leevale’s Mark Hanrahan ( 4.00.73 in the aforementioned mile ) wasn’t something he needed to finish out his season but having missed both rounds of the league this year, Colm was determined to do what he could on Finals day. Letting Mark dictate the pace of the race was his tactic and as he rounded the Leevale man with 100m to go, the points were in the bag.


David Flynn’s approaching departure on scholarship to Fayettville, Arkansas added some spice to his race. This was the last time we’ll see David in the Clonliffe colours until November when he’s hopefully be home to claim a position on the Irish junior xc team. With just under 2 hours to go before the race you could tell David was up for it. It wasn’t too hard to miss the fact that he was already in his spikes!! He took the lead from the start and was never troubled. A fine end of season race and a fitting send off as he starts his American adventure.


Mark Kenneally’s arrival at the track was greeted warmly by all the team but slightly more by few in particular. With the program of events running 35 minutes ahead of schedule there was more than one phone call made to Mark asking for his exact, garmin specific co-ordinates, as time was running out. Messers Gary O’Hanlon and Eoin Pearce were eagerly awaiting his arrival as they were requested by Joe to start warming up ‘just in case’. Both were feeling the effects of their respective mile efforts on Friday night – and for one more than the other, the obligatory celebrations after. ( surprisingly it wasn’t the one that had won his race! ) Mark took the race by the scruff of the neck and had a substantial lead after one lap. The next 11.5 laps were simply a matter of staying upright for him to collect another 9 points.


Far from being upright for most of their event, our Pole Vaulters were adamant that between them this year, the 9 points would be gained. National Champion David Donegan made no mistakes and ended up with a season’s best height of 4.82m. Despite having the National Champion in our stable for each of the past two years going into the event, this was the first time in three attempts that we won. A good sign.


Our 4x100m relay team has often managed to pull off the win in this event, but this year were unable to do so. Still, their 4th place finish augured well as the team members were determined to make up for the perceived loss of points in their individual events. Turning a negative into a positive is what it’s all about.


In the 400m John Laffey was determined to show that his terrific performance in the 2nd Round of league was no flash in the plan. This was achieved quite comfortably as he brought home all 9 points. ( 49.24 secs )


Conor Healy came up against two top class 800m runners in Kevin McCloy and Michael Dyer. Trying to steel a march on them down the back straight Conor was held off by both but still secured another valuable 3rd place finish.


Mario Matuzzi managed to find a comfortable plot of land amongst the Clonliffe bags within minutes of arriving. His Italian upbringing enabled him to take a mid-day nap while the rest of the team pottered around within feet of him. When called into action in the Triple Jump Mario gathered himself and despite being out of competitive action for the best part of a year he was able to jump over 13 metres, finishing 3rd behind two former National Champions.


John Harnett, last seen running the 400m at the National Championships displayed his versatility by jumping 1.75 in the High Jump. Significantly John was ahead of North Down’s 2metre plus jumper. Some unexpected points earned there.


John Conroy epitomised the nature of the competition and of our athletes willingness to earn a point for the team – no matter what. He competing in both the long jump and 56lb weight. Neither event would be quite down his alley, but when asked at the last minute to deputise in the later event there was no question that he would.


In the 200m Cormac Doherty was unlikely to be facing one of the strongest fields of the day. He got out well and fought up the home straight chasing our rivals athletes all the way to the line.


Down to the last two events of the day now and Jeremy Lyons unofficial points tracker had us still in the frame for overall victory. However, strong performances were needed in both the 100m and 4x400m. Last years 100m event was the moment when the team title was put out of reach. Our athlete pulling up injured with 40m to go meant a less than anticipated return of points. This year, there were to be no points.


With the whole field on a warning after an initial false start, the 2nd start sent a cold shiver across the Clonliffe team. Daniel Kavanagh looked to have jumped the gun. Adamant that this wasn’t the case, Dan’s Linford Christie impersonations came to the fore as he reenacted Linford’s 1996 Olympic final protest. Unfortunately, nothing was to change and despite letting him run the race we were looking at zero points from the 100m.


A recalculation by Jeremy suggested the competition could still be won with a first place in the 4x400m. Similar to the Toyko ’91 World Championships were GB put there fastest athlete on the opening leg, Clonliffe had John Laffey leading the team off. The lane 1 draw wasn’t a favourable one, but John brought the baton round in first place. Colm Rooney, running his last race of his season was next up and despite being cut off and passed as he entered the home straight, he fought all the way to the line to hand over to Conor Healy in third. Conor held his position until he passed Camp Clonliffe over at the 300m mark. Moving fluidly down the back straight he pressured both athletes ahead. Passing one of them, he handed over to Under 19 athlete Eoin McDonnell in 2nd place. Eoin’s ability to remain camp and run a even paced lap speaks volumes for his great racing brain and bodes well for his own future. Back in the present though, Eoin held off any challengers from behind and crossed the line in 2nd place. Our unofficial points tallying suggested the title was ours.


With the announcement taking a hour to come, Joe Cooper was spreading the word that should we win, he was too old to be put in the water jump. Cleverly though, he did pass his watch, wallet and phone to Johnny O’Leary ‘just in case’. As the results were announced it was reminiscent of the Miss World Competition with the results being listed in reverse order When it was announced that second place would go to ‘North down’ by process of elimination the Clonliffe crew knew the title was won and the cup was making it’s way to the Clonliffe bar.


The medals were handed out and without warning Joe Cooper completed his fastest 50m in a long time, as he was manhandled from the rostrum to the pleasantly refreshing Water jump pit. Soaked head to toe but with his medal secured around his neck he emerged from the pit stating he had no spare clothes. His often heard mantra, ‘ if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’ couldn’t have been more apt. Clothes were found somewhere and Joe boarded the bus home in borrowed attire.


Of course, the results on the day have been outlined above, but the first two rounds in Antrim and Santry saw other athletes contribute. These were not forgotten on the day and should be congratulated too. Jeremy Lyons, Larry Brady, Kevin English, Anthony McGreery, Eoin Pearce and many others.

We’ve now earned the right to compete in the European Club Track and Field Championships next May. Team selection will be difficult but it’s a headache Joe has been longing to have.