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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

Hey you there! Share your Clonliffe memories…

Ok you Clonliffe Harriers out there, it’s your turn to share your memories with your club mates. Monday Memories is up and running. Last Monday Frances Mansfield shared her fascinating account of the founding of the Clonliffe ladies. Next Monday another Clonliffe lifer will share memories of the greatest race witnessed in Ireland. So folks we`d like to keep it going right through the Summer, you can ahre your memories on any Clonliffe related issue, your early years in club, a Clonliffe event or race, a fellow Harrier who made a lasting impression on you…whatever you think your club mates are interested in. The stage is yours! Simply e mail your piece to clonliffeharriersac@gmail.com (if you’ve a photo or two all the better)

Also we’d like to get Season 2 of “60 Seconds with a Harrier” back up and running, so it’s up to you to be that Harrier. Simply e mail same address for the Questionaire.

Don’t delay. Do it today!

Monday Memories with Frances Mansfield

Memoir of the early days of the Ladies Section Clonliffe Harriers. “Call them Morton’s Marvels. They are mustard keen lasses training with Harry Cooney who won’t stay at home knitting these shivery nights, but who, three evenings a week and Sunday mornings bus it or pedal it to Santry Stadium for high jump, shot put and track training.”

So wrote a journalist in the Evening Press on 15th December 1963, the day before the inaugural 600 yards race which took place along Santry Avenue. No cash prizes then. The winner Claire Dowling got a pair of silver candlesticks, while second place Ann Killeen got an electric table lamp. Ann’s sister Deidre was one of the first policewomen in Ireland.

The possibility of opening the doors of Clonliffe Harriers to women was first thought of, coming up to the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the club in 1961. It was proposed by Billy Morton and seconded by Lar O Byrne. It took another 2 years for this to happen, when a meeting was held in Morans Hotel, on 5th November 1963. Enrolling took place then and the following week we all turned up for training under the guidance of Harry Cooney, with the help of Noel O Rourke and began training in the Nissan hut.

The coaching of women athletes was unknown territory for them. Harry was a marathon runner and Noel an 800m runner. They were not aware of what women were capable of, so the longest we ran in training was one mile. Gradually the distance was increased. The longest track event for women at international track events was 800 yards. Even though there was no long races we could eventually run for longer. As there was no long races we did a few time trials. This was to help Ann O Brien who wanted to run a long distance. In 1965 during a one hour time trial Ann set a world record when she ran 14,428 meters (9 miles 1133 yards). In 1966 Ann was also the first Irish woman to break 5 minutes for the mile when she clocks 4 minutes 59 seconds. In that race she lapped me. The first international cross country race for women was held in Barry in Wales in 1967.

Newspaper cutting

When the summer came Jack Deegan showed us how to throw shot discus and javelin which was wooden and Brendan O Reilly introduced us to the high jump which was into sand, no mat. Everyone did the same training long runs, sprints and circuit training in the Nissan but. The stabilizers for the hurdles were used for weights. Before training we would have a game of rugby with some of the men in the Nissan as a warm up. In the winter of 1964 we had an introduction to cross country by having a game of hares and hounds. It was a culture shock as we got all muck on our legs and we had to wash it off in the stream.

Weight raining in Nissan hut

The following year 1965 we got an invitation from Bury and Rathcliff for a friendly match. The cross country was on the Saturday afternoon and there was a limited track meeting on Sunday. It was the first time I had tasted Cornish Pasties. We got the Mail boat from Dunlaoghaire. Then you could get a bed on the boat for the night and we slept in a dormitory until 6.30. We then got the train to Bury for the meeting. We were the first women’s club team from the South of Ireland to go abroad for a race. We also travelled to Ballyclare for a cross country race every second year and they came down to us. We also had cross country races against other clubs, Glaslough and St Andrews. That was the only way we could get competition. They would come to us the following year. There was not much competition for women and if the club heard of a festival anywhere in Ireland that also included running races, a bus would be hired and we would make our way to the event. There would be sprints and a distance event and maybe a relay. Afterwards there was music and a dance in the marquee and a sing song. On the way home we would drop into a pub and have another sing song on the way back in the bus.

Pictured in Dun Laoghaire for 1st ever trip to Bury cross country

We weren’t full members of Clonliffe Harriers as two thirds of the senior male members had to agree to it at an AGM. We were associate members and because of this we had no rights. We could attend meetings but couldn’t vote. We did pay a membership but it was only10, shilling, but it couldn’t be taken by the treasurer as we were only associate members. We administered it ourselves. There was a large group of young male runners in the club training and they couldn’t believe that we weren’t full members and were insensed about it. It wasn’t until they had reached senior status and paid the full membership fee that we got a two third majority 10 years later. There was by now a new generation of forward thinking male members. We had formed our own committee and elected a captain, secretary and a treasurer. When we had enough money from the 10 shillings a year we paid to have showers installed.

On the first night after the meeting in Morans Hotel, when we arrived up to the club we were shown a shed under the stand, which had been used by Blanchardstown football club. We were told this was our changing room. There was a small room cordoned off that held an Elsan toilet. There were no toilets for women in the Nissan where the men had their changing rooms, and toilets but we couldn’t use them as they were men only. Heat in the shed was by a Superser or a one bar electric fire. Eventually toilets were built for us in the Nissen hut. When we arrived up for training one of us would fill a kettle and would put it on the pot belly stove to heat. Then when we finished training we would wash the sweat off with a damp cloth and change into dry clothes.

There was no athletic gear for women so we had to buy men’s shorts. Olive lived beside Harry Cooney and he gave her his shorts. One of the girls got their hands on a pattern and we made our own shorts. This was nearly our downfall. At that time Archbishop McQuaid was opposed to girls running around in shorts and taking part in sport wearing the shorts with men around. Regularly Billy would get a call from Archbishop’s palace telling him to stop the women running around in shorts, that is was immodest, uncatholic, unirish, and unladylike. Billy would say I hear you and put the phone down. Then one of the girls saw an ad in Athletics Weekly for stretchy knicker shorts and we ordered them. We turned up one Sunday morning in them and Billy nearly had a heart attack “be japers girls if the archbishop could see you now you would be excommunicated from the church!” I still have mine. A picture of some of the women appeared in the paper and one of the members was told to leave The Children of Mary, by the nun in charge.

One night just after joining the club Billy came up and told us about the assassination of President Kennedy and as a mark of respect he sent us home. The only events for women then was 100 yards, 200yards 800yards 80yard hurdles H.J.L.J. Shot, Discus, Javelin. During the summer months we got an invitation to the trinity sports during college week. The President of Ireland would attend and there was strawberries and cream after the event. We also took part in the Louis Vandendries trophy run by Crusaders.

After a few years the younger sisters of three of the senior members wanted to join the club. They were only very young and it wasn’t fair for them to be running against senior ladies. At this stage AAU and NACA had amalgamated to form BLE. Prior to the formation there was a NACA youth committee who organised events for juniors. After the foundation of BLE, Clonliffe ladies, Crusader Ladies and Raheney ladies got a committee together. We set it up to try to see if we could run our own events like the WAAA in England but there wasn’t enough of us as many still wanted to compete. We then approached the youth board to see if they would put on events for young girls. They agreed on condition that they had a female on the committee to help and advise as they knew nothing about girls and athletics. They put on a Sprint and a long jump. As I was on the youth committee I took the Clonliffe juveniles under my wing. During the summer we had a handicap league in the club, on a Tuesday and Thursday evening. We competed in a track and a field event each evening. It was great fun as we were still trying to find our feet. Then Maeve Kyle gave us a trophy for a pentathlon. Harry and Noel were still looking after us but nobody was coaching field events. Some of us bought books on field events and taught ourselves. Clonliffe were still a Harriers.

It wasn’t only athletics that we were involved in. The stadium was always in debt and we had to do a lot of fundraising. Billy thought that we would be good at this and we were roped into collecting money. We did door to door collections, flag days, pub crawls and even collected jumble for a jumble sale. One day we did a relay and a pub crawl from the GPO to Lanesboro. Noel Henry ran the full distance and we took turns to run with him. If there was an event such as a circus or stock car racing that Billy organised to raise money, in the stadium, Noel O Rourke would have a shop or two in the stadium. We would be helping to run the shop to get extra funds.

The first National Championships after the formation of BLE was held in 1967. The women were sent to a Farmers Field in Tipperary. The reason was that there were still some members of the opposite sex objecting to competing in the same event and arena as women. We had no transport so a kind male athlete offered to drive us there. He only had room for 4 people in his car. It was a disaster. The field was a 300 yard hilly track. The hurdles were two uprights with a bamboo stick across. Circles were grass. During the relay it rained and the white lines for the relay were washed away. We had to fight for the National Championships to be held in Santry the following year.

This November the Clonliffe Harriers ladies will be 57 years in existance. A lot of water has gone under the bridge during those years. We went through a bad patch in the early 1980 as many girls didn’t seem to want to run. The mini marathon and the setting up of meet and train groups revived the sport for women. Many of our ladies have represented Ireland at international events, including the Olympics and Paralympics. Thanks to the vision of those male members, who voted to open the track to women in 1963, that we got to enjoy the sport of athletics. When BLE and BLOE was established some of the Clonliffe Women took up a position on the committees. They also serve and have served on the committee of the club. It was a great day for women’s athletics and for athletics in general when Clonliffe Harriers opened the door for . The ladies section has gone from strength to strength and I hope the girls continue to enjoy the sport and get as much out of it as we did.

66 years ago today: 1st woman runs sub 5 mile

Dominic Branigan writes: On 29th May 1954, a mere 23 days after Roger Bannister had immortalized himself by breaking the 4 minute mile, Diane Leather of Birchfield Harriers, struck a similar blow for women’s athletics
and ensured her place in athletics history when she became the first woman to break 5 mins for the mile.

While they both shared the unique distinction of breaking barriers, they did not share the same amount of fame that came with their achievements. While Bannister became a global icon, Leather did not achieve anywhere near the same amount of fame mainly due to the fact that 200 metres was the longest “official” distance raced by women and the 1 mile was not recognized by the IAAF as a world record, only a world best.

Diane ran very erratic splits of 68-79-81-71 seconds when running her world record. She first ran a world record of 5 min 02 sec in Sep 1953 and subsequently lowered it to 4min 45 sec in 1955, a time which was not bettered until Marese Chamberlain of New Zealand ran 4 min 41 in Perth in
Dec 1962. Diane also set a world record of 2.09 for 800 metres in 1955. She won her National CC title 4 times and the womens “International” (now world CC) 3 times.

In a further twist of fate Roger died in March of 2018 at the age of 88 and Diane passed away a mere 6 months later at the age of 85.

Ann O’Brien of Clonliffe Harriers became the first Irish woman to break 5 mins for the mile when she ran 4.59 in Santry in 1966 in the same year that she won the first of her 11 individual T&F titles as well as 4 individual Nat CC Championships. 1966 was also the year that the Clonliffe ladies won their first National Inter Club CC championship.

There are currently 40 Irish female athletes who have run inside Diane’s world best of 4.45 including Clonliffe’s Becky Woods whose club record of 4.44.69 at the 2014 Morton Games places her 35th in a list headed by Sonia O’Sullivan who ran 4.17.25 in 1994.

Diana Leather in action at the White City Stadium, London
Roger Bannister and Diana on the 60th Anniversary of sub 4 & 5’s, 2014

On Monday next, June 1st, we will be starting a regular series of “Monday Memories with..”. So if you have a memory of your times with Clonliffe that you’d like to share during these times please get in touch. It can be about a particular period, a race/event, a fellow Clonliffe Harrier…whatever fond memories you have. Contact clonliffeharriersac@gmail.com.

Also you 60 Seconds fans out there Series 2 will be coming off that top bend very soon, so if you want to take part just get in touch.

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