All posts in Memories

September Memories with Maurice Ahern

Post the Rome Olympic Games of 1960 closing ceremony September 11th the athletic promoters of Europe sought the medal winners of the games and others to appear at their upcoming athletic meetings. Number one on the list of course was the new Olympic Champion over 1500m Herb Elliott. His runaway victory in a new world record of 3 minutes 35.6 sec over Michel Jazy was the talk of the athletic world.

1960 Olympic 1500 Final

Despite the desire of many athletes to return to their far off homes and considering the reduced daylight in Northern Europe and the dropping temperature for night time racing, it was a tribute to the status of the Santry track and the skills of Billy Morton that Herb Elliott agreed to race once more on this day September 22nd 60 years ago.

And so at short notice another Clonliffe Harriers International meeting was organised and again temporary lighting had to be arranged.

I remember but a few of the highlights, Ron Delaney winning the 880yards in 1min 48 sec.  John Thomas putting his failure as favourite to win the Olympic gold behind him to jump 7ft 2 inches that night at Santry and then the magnificent Herb Elliott winning the mile in 3 min 57 sec which was another great performance in late September at Santry.  Gordon Pirie the versatile English runner-cross country international, world record for 3000m, silver medallist in 5000m at Melbourne games in 1956 and one of the competitors on the opening night of the Santry track in May 1958.  Don as he was known came hoping to get for him an elusive sub 4 min mile for the 1st time-running without shoes and with his feet taped he achieved his goal on the red cinders of Santry with a 3 min 59.9 sec time.

I remember where I stood that night at Santry as the crowd roared Herb Elliott home. (Maurice Ahern)

An Autumn Memory with Maurice Ahern

This day August 27th marks the 40th anniversary of the 1st major refurbishment of our Stadium since it opened back in 1958.  Gone was the famed cinder track which in its time was the scene of several world records-world bests, national and club records and now replaced by a modern Resisport polyurethane track.  Also removed was the Tarmac banked cycling track which was a Guinness Bi-centenary gift to the Stadium in 1959.  Further additions included the fitting of a Herringbone drainage system removing at last the wet south western corner of the infield.  We also had the installation of floodlights and training lights, new perimeter surrounds of the track, and the stoney banks were replaced with terracing on the south and north ends.

Cinder track is removed
The Old Stand (Where the Indoor/Main Stand is situated)
New Terracing at the Clonliffe end

Overcast weather conditions did not prevent a crowd of over 10000 flocking to the Stadium. Amongst the many dignitaries which included An Taoiseach, a number of Government ministers,  the leader of Fine Gael Dr. Fitzgerald and special guest Ronnie Delaney who graced the Stadium as Olympic champion in 1958.  An Taoiseach Charles Haughey was greeted by the President of Clonliffe Harriers Alex Sweeney and I had the pleasant task of accompanying Dr. Fitzgerald to his seat and I well remember our actuarial discussion on the possible finishing time of the 5000m. 

In his address An Taoiseach said “that it is entirely appropriate that the Stadium should be named the Morton Stadium as a tribute to the memory of Billy Morton who built it and laid it out some 20 years ago. Billy Morton was an extraordinary man of great courage and foresight.  I had the honour of knowing him and being associated with him to some small extent when he was getting this great project under way.  His dynamic approach, bustling way, irresistible determination and refusal even to contemplate defeat, all combined to make an unforgettable man”.  An Taoiseach went on to say “on behalf of the Government and the Local Authorities and in the presence of Billy’s daughters I name this arena the Morton Stadium and formally declare it open”.

The large attendance had come to see the world stars in the athletic events that followed and earlier in his address An Taoiseach had offered a very special welcome to all those athletes who had come from abroad to take part in this event.

Steve Scott (USA)

This was actually a Donore Harriers meeting originally planned for Belfield–but transferred to Santry (incorporating the Morton Memorial Mile) where the use of floodlights and the hope that another Irish Olympic Champion (post the Moscow Games) might grace the occasion.  Never the less amongst the competitors on the night were Daley Thompson, John Walker, Filbert Bayi, Ray Flynn, Geoff Capes.  Steve Scott won the Morton Mile, fittingly in a new Stadium Record of 3.53.8, a record that stood for all of 34 years until Will Leer’s 3.51.82 in 2014. The night ended with a Ding Dong 5000m in which Eamonn Coghlan boosted his confidence winning in a new Irish record of 13 min. 20.99 as he saw off Nick Rose, Alberto Salazar and John Treacy.

Another memory in Clonliffe Harriers long history

Maurice Ahern

Monday Memories with Peter McDermott

Today Peter takes us back to “Clonliffe training in the rare auld times”! When you arrived at the Clonliffe Club House for the first time back in the 70s, you could easily be underwhelmed. Back then  the “ clubhouse “ consisted of a rusting Nissen Hut which at some stage had been painted green but was now of indeterminate colour. Nissen huts were used by the LDF. ( later known as the FCA)* during the Emergency years of 1939-1945 to accommodate this auxiliary defence force. The huts were half cylindrical structures which were like ovens in Summer and fridges in Winter. When you approached the entrance you were assailed by dense smoke and fumes coming from the coal furnace which was kept stoked by two faithful men , Jack Sherlock and Charlie Rothell. This furnace heated the water for the showers – or at least that was the theory. A narrow, dimly lit corridor led to the dressing rooms.

1958: Billy Morton, Herb Elliott, Ronnie Delany

On entering, the first thing you noticed were the posters and photos. The one that instantly captured your attention was that of a beaming Billy Morton surrounded by Herb Elliott, Merv Lincoln , Murray Halberg, Albie Thomas and Ronnie Delaney . This was taken in the immediate aftermath of the famous world record mile in 1958. It was then it struck you : in spite of the rather dilapidated surroundings, this place was special. This was a Centre of Excellence which produced great athletes.

A giant poster also captured your attention : it was a magnified version of Kipling’s famous poem “If”. Obviously it was placed there with the intention of inspiring young athletes with the sentiments expressed : “ If you can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs …..If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same ….If you can fill the unforgiving minute  With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run …..”. There was a cartoon of a club member called Larry Reid sipping a cup of Bovril and ,on the notice board ,a ruled sheet of paper with the week’s training outlined in neat handwriting . But the thing that really emphasised the special character of this modest hut was the sight of several Irish international runners getting ready for training. Two Olympians , Frank Murphy ( Big Frank ) and Danny McDaid , veterans of Mexico and Munich , are lacing up their Adidas Gazelles . Beside them are Paddy Marley , a Senior Irish track international and a very young Pádraig Keane who had ran for Ireland in the senior World Cross despite being still a junior . There too was Des McCormack who had missed out on Olympic selection in ‘72 by 0.2 of a second in the Steeple . A very young Jerry Kiernan is there but at this stage he is just a promising kid who had finished a close second to Eamonn Coghlan in the 1971 All Ireland Schools’ 1500 final. It could be an intimidating atmosphere but these guys are quite friendly.

Clonliffe legendary Coach Laro Byrne

A man introduces himself as Maurice Ahern . I’m a little overawed as I’ve read about this man in the national press as the coach to the wunderkind , Tom Gregan. The whole gathering seems to be orchestrated by a jovial man with a large ruddy face and a very welcoming smile . He makes us newbies feel at home while at the same time engaging in continuous banter with all and sundry . He has an elite corps of Junior athletes who hang on his every word : Mick Byrne , Derek Carroll , the Greene twins Martin and John , Gerry Finnegan , Philip  ( Sheila ) Campbell , Gerry Brady , David Ball and Derek Reilly . This man is the great  Larry Byrne but is better known simply as Laro . Soon he announces that “The Eliza Jane is leaving “ . This is the signal for McDaid , Marley and Murphy to lead out the troops . If you’re not ready , tough luck . The Eliza Jane waits for nobody.

There are 30 plus runners in the peloton . These “pack runs” have become legendary in the Club. It’s a Thursday night and the atmosphere is relaxed . This is due to the fact that a simple, steady run of 17 miles at “about 6.30 mile pace” is the prescribed training. I learn later that the atmosphere becomes a lot more tense on nights when “ sessions” are done. That’s when men can be heard puking in the toilets at the prospect of the pain to come .
I am amazed at how these guys are dressed. In my last club we often went for road runs at night wearing only shorts and tee shirts . But these guys are wearing layer upon layer of clothing. First lesson taken on board : a cold muscle is a muscle at risk , so keep yourself warm . This was in an era before running tights had been invented but a diverse array of “leggings” were on display by this inventive group . Many were wearing white “ long johns” under their shorts ( ask your grandad ) while others sported women’s sheer tights despite the jeers of the young lads . But these cheeky young bucks were quickly put in their place by a reminder that they had neither wife nor girlfriend who would provide them with this item of apparel . But others are also strangely clad . One man who is a scholar and a gentleman ( indeed a genius and a gentleman) is dressed as if he was in a Zoom conference.( Of course , Zoom is still 50 years away in the future). He is wearing his smart business shirt and a pair of shorts. He is living up to his reputation as the absent minded professor and has forgotten all his running gear except shoes and shorts . This man also likes to run fast from the get-go and zips down the road ignoring the shouts of P. Keane to “ come back you f…ing eejit , it’s not a race “. I’m running beside a friendly man who introduces himself as John O’Leary. He tells me that these “pack runs” are the lifeblood of the Club and , in his opinion, are the main reason why Clonliffe has become such a powerhouse of distance running. He emphasises that everybody is welcome regardless of his standard .         

The Great Padraig Keane

The pace in the peleton is sedate for the first couple of miles . It picks up going down by Plunkett’s school due to the sharp decline but levels off again along Griffith Avenue. We pass young couples holding hands or having a quick snog. P. Keane can’t resist a bit of devilment  and pats the amorous young man on his shoulder saying “ Less of that in public please.” By the time the poor lad has recovered from the shock , Keane is at least 30 metres ahead and so all the offended Romeo can do is shout “ F..k off , ya bleedin’ culchie ya”. There is a further injection of pace going down Mobhi Road but the hill up by Smurfit’s puts a little smacht on us and we ease back on the horses . Whitworth Road is also downhill and once again the pace picks up . One night the pace becomes so brisk that Kiernan ( with his deadpan humour ) says  “ Ah lads, would ye at least slow it down to 5K pace ?”.  Perhaps it’s the pace that’s responsible, but flatulence also seems to increase at this stage . Anytime somebody detonates a whopper, his team mates shout out “ Get out and walk”. The smog is also at its worst in this area and , when we get back, we will be spitting black phlegm into the toilet . There seems to be considerable banter between the runners and the public . One little lady enquires “ Are yez not freezing’? “ Another guy dismisses us with “ Yez are all f…ing mad”. And, of course, there are regular groups of young wans who, as we pass by , start chanting “Lift dem hairy , hairy legs”. 

And they were hairy . ( Unless modestly concealed by the famous Long Johns ). Shaved legs had not as yet become de rigueur among the running fraternity. The first recorded instance of a Clonliffe man appearing with shaved legs was that of a young fella back from athletic scholarship in the US . Turning up for a track workout ( he was also using “Yankee” terminology) he enquired of Paddy Marley what he thought of this new aerodynamic look . Paddy didn’t reply but his look said it all . Not impressed. Standards slipping .

As we cruise into Fairview a guy in a car almost creases a member of the pack . Rashers Tierney , normally the mildest of men , doesn’t take this lying down and decides to exact retribution. He first thumps the bonnet of the offender’s car and then gives it a kick for good measure. Rashers had played GAA with Liam Brady and Tommy Drumm for St.Aidan’s and he was now displaying some of the skills learned on the football pitch . The driver is not amused and decides to follow us for several miles shouting threats and obscenities at us , questioning both our legitimacy and our sanity. At Marino the pack breaks into two. Most of the juniors and some dilettante seniors continue straight on, eventually turning left onto Malahide Road and returning via Griffith Avenue for a so-called 10. But “The Panzer Division”, as Laro called the big mileage men, cross the pedestrian bridge at Marino Mart and head out the seafront. Here we are confronted by a new menace , the bane of every runner’s life : dogs. A little shitzu ( every dog that attacked us was called a shitzu , something to do with the name ,perhaps ?) starts harrying and harassing us , snapping at our heels and buzzing us like a Spitfire . He is a right nuisance, tripping us and knocking us off our stride. All our efforts to get rid of him prove futile . At last , Paddy Marley gets tired of this and, displaying all his Donegal football skills , gives the nasty little pest an almighty kick up the arse . He is literally lifted into the air and the last we see of him he is about to go into orbit over the Bull Wall. We compliment Paddy on his beautiful, clean  strike and run on 

Paddy Marey: Ireland V Switzerland Santry 9/6/69

The grassy prom. gives a little respite from the hard road . I later got to know this prom. as the setting for 9 mile fartlek sessions : 3 miles down split into long cruise intervals, 3 miles back at tempo pace, 1.5 miles down divided into short reps.and 1.5 miles back at tempo pace. We would also run 3 miles down to the prom.from the Club and 3 miles back . A cool total of 15 miles even on the nights we did workouts.

As we run out through that Southside oasis north of the Liffey known as Clontarf, we gain strength and inspiration from the sea, with the waves almost lapping over the low wall and the wind now truly in our sails . But just then the lights go out. Pitch blackness .  And no : we do not rage against the dying of the light , in fact we don’t bat an eyelid. It’s part of the by now familiar ESB’s savings plan. After the Yom Kippur war, the Saudis cut off the West’s oil supply to a trickle . This results in a massive recession  in Europe and the USA and electricity is rationed . So, we run through some areas which are brightly lit as normal and other areas which are totally dark . But our eyes quickly adjust and we run on without a care. If it was a 15 mile run we would turn up Watermill Road which had a very nice hill to add a little extra resistance to our training load. But on a 17 there is no turning until we reach the Black Banks in Sutton. And woe betide anyone who cut across the grassy “ peninsula “ at this point . Even though it meant cutting only 5 yards at most from the distance, this was seen as a sign of appalling weakness. One young lad did indeed cut the course here once . He never did it again . And he never recovered from the slaggin’ he got either . We run down through Raheny ( they’re not even The Noisy Neighbours at this point) and downhill into Killester . As we turn onto Collins’ Avenue , Tony (Blisters) Murphy has the misfortune to say “ There’s quite a bit of a hill here lads”. Like a school of piranhas , the peloton smells blood . “ Ah Tony, what hill ? God Blisters , you’re very unfit. Tony , what age are you now ? Not bad for an auld fella. You’re definitely failing Blisters. Gone past it Tony, But sure you hadn’t a bad innings.” And so it continues. Just as well that Tony can take it and dish it out equally well . He is universally acknowledged as The Supreme Slagger .

The Hairy One, Jerry Kiernan

The pace builds and builds as we run along Collins Avenue. As Jerry Kiernan said in a fairly recent interview with Ian O’Riordan : “ It was hard, unremitting stuff. Only toughened  us up”. Some guys have actually rested up for this pack run and they are now really going for glory . It’s significant, however, that the truly experienced runners like McDaid , Murphy , Keane and Marley are ignoring all this competitive madness and just keeping it steady. They know that there are no medals for training. We get back to the Nissen hut and there’s a scramble for the few showers available. The furnace has gone cold . The water is tepid at best and, at worst, absolutely freezing. Men jump under the icy water and for the next 15 minutes all that can be heard are cries of shock and pain intermingled with curses against the guys who did short runs and then used up all the hot water . We dry ourselves off while trying to avoid the arctic breeze that’s blowing in through the ever broken window . Sometimes the man known as The Colonel is there and he , after apparently enjoying his cold wash , keeps affirming that there’s nothing better  or healthier than an icy shower. Laro is still there , having a quiet word of advice or encouragement for each one of us. And then we jump up on our bikes and cycle off into the night looking forward to the Saturday session and the 20 mile Sunday morning run around the Hill of Howth .

Now we know what happened to the Likely Lads!

Ah yes, those were the days my friend ; we thought they’d never end, We’d sing and run forever and a day ……                   

* FCA = Forsa Cosanta Áitiúil = Local Defence Force .(Needless to say all those incidents didn’t happen on one single run ; they are an amalgam of typical events on many, many such training runs . But there was one thing common to every run : the craic was only 90 ! )

Monday Memories with Gladys Cooper

This Monday morning I would like to share memories with you of an athlete who although not a member of Clonliffe Harriers has a relationship with the club through me. The athlete in question is my great granduncle who was an Olympian called John Joe Daly.

Club members will, I am sure, recall my dad, Arthur Daly who for many years, right up until his death, kept an eye on the Clonliffe clubhouse and dressing rooms on Tuesday and Thursday nights always being asked by Mick Fogarty to make sure he had ‘clocked in’! When we were young my dad used to tell us about his granduncle who he told us had been a great athlete from Galway who had competed in the Olympic Games. We always took this with a pinch of salt but lo and behold in carrying out research I found that only was John Joe Daly an Olympian but believe it or believe it not was an Olympic silver medallist! He took silver in the steeplechase in the St. Louis Olympic Games in the USA in 1904.

John Joe Daly was born in 1880, six years before Clonliffe Harriers was founded in Dowriss, Kilmoylan, Co. Galway. He had a great interest in sport and in athletics in particular and he joined Galway Harriers A.C. In his early career he competed in the high jump but it was in the middle distance events that he excelled. He was Irish champion over both one mile and four miles. He competed for Ireland in International Cross Country Championships, then largely confined to the ‘home nations’ winning individual bronze in 1903.

In 1904 he was selected to represent Great Britain, younger readers bear in mind that the Irish State did not exist at this time, for the Olympic Games taking place in far off St. Louis. Despite running for Great Britain, my great granduncle was very much an Irish nationalist and he viewed himself as representative Ireland even though he would be wearing the vest of Great Britain. He travelled all the way to the United States for those 1904 Olympic Games where he was running in the steeplechase. He was in fact favoured to win the steeplechase and although he led going into the last lap he was overtaken by a US athlete James Lightbody who took gold with John Joe taking silver.

Two years later he again competed in the Olympic Games in Athens in 1906. Straight away I can hear you all saying that there was no Olympic Games in 1906 as they are every four years, however, at the time these Games were considered to be Olympic Games, they were also referred to as the 1906 intercalated Games. We have all got used to sports people making political statements but these 1906 Games were the first Games where athletes made a political protest or political statement. You guessed it, John Joe was very much involved!

He had competed in the marathon but dropped out at eighteen miles with severe blistering which removed most of the skin off his feet. Earlier in these Games he had finished 3rd in the 5 mile race but was judged to have impeded the 4th place athlete and the positions were reversed. In any event John Joe along with his fellow Irishmen Peter O’Connor and Con Leahy made what was then acknowledged as being the first political protest in modern Olympic history. Peter O’Connor had finished 2nd in the long jump, the Union Jack flag of course had been raised, however, with Leahy and John Joe acting as security O’Connor climbed up the flagpole and removed the Union Jack flag replacing it with the Irish flag. Not of course the tricolour but the Erin Go Bragh flag! History, the first political protest at an “Olympic” Games!

In 1908 despite this political protest he was again selected to compete for Great Britain in the London Olympic Games, however, he declined to accept the invitation to compete. After this he went to the United States, settling in New York, where be continued to compete running for the Irish American Athletic Club over a variety of distances right up to the marathon. He won US titles and also Canadian titles and after retiring from the sport he remained in the United States owning and running a bar on Sixth Avenue in New York City. He remained in the United States except for returning home to Galway in the late 1950s and mid 1960s and he eventually passed away in New York city in March of 1969.

So there you have it. An Irish Olympian winning an Olympic medal with a Clonliffe Harriers connection! It is indeed a small world in which we live.

John Joe Daly

Monday Memories with Colm Brennan

1957 SOME MEMORIES OF THE YEAR I JOINED CLONLIFFE HARRIERS World War 2 ended in September 1945 leaving Europe in ruins.and the population in despair and shock. For the duration of the war all sporting activity ceased, facilities were destroyed, and most young men and women directed their energies in support of the war effort. Of course, Ireland was not directly involved in hostilities as a neutral state but nevertheless the country was greatly disadvantaged as a result of the conflict. Poverty and unemployment was the norm right across Europe including Ireland.

When the War ended many people turned to sport to establish a new normality and to brighten the awful memories of the war years Ireland was no exception in finding a new enthusiasm for sporting activity and it is against this backdrop that I write about my joining Clonliffe Harriers.

I had played rugby in school and while I enjoyed it very much I had been greatly attracted to track and field as a result of the great exploits of Britons Gordon Pirie, Chris Chataway and Brian Hewson, the Russian Vladamir Kuts, the Czeck Emil Zatopek. When our own Ronnie Delany appeared on the scene my brother Michael joined me at every athletics meeting both in College Park and Lansdowne Road. When Ronnie won the 1500 meters at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne my enthusiasm was complete.

I joined Clonliffe Harriers on the 10th July 1957 i arrived at the entrance gate feeling somewhat embarrassed and indeed frightened at the prospect of actually joining the great club. I need not have worried, as I stood outside the gate under a large sign which read CLONLIFFE HARRIERS STADIUM I was hailed by two men on bicycles, Larry O’Reilly and Frank Whelan who had arrived for training. The grounds in Santry at that time was being prepared for the building of Ireland’s very first international standard cinder track which was being laid by the world renowned En Tout Cas company. Stakes were in the ground marking the perimeter and lane structure of the track. Delivery of the construction materials consisting of underlay and bright red top dressing were due for delivery from Britain by charter ship and transported to Santry by road. I remember there was a trial of red top soil on the road from the port to the ground which was reported in the Dublin evening newspapers.

Joining the Club was a formal process.The officers were usually present on training nights and new applicants for membership were introduced to those present. I recall being given an application for membership form by the honorary treasurer Arthur Wisdom , a man who maintained the highest standards and the most complete set of club records I have ever seen. He advised me that the subscription for junior membership was 10 shillings which he said I should bring with me to the next training night with my completed application form which, I was advised, required a proposer and seconder. I recall meeting the honorary secretary Billy Morton that evening, he was a national figure at that time and it certainly was a memorable event for a school boy to meet the great man. The Club captain was Harry Cooney. He was a man I have remembered all my life, a kind, enthusiastic and most pleasant person who gave so much to the club and its members. Others I recall meeting on that evening were Charlie Rothwell, Tommy Taylor, Laurie Reed Frank and Johnny Whelan, Johnny O’Leary and of course my life long friend Larry O’Reilly.

Preparations for the cross country season began in August and all the talk in the dressing room was about the club handicaps which, at the time, enjoyed great popularity: the O’Connor Cup, the Grand National the Irwin Cup, the Club championships all enjoyed great support. I remember with pleasure coming third in the Club championship off a 12 minute handicap behind Larry O’Byrne and Noel Henry in my first cross country season.

One event that stands out in my memory is the Cake Race that was held in Christmas 1957 . The race took place on my 16th birthday on what was a very quiet country road, Coolock Lane. It was an out and back course from Santry to Coolock turning at the Sheaf of Wheat pub. I was the limit man and really believed I could do the job that evening. There was a big field of at least thirty runners., It was a beautiful moonlit evening with no wind, I recall the air was crisp and clear. I set off with great hope, Harry Cooney fired the starting pistol and I ran as fast as I dared into the night. There was no traffic, no street lights, a truly rural experience. I reached the half way mark in Coolock to be greeted by Billy Morton, Sam Gray and some others , Billy waving his freshly laundered handkerchief shouting encouragement , I turned and headed back to Santry. I was brimming with confidence and it was some minutes before the rest of the field came towards me. I was still ahead with 300 yards to go when I heard the dreaded footfall behind me. I speeded up and hoped I would make it home. With 150 yards to go an unknown runner , the late Sean O’Neiil, swept past me, he had joined the Club from an NACA club Dublin City Harriers some days before the race. He ran well and used his handicap well. I remember this as the final event of 1957 the year I joined Clonliffe Harriers.

I look back on the year of 1957 with a great feeling of satisfaction, joining the club was such an important component in my life that I could never value it sufficiently.

Colm Brennan, former Club President and Hon. Treasurer.

Clonliffe National XC winning team with F. White (Secretary), C. Brennan (President) p. Marley (Captain) 1984

Morton Magical Memories with Noel Guiden

Tonight was supposed to be Morton Games night but you know what put a spanner in the works several months ago. Rather than be in any way downbeat today I want to bring you my memories, as the Meet Director as to what in my humble opinion has been the best Morton Games to date. There have been many magnificent Morton Games over the past decade, the pre London Olympic one in 2012 is a standout, the visit of Yohan Blake in 2015 and even last year’s “the 2019 Deluge” in the heel of the hunt proved to be memorable, however, in my view 2014 was the Magical Morton Games.

To try and give a snap shot of what goes into putting on the meet, I’ll give a 30 second run through. Planning for each Morton Games starts in September. Usually the Meet is held in July, the weeks following Morton Games are spent tidying up the outstanding financial aspects, making sure that all bills are paid, agents are paid, athlete’s outstanding expenses are dealt with, any outstanding payments come in and the books are balanced.

Then in September it starts all over again. The early months are taken up with the unseen tasks, one of the most important is the fixing of a date, this is a fine balancing act. We have to look at the National Championships or Olympic trials and when they take place in the USA, in Britain and of course our own National Championships. We also have to avoid clashes with certain Meets and we would also liaise with the Cork City Sports. Other tasks at this stage would revolve around booking of accommodation for athletes, contacting existing sponsors and potential sponsors, making a decision on the programme of events. Matters then really start to crank up from the springtime when we contact many of the agents whom we deal with with our brochure for this year’s Meet. Then steadily it start to build up to a crescendo, the excitement really starts to mount in May and June (assuming it’s a July Meet), fields are built, athletes confirmed, events are full and then the inevitable emails start to arrive as the fields start to fall asunder as athletes pull out. We then build all over again, indeed on occasions right up until the day before the Meet. That process is a process which is, and I use this word deliberately, endured year upon year.

So thinking over the decade of Morton Games and asking myself the question of, first was there a best and then when was that I’m going for 2014, July 11th . You may remember that the summer of 2014 had been possibly the best summer since 1976. It hadn’t rained in weeks and the Emerald Isle looked more like the scorched yellow grasslands of the Savannah than the forty shades of green. 2014 also may well have marked the coming of age of Morton Games. The Meet had up to this stage enjoyed an excellent reputation with the athletes who attend the Meet and also the agents who as Meet Director I deal with year upon year but 2014 brought us on to a new level.

The big names taking part that year included the world 400 hurdles champion Jehue Gordon (TTO). That race was a stacked field which also included Brazilian Olympian Mahau Suguimati, Japan’s Takatoshi Abe and the, then, up and coming start of Irish athletics, one Thomas Barr. Other confirmed competitors that year included reigning European 100 record holder with a best of 9.86 Francis Obikwelu (POR), in the 400 USA Olympic relay silver medallist Manteo Mitchell, London Olympic relay bronze medallist Jarrin Solomon and of our own Brian Gregan. The distance races were also stacked: Juan Luis Barrios (MEX) in the 3000, Molly Huddle (USA) and Cory McGee (USA) in the Women’s Mile. Phoebe Wright (USA) in the 800, in the Men’s 800 Mark English, Ryan Gregson (AUS), Kenya’s Abraham Kiplagat and in the Morton Mile two time winner Will Leer (USA) facing his USA teammate Pat Casey, Vincent Letting (KEN), Irish athletes Ciaran O’Lionaird, who came chasing European qualifying time and both John Travers and Danny Mooney chasing their first sub fours.

As is the norm myself and Killian Lonergan set up camp in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express in Northwood Santry, greeting the athletes as they arrived in Dublin from early morning the day prior to the Meet and then looking after their every need thereafter and at times just a cheery hello did the trick. The Irish welcome really is the most important thing about Morton Games, it was commented on extensively by the athletes we met not only in 2014 but throughout the life of this fantastic event. So the athletes arrive at the Holiday Inn, having been met in the Airport by Alan O’Neill and our brilliant bunch of junior athletes, we give them their welcome packs and get them sorted with their rooms. They are roomed in pairs, sometime we get the pairings right, sometimes not. One year we had two female athletes from a particular European country lined up to room together, we are thinking they may know each other, they will have a common language etc. Well they shared a common language and they knew each other, but….they despised one another! So that problem had to be solved and quick!

One question that is constantly asked by the athletes surrounds the pacing particularly in the Mile. All of the athletes come to Dublin to run a fast mile and all want the perfect pace. One athlete’s perfect pace is not necessarily another’s! I distinctly recall on the morning of the Meet some athletes suggesting that the pace which was essentially 58 second laps, was not quite quick enough and were looking to go through the 800 in faster than the 1.56 target. The wise head that is Will Leer came to me and had a quiet word: “the pace you have lined up is perfect, but, if some of those guys want to go faster let them at it. I’ll be there to pick up the pieces!” – these words were not only wise but turned out to be prophecy!

I remember with clarity the evening of the Meet, sometimes as the Meet Director you are in the eye of the storm and don’t really notice what is going on. There are so many things to be attended to, athletes go missing, officials go missing, hiccups happen which all have to be smoothed over and resolved as quickly as possible. Having said that the pre-programme passed in an absolute blur – even to this day I have no idea what happened in any of the pre-programme races. I remember the 400 hurdles as being the opening event on the international programme, Thomas Barr taking on the world champion. The stadium was packed and the atmosphere was electric. I recall the roar down the home straight as Barr closed the gap past the world champion and breasted the tape 48.94 to announce himself on the world stage, and here in Santry. Our good friend Liam Moggin, the stadium commentator with great gusto and glee roared into the microphone “a new stadium record!” – that was not going to be the last time on July 11th 2014 that Liam said those words.

Tom Barr, getting the records tumbling!

Morton Games proceeded with its usual breakneck speed. The ethos of the Meet: no gaps. Run to timetable. High octane action. Squeeze in a presentation if there’s a spare 30 seconds! Race after race, bang the starters gun and stadium record after stadium record tumbled: men’s 100 Warren Fraser (BAH) 10.20. Women’s 100 Carina Horn (RSA) 11.36. Another Irish win in the men’s 800 Mark English against a world class field in a time of 1.45.30, Liam again: “another stadium record!” The women’s mile, Molly Huddle (USA) with a stunning performance to knock four seconds off the stadium record 4.26.8. In the Albie Thomas 3000 a magnificent run by Juan Luis Barrios – 7.44.21 as Liam Moggin once again says the phrase that pays: “it is another Morton Stadium record”!

Molly Huddle, Mile record
Juan Luis Barrios 3000 record (7.44.21)

Then at 9 p.m. the Morton Milers came out on track to the sound of Thin Lizzy’s ‘The boys are back in town’. The pacemakers did a superb job, Conor Healy of Clonliffe and then pacemaker extraordinaire Tom Marshall who since has ran sub 4 in a subsequent Morton Mile, doing an outstanding job and sticking to the predetermined pace. As the athletes gathered to take the bell Ciaran O’Lionaird chasing that European qualifying time took up the running, the whole field was strung out behind him and then bolting from the pack Donore Harriers John Travers chasing his first sub 4. Travers opened the lead on the pack, at 200 he was still clear but the beard and long flowing locks of Will Leer ate into his lead. Leer then waited and on the top bend unleashed a ferocious kick coming gleefully down the home straight setting not only a new PB but, yes you guessed it “another stadium record”. Steve Scott’s 1980 record was gone after all of 34 years replaced by 3.51.82.

It’s High Fives all round
Morton Stadium Mile Record, Will Leer

I remember the flood of emotion coming over me as I stood on infield, Killian Lonergan running towards me both with our arms raised as if we had scored the winning goal in the World Cup final. I then sought out our pacemakers, they had done a magnificent job, then I looked for both Ciaran O’Lionaird and John Travers who had been instrumental in Leer running so fast and finally I embraced the man himself, now a three time Morton Mile winner and the Morton Stadium record holder.

Later as we looked at the stats we learned that Leer had also set a new Morton Stadium 1500 record. That made an extraordinary eight stadium record! The stats also revealed that there were ten sub 4 minute miles in that race including John Travers going sub 4 for the first time and how: 3.55.44 and a bit of history for Hamish Carson (NZL) his 3.57.79 in 9th place was the 100th sub 4 minute Morton Mile.

Morton Games after party is renowned. The Clonliffe bar was packed to capacity, it was a cauldron of heat, sweat and excitement, loud voices, high fives, high spirits. Will Leer bought me my first pint of several that night, on an absolute high, both of us! It was the night of nights, after the meet of meets. (Will also presented Morton Games with his racing vest from the night, which is now proudly on display in the club bar)

July 11th 2014 put Morton Games on the International Athletics map. That night I received an email from a US agent which simply said: “Now that was an athletics meet!”

We will return: Friday July 9th 2021. Put it in your diary!

Monday Memories with Eamonn Tierney

As far as cross country was concerned, I was a bit inconsistent when it came to performing well on the day. It was probably more psychological than physical so being a member of Clonliffe Harriers put more pressure on a runner than if he ran for most other clubs.

Anyway in 1987 I remember asking Paddy Marley if it was ok if I could be excused from running in the Nationals that year in Killenaule. After all we were the reigning champions with runners like Jerry Kiernan, Noel Harvey, Dave Taylor,Eugene Curran, Gerry Finnegan, Gerry Brady, Billy Horgan, Padraig Keane, Denis Noonan, Dermot Redmond, Peter McDermot , Kieran O’Dwyer and many many more. I cannot recall if all these runners were available on the day but i figured a combination of any four from the above names would easily retain our title. Paddy however saw it differently. He mentioned things like injuries, lack of fitness and other reasons why some runners may not perform on the day. I think I was training for the Amsterdam Marathon so although I was fit, cross country was not on my agenda.

So with a fair bit of reluctance I travelled with the team. Killenaule is a tough hilly course and not one that really suited me although I was running a lot in the mountains at the time so I was trying to psyche myself up that the course actually did suit me. I remember starting off slowly thinking if I make the top eight Clonliffe runners I would have a decent run. Dave Taylor was having a blinder and word came back that he was streaking away from a top class field that included Gerry Curtis and John Woods. This news gave me reassurance because with Dave a certain winner it was great news for Clonliffe. I think Jerry Kiernan started off slowly. He may have had injury problems from 5 years of heavy marathon training but he ended up with a solid run finishing around 7th or 8th. A young Eugene Curran may have finished 15th or so.

The question was where was our 4th man. I was moving slowly through the field and was 5th Clonliffe man when I think it was Johnny O’Leary screamed at me that Harvey was in trouble and was coming back through the field. When Johnny screamed information you took notice. He told me I was going to be the 4th scorer and that I had to keep going in order to retain the team prize. Noel was the reigning champion from the previous year on our home turf in Santry but for whatever reason he was having a bad day so I remember running past him at maybe 9k {the race distance was 12k} in those days. I finished 25th and we did retain the title and I was needed on the day. It was a great feeling winning a National title with a famous club like Clonliffe.

Even now 33 years later I still tell runners how important everyone is on the team,especially in cross country. Even if you are not in the top 4, if you are 5th, 6th, or 7th scorer you could still finish ahead of the next club’s 4th scorer and I know that people like Paddy Marley, Johnny O’Leary, Maurice Ahern, Peter McDermott and others will make sure this tradition of running to the line counts for eveything when you were the black and amber.

Nil Desperandum
Eamonn Tierney

Clonliffe’s team of Champions
Eamonn (112), R. Dooney (151), John Woods (050), Jerry Kiernan, Dick Hooper (098)

Monday Memories with Maurice Ahern (part 2)

(Continued from Monday the 15th) The Trustees were under serious continued pressure as 1964 began. Al Guy had ideas and plans on fundraising. Golden plate dinners and house to house collections and so Billy called a press conference to announce that the stadium was in real and urgent trouble. Dublin Corporation were not interested, as it was outside their area and so he announced a house to house collection beginning immediately. I can well remember Friday nights with small groups of two lads and two girls in Beaumont, Iona and Cabra begging to save Santry stadium. How did we ever race on Saturdays, perhaps in hindsight, just what might have been during those tough times.

Sometime around early 1964 a bomb at Leopardstown racecourse caused damage and soon after with 400 Garda, some armed, the international cross-country championship went ahead. England won and what a team they brought. All their distance stars Cooke, Hill, North, Tullock, Batty and Heatley. Three Donore Men were in Ireland’s 1st four with Clonliffe’s Paddy Killeen also on the team. On April 12th we had the first running of the club 10 mile championship from Murtagh’s pub on the North Road to the stadium (no problem in those days).

Thanks to individual race sponsorship Clonliffe Harriers had two international meetings in July/August. In August at the Ormeau Park, Clonliffe Harriers won the National Relays and the full series 4 x (100, 220, 440, 880 & 1 mile). With a great winning performance in the 4 x 100 with Tom Quinn, Dan Kennedy, Harry Sydner and Garry Dempsey. I ran the 1st leg of the mile in which we were 3rd . By November, Drogheda Utd FC were training at Santry and their Physio was Sammy Pearson from the 1914 Clonliffe XC team.

It should be noted that a cinder track was not available for training from November – 2nd half of April any year and so during the 1960’s relays were very popular and Clonlifffe as well as our aforementioned Douglas Wilson relay which was run on the Griffith Avenue circuit of (4 x 4.8 miles) we also had Donore’s Eddie Hogan Cup 40 miles 8 Man relay and the same club’s 12 mile relay on the Polo grounds. In the North of Ireland we ran in the Liznagarvey 5 x 2 miles in the Wallace Park and the Ben Madigan relay. 1965 – In addition to the cross country races of which we are familiar, the Horan, Irwin and O’Connor Cups, we also raced for the 5 mile Galway Shield and the 7 miles Farren Cup. In that season for the first time we decided to compete in the 61 mile relay around the Lagan Valley from the Albert clock in Belfast and back to finish in Ormeau Park. We also supported the Ballyclare 10 and Duncairn 15, both not for the only time.

In July, big time Athletics returned with 8,000 people at Santry for the Peter Snell/Alan Simpson mile clash. Around the same time a Lark Hill Church supper under cover in a marquee helped with further income. It was the view of many members that the Balbriggan – Dublin GPO 20 miles with only 7 finishers was doing nothing for the event as runners were a mile apart as they ran through Drumcondra. It may have been on in the war years on deserted city roads but now it needed a change. The proposal to start around Mosney and finish at the Stadium led to a lively debate and I remember using a phrase I read somewhere that “tradition should be enriched, not fossilised”, the motion was carried.

We heard from the Donore people of glowing reports about the mammoth Waterloo Road race 7 miles with a 1000 runners (huge in those days). So in 1965 for the 1st of three times Clonliffe Harriers also entered for this Crosby Liverpool race. Travelling over by boat on Friday night and returning on Saturday night/Sunday. Donore the all conquering Irish champions going unbeaten for a decade in home championships were a huge attraction in the 1960’s. Competing many times elsewhere in England around that time their panel included 5 Olympians and a multitude of Internationals. No wonder Clonliffe Harriers went more than 5 years without XC Gold but not out of the Silvers as almost every year we achieved championship Silver in Senior or Intermediate (called Junior). 1966 – Despite tough times the members found enough cash to support the 80th anniversary dinner dance in the Gresham Hotel. For some of us it was time to put up or shut up and support the Clonliffe 20 finishing at the stadium. A much-increased entry and a baptism of long distance running for myself and others. We had the 1st running of the Walker Cup in July.

The Hell Drivers using both the running track and the banked cycling track brought large crowds to the stadium. An International meeting with Gamoudi and for the first time Kip Keino in the mile (3:57.4) was well supported. Was there a football match also? My memory suggests so. The year came to an end with a novelty event or so I would describe the Wooden Cup race. Sponsored by St. Francis AC / Boxing Club it was a run in the dark 4.5 miles through the Phoenix Park supported by Car lights. A large Clonliffe Harriers entry as Joe Foley a former Clonliffe Man was in St. Francis Club.

After many years of flag days and other fundraising efforts it was time for something new. So Billy welcomed a week long Passion Play under canvass covers. With the stadium closed to runners, many of us used Ierne Sports club of which I was a member to train from. In April I attended the final meeting of the A.A.U. and so after more than 30 years this Athletic split was mended with the forming of B.L.E. I ran one of my best races ever to finish 4th in the 1st ever B.L.E. championship race. Run in a constant down pour the 10 mile track race was won by Matt Murphy from Cork.

The Government at last found a small amount of money for sport, more for school/college facilities then clubs or the National Association. Under the heading of the All-Ireland school’s championship, a grant was obtained by Clonliffe Harriers to enable an eight lane to be added to our cinder track. The benefits were obvious for all championships, but the case was made for colleges. Meanwhile the first Business House cross country race was run at Santry; it was to be the last crosscountry race of any kind for 1967 until the very end of February 1968. The B.L.E. National Committee and the Dublin County Board banned all XC on grass because of a major outbreak of Foot & Mouth in Britain. And so the then famed Quinlan Cup XC race in Tullamore was changed to a Road Race and recorded the then huge number of finishers for a race in Ireland with 410 crossing the line.

As recorded earlier Relay Races in the Cinder Track era were popular and so now a choice was added to the previously mentioned relays, Inchicore AC (5 x 2 miles), Phoenix Harriers (5 x 1 mile) and Raheny (4 x 3 mile). Billy told a Committee meeting that he had a plan to control the legal pressure relative to the stadium debt. And so the ferocious pressure of previous years was put on hold and our members could relax and add trips all over the country to their training. This they did and I can remember in those early days of B.L.E. running in Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Kildare, Offaly, Laois, Carlow, Louth and the National Marathon in Galway and Clonliffe Harriers were now back in a Championship Gold position team wise .

Soon a talented group of Athletes arrived from Donegal but sadly at the very end of the decade Billy Morton died suddenly. Billy had led us in our ambitions, he led us in our fundraising/begging and now our stadium bears his name. I can see them all or most in my minds eye, the Men and Boys and Girls of the 1960’s in Clonliffe Harriers. Those that I trained with, travelled with and raced with. Those that I attended at the Bears club with. All the Parties, Barbeques, Dances, Croke Park and worked on Committee’s with.

I would love to attempt to name them all. But I know the hurt of being left out. Therefore, I will not attempt to name them in writing less I miss even one.

Perhaps on another “Monday Memories” the hidden history of the decades thereafter 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and into the 21st century will be unfolded by someone.

Nil Desperandum

Monday Memories with Maurice Ahern (Part 1)

Recently in a contribution to a ‘Harriers’ profile I wrote that I was always interested in Athletics amongst other sports. So thinking back I calculated that I attended many if not most of the Clonliffe Harriers sports at College Park, Lansdowne Road and Santry Stadium throughout the 1950’s. Inspired by the Rome Olympics of 1960 and the Clonliffe Harriers meeting that followed I made my way to the Stadium sometime after and joined the club. I have been asked under the heading ‘Memories’ to pen some of my memories of the sixties in and around Clonliffe. I do not intend it to be a historian’s view of club history from the newspaper archives but rather a “I was there” view of the hidden history matters.

In that 1st year, I listened carefully to the advice of the Captain Harry Cooney who in time became my Coach. Around then in 1961 the club celebrated 75 years of its existence, but the dressing room gossip left one in no doubt that all was not good in the club. Soon I was introduced to the annual pre-Christmas Toy run to Cappagh hospital and the unofficial run back 4.25 mile to the stadium. No mercy shown to newcomers, the senior members let the Novices know what stamina and strength was all about and whilst unofficial, the Captain added to his statistics for handicap purposes. Within a week, the Irish television service was launched and a few days later in January 1962 the very 1st recorded coverage of an Irish sports event was shown. Only portions of the Donore invitation 1 mile & 1000 yards from Chapelizod to the swing gates at Islandbridge. Clonliffe members were to the fore at the start and some were saying they should be in the 100 yards dash but sure they were only trying to stay up with the camera. The novelty of it all.

In a desperate bid for revenue, Billy Morton, our Hon Secretary used his contacts in England to entice four of the popular Rugby League clubs of the time to come to Dublin to play an end of season tournament. In May of 1962 whatever about media positivity the appearance of the four clubs Widnes, Warrington, Huddersfield and Featherstone Rovers was anything but a success and was counter productive to the club. Arising from this the honorary treasurer and trustee Michael McStay resigned and with no rush to take his position Billy took on this Hon position also. Some weeks later the gossip of the time became a reality when headlines in the sport pages of the Irish press read of Clonliffes difficulties. Four years after the opening of the stadium the creditors were still due almost £20,000. The failure of the Military Tattoo of 1959 and the rugby League tournament had not helped, and questions were asked about what was going wrong with Athletic attendances.

All sorts of reasons were common among members with some jocosely blaming the ranting of Myles na Gcopaleen in the newspapers, others blamed the curse of the Domvilles and their bad luck. They were residents for over 200 years of the great Big house of Santry. Even some said it was the “Revenge of the Fairies” in reference to the clearing of the woods and the long-standing shrubbery where the stadium now stands. Much more likely the advent of TV and the availability of world class athletics in front of 35,000 at the White City. Furthermore, the winning after 16 years of the All Ireland football final by a native Dublin team in 1958 and with most of the team being Northsiders GAA became the sport that was attracting attendances locally.

The cards were truly on the table now and the pressure was particularly on the Officers/Trustees. The meagre club finances could pay for the maintenance of the track, top dressing etc and also the fuel for the boiler house and whatever else. Billy Morton undertook to pay the groundsman wages on a week by week basis which in the end lasted years. However, there was no money to pay for prizes or team entry fees and travel costs were always paid by the athletes themselves.

To support this need, an ad hoc committee “checkmates” was formed of Olaf Rafferty, Alex Sweeney, Al Guy, Johnny O’Leary, Don Appleby and Maurice Ahern. They worked hard for possible money making ventures and they were helped and supported by many others over the following years. Far from today’s super website Alex Sweeney produced the Clonliffe news sheet as editor and printer. I must dust off the copies I have in my attic and read the articles of interest as contributed by the editor and members in those far off days. After training I sold Slainte minerals and club milks to the members helped by Johnny O’Leary. Don Appleby in whose home the more important meetings were held was the chief organiser of the Seven-a-side football tournament and Al Guy promoted the flag days.

Of course, there was crossover help for all of the aforementioned while they lasted and some making money for years. I well remember my young brother Bertie as a 14 year old standing outside the “Payantake” grocery shop on the Drumcondra Road shaking his yellow flag box “S.S.S” Save Santry Stadium. The returns from the annual flag days went to the stadium fund.

The Irish Tennis people and the agents for the track encouraged Clonliffe to lay an all weather tennis court inside the track but after a few professional tournaments there Billy was disillusioned when the plum match which all tennis wanted to see between Pancho Gonzalez & Lew Hoad became a 5 set thriller before a huge audience at Lad Lane, the home of Fitzwilliam in 1961. Clonliffe needed to use the facility and so the tennis court was lifted and replaced with grass and Home Farm became the 1st club to use it.

There were many other clubs after that and right up to the present day. Athletics and athletic chat was not forgotten, Jesse Owens visited Dublin and spoke at a sports conference in the S.F.X. Brian Kilby of Coventry Godiva set a new record distance for a 1 hour track run and later in September we had a festival of sport in the stadium.

The AGM carried by 1 vote a proposal to increase the sub to £2. Harry Cooney the Captain despite the obvious pressure never forgot the athletes making the same journey, first by bus and later by car from Crumlin to the stadium three days a week. After a discussion with the novice panel members, it was agreed that if the club was open at night Monday through to Thursday and at the weekend an all-out effort would be made to win the novice team title, this was achieved in December 1962 but was to be the clubs last team gold on road or cross country until 1968.

Athletes seeking a change of club knew they had to make a decision, join a famous club with its own track for training or another unburdened by debt. Young stars of the future like Frank Murphy and Des McCormack were welcomed to Santry in what was to become a snow laden cross-country season.

1963 opened with the annual match between Clonliffe Harriers & London University on the XC and then a further headache what to do about the deadline of the land option we had on other ground surrounding the stadium. Meanwhile the monthly fundraising dances at the O’Lehane Hall in Parnell Square got underway with dances in March/April/May and later in the year at the St.Anthony Hall. One cynical member using the club news sheet wrote a snarling article demeaning the effort of the main committee as they threaded their way between legal letters, finance and athletics. Perhaps the naming of the stadium as the John F. Kennedy stadium was not thought out fully at the time. The USA President passed the gate in June of that year.

The Douglas Wilson Road Relays continued as did an International meeting at Santry though the by passing of Clonliffe Harriers who were more synonymous with International Athletics meetings for the showing of Ireland’s 1st live Athletics on TV was disappointing. This Civil Service AC meeting was held on the grass track in College Park in July 1963. Frances Mansfield’s memory of the Ladies section in 1963 and there after is detailed and so in remembering the great fun we had in those years I will leave it with Frances. Just two more memories I have of the end of 1963, I was elected to the club committee in October of that year for the 1st time and the trial race on the track at the end of November. The prize, a trip to Kenya for the winner Basil Clifford and the distance 1 mile.

Part 2 of Maurice’s Memories next week.

Monday Memories with Peter McDermott

Probably the greatest race I’ve ever seen was the Morton Mile of 1977. Billed by the media as a “showdown “ between Ireland’s Eamonn Coghlan and Olympic 1500m. champion , John Walker of New Zealand, it was staged on the brand new tartan track in Belfield. As far as some sections of the Irish  press were concerned, it was payback time.

For younger readers, a little background information may be necessary to set the scene. Two years earlier , in 1975, Coghlan had made a big breakthrough by winning both  NCAA 1500m titles ( indoors and outdoors ) and then running a 3:53.3 mile In Kingston, Jamaica , when finishing third to Filbert Bayi who set a new world mile record of 3:51.0. Coghlan’s time was a new Irish and European record. Eamonn was getting the reputation of being one of the fastest finishers in the business and few could live with his “stretch drive” as the American pundits called his deadly kick .

Later that same year Walker became the first man in history to break 3:50 for the mile when winning in Gothenburg in 3:49.4. In an interview afterwards, journalists asked him who his main rivals might be for Olympic Gold a year later . “ What about Eamonn Coghlan? “ one guy asked.  ”Eamonn who ?” was Walker’s response . Walker , genuinely, had never heard of Coghlan at that stage but some sections of the media chose to interpret this innocent remark as a sarcastic dismissal of Coghlan and his chances.

Coghlan retained his NCAA indoor and outdoor titles in 1976 and, so, the scene was set for the Montreal Olympics. Most of us remember only too well what happened in that 1500 final. Both Walker and Coghlan had dominated their heats and semis ; all the pundits agreed that the Gold lay between them . Eamonn made two mistakes – and young athletes can learn a lot from those errors. First, he shaved his legs the night before the final , something he had never done before. He spent a sleepless night due to the itching in his legs. You NEVER try anything new immediately before an important race ! If you want to experiment, you should only do so before a lesser competition.

His second mistake ( and he himself has freely admitted this several times ) was to listen to too many voices. His Irish coach , Gerry Farman , who had guided Eamonn since he was a boy, told him to sit in as long as possible, keep as much as he could in reserve until coming off the final bend and then unleash his withering kick . ”One big move , and ONE move only “ was the last thing Farnan said to him. But as Eamonn sat brooding in his room the night before , he decided to seek a second opinion. His coach in Villanova , the legendary Jumbo Elliott , advised him to make the pace fast in order to run the sting out of a couple of 800m. runners in the final, Ivo Van Damme ( Belgium) and Rick Wolhuter ( USA ). So , that is the second lesson for young athletes : listen to ONE VOICE and one voice only . If you listen to more than one , you only get confused. Eamonn went into the race in two minds – and that is always fatal . He took the lead after 500m. and then did what ? Precisely nothing! He didn’t slow it down ( as Centro did in Rio) nor did he pick it up . He just meekly pulled the train along at a sedate pace . Walker went past him with 300 to go and the towering figure of Van Damme powered past with 200 left . Eamonn desperately tried to hold onto 3rd. but , right on the line, Paul Wellman of West Germany dipped in front of him. Welllman ! Who had only qualified as a fastest loser – in fact the slowest of the fastest losers . Eamonn has often watched a video of that race since and his reaction never varies :  “ I still can’t believe I took the lead at that point “.                                         

That was the background then to the Morton Mile in 1977 which was incorporated into the Donore Harriers International Meet . Rumours circulated that Walker had a bit of a back injury. He was spotted jogging around Belfield the day before and looking somewhat uncomfortable. In an interview with RTE , he said he could only run for 40 minutes before his back went into spasm. In those 40 minutes, he had to warm up , race and cool down . A very narrow window. ! Or mind games , perhaps ?  

And so, the scene was set for this “showdown”. July 11 was a balmy evening and a massive crowd packed into the Belfield Bowl. It was a natural amphitheater and thousands of athletic fans took up their positions on the grassy banks surrounding the brand new track which had replaced the old , black bitumen surface which had been there for a few years. Such a massive crowd arrived to watch this shoot out , that hundreds spilled onto the eighth and even the seventh lanes . It might not have satisfied modern health and safety requirements but it created a fantastic atmosphere as the athletes would be running through a tunnel of enthusiastic fans.

The field for the Mile simply oozed class , containing seven Olympians or would be Olympians. In addition to Walker and Coghlan , there was Ken Hall of Australia who had finished 2nd. to Walker in that first sub 3:50 mile. Beside him was Dick Quax who , like Walker, was wearing that intimidating all black NZ strip with the silver fern. Quax had won Silver in the Olympic 5000m. the year before, pushing the legendary Lasse Viren all the way to the line. He had also won Silver in the 1500 at the 1970 Commonwealth Games behind the first of the great Kenyans, Kip Keino . Just six days before this race in Belfield, he had set a new World record of 13:12.9 for the 5K in Stockholm. Quax epitomised the rugged, tough, archetypical Kiwi : he had a remarkable record ,ranging from a 3:56 mile to a 27:41 10000 to a 2:10 marathon. He is generally regarded as one of the toughest runners to have ever come out of that great nursery of distance runners . Alongside him was Wilson Waigwa of Kenya. He was a student at UTEP and a month earlier had won the NCAA 1500 title. He went on to represent his country in the Olympic 5000 in LA. Wearing the blue vest of Scotland was the bearded Frank Clement who ,a year earlier, had finished just a stride behind Coghlan in the Olympic 1500 final . He had also won the World Student Games 1500 In 1973. There  was also “ wee” Jim McGuinness from Belfast. He and Paul Lawther formed a powerful Northern Ireland duo in international competitions throughout the 70s. Jim had been selected for the ‘74 Commonwealth Games but had to turn it down as he was concentrating on his Mathematics finals in Queens University. And also lining up was a tall , gangly 20 year old from Longford called Ray Flynn. A student in East Tennessee University, he had just dipped under 4 minutes for the first time a few months earlier . Little did he realise then that he would run 89 sub 4 minute miles before he would retire.

A hush descended on the crowd ; for a moment it seemed as If everybody was holding his breath. And then the gun cracked and the tension was released. There was an immediate chorus of “ C’mon Eamonn” and “ Let’s go , Coghlan”. After the usual jostling, the field settled down and came through the first lap in 59. Pretty sedate for those guys. Hall showed briefly in front before being replaced by Quax . Were the Kiwis running as a team, we wondered. As a 5K runner he needed to use his strength to push it along . Eamonn was on Walker’s shoulder and looking comfortable. This time Eamonn was playing the role of the hunter rather than the hunted.

The pace slowed to 60 and we thought “ it’s not going to be super fast but who cares – it’s shaping up to be a great race with an almighty dust up over the final stages.”. Waigwa took up the running on the cruel , crucial third lap . But again , there was no great injection of pace and they hit the bell in 3:00 flat.

The jangling of the bell increased the almost unbearable tension. The noise of the crowd rose to a crescendo. Walker effortlessly moved to the front . Eamonn glided onto his shoulder . “ This is it” , we thought . “ Eamonn is in exactly the right spot – why hadn’t he done this in Montreal?”. And then ,with 300 to go , it happened. In an eyeblink Walker kicked – or rather he exploded . It was as if he had detonated a turbo charger and in a nano second he was gone . A collective gasp went around the arena; a sort of “oooooo” rippled through the huge crowd . An astonished intake of breath by ten thousand people. And  in that moment , we knew it was all over.

A solitary , plaintive voice was heard “Get after him Eamonn”. But even that one voice seemed to lack conviction. And, in fairness , Eamonn did get after him. But you didn’t need to be an expert in differential calculus to recognise the difference between speed and acceleration. It was all too obvious in those fleeting seconds. Some pundits later said that Eamonn ran the last 100m faster than Walker did -and perhaps this was true. But Walker’s ability to change the gears in a twinkling made all the difference. As Walker cruised around the last bend we could only stand and admire this supreme athlete :  with his long blonde hair flowing behind him and his physique like that of a Greek god, he truly looked imperious.

And we had to grudgingly admit that this was, indeed, a worthy Olympic Champion . He eased across the line ( young athletes are always taught not to ease off until they have crossed the finish line but when you’re Olympic champion and World Record holder, I guess you can take a few liberties) and stopped the clock at 3:52.76. A last lap of a little over 52 ! Coghlan gave it his all and finished in 3:53.4 – just outside his own Irish and European records. Waigwa came in third in 3:54.5 . Those three times remained the three fastest in the world for that year.

Running the race of his life , Jim McGuinness finished fourth in 3:55.0- a Northern Ireland record which still stands. Ray Flynn came in just 0.3 seconds behind him , taking a full 4 seconds off his  PB . Quax came next in 3:56.4 just 0.1 ahead of Clement . Ken Hall finished in 3:57.8 meaning that no fewer than eight men had broken the 4 minute barrier .

Coghlan and Walker jogged around the track , arms aloft and holding hands . They most certainly were rivals but ,in spite  of media spin , they  were also friends and that friendship has continued to this day . We didn’t know then that Eamonn and coach Farnan had started a new strategy: he was now going to train for the 5000 but would continue to race 1500 and the mile. This was to throw his opponents off the mark . And , of course, it paid rich dividends when he won the World 5000m. title six years later. As we departed into the gathering dusk, we felt a little sad that our hero had been beaten. But , above all , we felt an amazing sense of satisfaction at having seen a world class race and a sense of gratitude at having witnessed in the flesh one of the All-Time Greats of athletics : the world record holder, the first man to break 3:50 , the Olympic Champion – the magnificent John Walker.

John Walker, Dublin 1977
Walker cradles the Morton Memorial Cup, Belfield 1977


Get the Facebook Likebox Slider Pro for WordPress