Peter McDermott: With the imminent approach of the National Senior Cross Country Championships, it might be a good time to look back at some Nationals which brought joy -and sometimes heartache- to
The story of the modern National starts in 1968 in Mallow , as this was the first time in over thirty
years that runners from the two governing associations ( NACA and AAU ) came together under
the umbrella of the newly formed BLE ( Bord Lúthcleas na h-Éireann ) to compete for the
undisputed cross country championship of Ireland. The individual race was won by Olympian, Tom
O’Riordan who also led Donore Harriers to the team title. And so started an unprecedented run
of eight consecutive team titles for an extremely powerful Donore squad. This extraordinary team
regularly inflicted heartbreak on Clonliffe. In 1971 ,for instance, Captain Maurice Ahern had
assembled a very strong team to represent the Black and Amber . But, despite having three in the
first eleven, it was not good enough to topple the defending champions who packed four into the
first twelve. During those lean years the Clonliffe flag was kept flying by that great pioneer of
women’s running, Ann O’Brien , who won an amazing three senior titles in a row from 1968 to
But in the Autumn of 1975 the winds of change began to blow and the dominant champions from
Islandbridge started to look anxiously over their shoulders at a team of young pretenders from
where else only Santry ?
Christy Brady had been elected Captain of Clonliffe in 1974 and , a bit like a certain grumpy Scot. in
Old Trafford a few years later ,vowed to knock Donore “ off their f***ing perch”. Despite the loss
of Danny McDaid , who had returned to his native Donegal, he knew that after many barren years
he now had a youthful, talented and cocky squad capable of doing just that . And nobody had
bothered to tell Christy that you win nothing with kids . Pádraig Keane had won the National
Junior title in 1971, Frank Murphy (Jnr.)had emulated this performance the next year and Jerry
Kiernan completed the hat trick in ’73. Gerry Finnegan narrowly failed to make it four-in -a-row
the following season . ( Needless to say , poor Gerry got a terrible slaggin’ from his illustrious
predecessors for not maintaining the winning streak ; but really it was no shame for Gerry to finish
runner up as the winner was a young guy from Waterford called John Treacy ). We did beat
Donore in the Dublin C’ship. just before Christmas but we still were not sure that we could beat
them when it came to the Big One. The Donore guys were masters at the art of peaking at exactly
the right time and they still had over two months to get things right. And so the team of “young
bucks,” augmented by a quartet of slightly more mature runners, travelled to Ballinasloe on the
last Sunday in February 1976 , still not quite sure that they could topple the club which had
reigned imperiously for so long . But the issue was never in doubt and the four former Junior stars
had a comfortable 19 points to spare over Leevale with Donore a further 7 points back.
Incidentally , the much “maligned” Gerry Finnegan was first Clonliffe man home in 9 th . position .
He was followed by Kiernan (12 th ), Murphy ( 14 th .) and Keane (16 th . )Keane had been in a car crash
only two weeks before and the night before the race was still combing tiny pieces of glass out his
hair. Tough man !
The title was successfully defended the following year in Ennis , with Tony Murphy displacing
Frank Murphy as the only change in the scoring four.
But ,as the old cliché says, winning a title is difficult but retaining it is even more difficult. And sure
enough, we lost the title the following year in Ballyfin on a clinging, muddy course which
resembled the killing fields of Flanders. Jerry Kiernan said the competition that day had “ nothing
to do with running”- just ploughing through ankle deep mud. We had to rather grudgingly watch
the title go back to Donore ; their second scorer that day was Eamonn Coghlan who had won an
Indoor Mile in the USA on the previous Friday night , got a plane home on Saturday evening and
arrived in Dublin on Sunday morning . Despite being jet lagged and sleep deprived, Coghlan
finished an almost incredible sixth. The only bright spot from a Clonliffe point of view was the
victory of Kathryn Davis in the Women’s race. Failure was again Clonliffe’s lot the following year
on an equally muddy course in Multyfarnham. This was also the trial for the World Cross in
Limerick a few weeks later but ,sadly, Clonliffe did not have a single representative on the Irish
team for that momentous event . Lar O’Byrne,however , was the team coach and he , with
Manager Tom O’Riordan , did a magnificent job in guiding the Irish men’s team to a Silver medal
position . We also rejoiced in the performance of Danny McDaid who, at the age of 38, was the
captain of the team and finished in an amazing 11 th . spot . We considered Danny to be still a
Clonliffe man .
Christy Brady retired as Captain and Peter McDermott , still running on the team , took on the task
for one year. Limerick A.C. who had won the title the previous year had now become the chief
threat to Clonliffe’s ambitions of regaining the tite. The 1980 National was held in the Phoenix
Park and , despite having the rather high score of 73,the title came back to Santry . The two
survivors from the previous two victories were Finnegan and Kiernan while the two new scorers
were Denis Noonan and Eamonn ( Rashers ) Tierney . We retained the mantle of champions the
following year in Killeshin under the leadership of Paddy Marley, winning his first title as Captain.
Kiernan was the first Clonliffe man home and he was joined by three new scorers : Noel Harvey,
Gerry Brady and Peter McDermott . It is a significant testimony to the Club’s strength in depth at
the time that only one runner ( Kiernan ) managed to score on each of the four teams that won the
title in those six seasons ( ’76–‘81)and no fewer than ten different athletes picked up that most
coveted National Senior gold medal. This 1981 race also heralded the arrival of the young Noel
Harvey, as fine a cross country runner as ever represented the Club. Harvey was as strong as a
horse , as stubborn as a mule, bright as a button and as brave as they come- and was no respecter
of reputations. This “cheeky upstart “ gave Jerry the scare of his life that day in waterlogged
Killeshin. He would, however, have to wait another five years before he had his greatest moment
of glory in a National. The rivalry between himself and Kiernan became the stuff of legend ( not to
mention urban myth)
The title was retained in Mullingar the following year and young Brian Dunne, another product of
the Club’s youth system , broke into the scoring four with a very fine run in 12 th .place. Dunne , still
only 20 years old, had won the National Intermediate title a few weeks before and had also had a
fine schools’ career with St. Aidan’s , breaking Eamonn Coghlan’s 5000m. record in the All Ireland
C.B.S. Championships in 1980. Three in a row then : sure, this is easy , right ? Yeah ; dream on.
Any hint of complacency was quickly dispelled in 1983 in Rathkeale . A club called Déise from
Waterford ( which we had never heard of before )managed to get all their galacticos together ,
bringing back two or three from the US where they were on athletic scholarship. Their line up was
impressive : John Treacy , Ray Treacy , Gerry Deegan , Brendan Quinn . All genuine Waterford men.
All internationals ; one a double World Champion; one an Olympian and two future Olympians.
Not a bad little team at all ! No contest : they won with 21 points to spare over Clonliffe .
Amazingly however, it was not one of those All Stars that won the individual race. It was a DSD
lad, on scholarship in Arkansas , called Dave Taylor who inflicted a rare domestic defeat on John
Treacy with our own Jerry Kiernan having his best run to date in 3 rd . There was some consolation
when our Junior team produced a surprising and unexpected performance to capture the Junior
title . Not only did the team spring a surprise but David Dunne , who was ranked no higher than
fourth on the Clonliffe squad behind such rising young stars as Seán McGuirk , David O’Sullivan
and Gerry Wyse ( brother of Jean Carr ) , produced a stunning run to take the individual Gold
Medal. It was just one of those days for young David ; one of those rare days when an athlete feels
he is floating over the ground and the whole thing seems effortless . At one point in the race
David, in glorious isolation, came past a group of Clonliffe supporters with a bemused look on his
face . He was leading by over 100 metres and, spreading wide his arms, asked in all sincerity
“What’s happening?” “ You’re winning the f****ing race , that’s what’s happening “ was the
reply from a delighted Clonliffe supporter “ Now , get on and finish the job” !
The scene switched to Kilmacow in 1984. On the way down in a bus the previous day , Pat Bonass,
playing his usual role of bookie on the eve of Nationals , opened a book on who we thought would
win the individual and team events. He made the mistake of quoting Jerry Kiernan at 5/1, Jerry
immediately put £20 on himself . Jerry had to battle hard as he was pushed all the way by John
Woods , home from Liverpool , before coming out victorious by one second. He also led the team
to victory , having 30 points to spare over Limerick . Our scoring four that day was a very
experienced quartet of Kiernan , Brady , Harvey , and Noonan.
But the following year brought us crashing back down to earth once again in Killenaule when
Limerick got their revenge with a narrow victory by 4 points over their conquerors of a year
before. Alarm bells began to ring . Hold on : this is 1985- and, in case anybody has forgotten,
next year will be the 100 th . Anniversary of Clonliffe . We don’t want to lose the National in our
Centenary year , now do we ? BLE, in its wisdom and largesse , awards the staging of the National
to Santry Demesne . Centenary year, home ground , title to be won back . Over to you , Paddy
Marley . No pressure now.
A detailed account has already been given of this race in an article for “Monday Memories” which
appeared on the club website two years ago so there is no need to repeat the tale of what
happened on that momentous afternoon . Suffice to say , that on a bitterly cold day , on a course
frozen hard as concrete , Clonliffe had one of its greatest days in the long history of the Club.
Mary Donohue got the afternoon off to a great start by winning the Senior Women’s event . Not
to be outdone , Noel Harvey took the men’s race and led the team to a massive 52 point victory
over Limerick . When Jerry Kiernan pulled out on the morning of the race , Paddy Marley must
have feared that the Gods were plotting against him but the other team members stepped up and
ensured that the Centenary celebrations were not spoiled . This was the first time for Dave Taylor ,
who had transferred from DSD , to appear in a Clonliffe vest and, despite a fall on the last lap, still
finished 5 th . But the day belonged to Harvey ( Doctor Harvey now, as he had successfully
completed his Ph.D ) and Laro Byrne gave him one of his greatest compliments: “Harvey’s father
must have drank brandy in his youth”. Laro was of the opinion that not only was it necessary for a
successful athlete to choose his parents carefully but also that his father should have drank lots
of brandy in his youth . Some new ,youthful members also made a statement of intent in this race.
Derek Redmond and Eugene Curran made the scoring four relegating some of the Old Guard to a
supporting role. Curran, under the guidance of Laro Byrne, would go on to run a sub 4 minute mile
and both he and Redmond contributed enormously to the team for the next six or seven years.
Derek must have been one of the quietest men ever to represent Clonliffe. Generally under rated
by the more illustrious members , Derek let his legs do the talking and consistently scored for the
team in the late ’ 80s and early ‘90s,eventually winning four National Senior team gold medals.
This marked the start of a remarkable run of success for Paddy Marley’s teams. Dave Taylor led
Clonliffe to victory in 1987 ( at Killenaule ) and in 1988 at Ballyhaise. The latter was another
absolute mud bath and it was quite amazing to watch Taylor glide over those muddy hills as if he
was running on a track. Taylor was a pure thoroughbred ( with legs even longer than Cathal
Doyle’s ) and , of course , he went on to run a 3:54 mile . Richard Mulligan , who had finished a
close second to Harvey in ’86, had also joined the club by now ( Paddy Marley always said that
Richard “ married into Clonliffe “ ! ) and it was an intimidating sight for our rivals to see Kiernan ,
Harvey, Mulligan and Taylor all lining up for a National in the Black and Amber . Arguably the four
best distance runners in the country all competing for the same Club ! Yet, the bould Laro Byrne
was not overly impressed. In one of his many debates / discussions/ arguments/rows ( delete as
necessary ) with Pádraig Keane in the Clonliffe shebeen he stated , while evaluating this
formidable quartet , that one of them was “ all brains and no balls “ , another was “all balls and no
brains” while a third , in his learned opinion, had “ neither brains nor balls”. The only extenuating
factor for Laro’s outburst was that “ there was dhrink consumed yer Honour “. Jerry Kiernan
accused Laro of being “ bombilious “ and that word still has not entered the Oxford Dictionary
.There was, however , one Byrne Theorem with which all agreed . Laro always reminded us that “
the National is a great leveller “ and this was proved true time and time again when a fancied
runner buckled under the weight of expectation on the big day.
These were the sort of arguments that characterised animated debate in the Club each year in
the run up to the National, which by now had become the Holy Grail and which had to be
defended year after year . Each victory seemed to whet the Club’s appetite for more success. It
was like Kerry’s obsession with Sam (with apologies to the Dubs. ) : the desire to win again and
again was never sated. But it took great man management by Paddy Marley to manage those
super athletes and keep them happy. Paddy proved to be quite the psychologist : for instance , he
said the only way to get one of them to run well was to insult him moments before the gun went !
Another title was duly won in 1989 in Killenaule when we had over 40 points to spare over
Donore. Incidentally , it was in Killenaule two years earlier that we first saw a remarkable 17
year old school girl win the Senior Women’s title . Her name ? No prizes for this one . It was , of
course , Sonia O’ Sullivan. That was also the year that our very strong women’s team of Mary
Donohue, Anne Keenan-Buckley, Mary Friel , Ann Archbold and Mandy McAleenan finished a
close second to DCH who were then the European Club Champions.
But no winning streak lasts forever and, the following year, we were brought back to reality. It
was a cold shock to the team and the Club when we could finish only third behind DSD and DCH. It
was DSD’s first victory and it signalled the start of a great modern rivalry between the old
Northside club and these new pretenders from south of the Liffey . However , the next season,
Pádraig Keane became Captain for one year and the title was regained in Plassey by a whopping
margin of almost 40 points from Limerick with DSD a further 5 points back.
The National came back to Santry Demesne in 1992 and it produced a most dramatic finish .
Peter McDermott had become Captain for a second stint and was immediately told by Pat Bonass
“ to paraphrase Napoleon speaking of his generals, it’s better for a Captain to be lucky than to be
any good “. Well , as Seán Callan later proclaimed “Clonliffe were steeped , steeped I’m tellin’
ye”. With one lap to go , DSD held a commanding lead ; so commanding indeed that some of the
Clonliffe coaches were congratulating Eddie McDonagh on bringing a second title to the Dundrum
boys. But then the unimaginable happened . Peter Matthews , who had already won the Dublin
Novice , Dublin Intermediate , National Novice and National Intermediate, was continuing his
remarkable season, graduating from Novice to top class Senior, and was having a “blinder” in fifth
place . One of the bravest and strongest runners ever to grace the sport , Peter may have over
reached on this occasion and , with less than 800m. to go , he collapsed and had to be carried off
the course to receive medical attention. And so , Clonliffe retained the title by 11 points from the
devastated Dundrum boys. Even the most biased supporter had to admit that we were incredibly
lucky that day .( And Mr. Bonass was quick to remind the Captain of his “ lucky generals “
comment .) Happily , Peter Matthews went on to become one of Ireland’s greatest runners
subsequently winning three National Senior titles and representing Ireland in Euro Cross and
World cross on many occasions . He led the Irish team to third place in the European Cross Country
Championships in Malmo in 2000, the only time an Irish men’s Senior team has won medals in
these championships .
And so to 1993. Jerry Kiernan often reminded us of the ancient Greeks’ belief that “Those whom
the gods would destroy , they first make mad” . Jerry also warned us about what he called “ a
whiff of hubris in the air”. And indeed there was . On the night of the European Clubs’
Championships in the Algarve, three weeks before the national , after a fine sixth place finish
against the cream of European distance running, when the beer and the vino were flowing
copiously, a little bit of madness took hold and some Clonliffe supporters bravely announced that
we were going to do “ the Double Double” in the nationals. This of course meant that we were
confident that we would win both Senior and Junior individual and team titles. Pat Bonass offered
what seemed a generous 10/1 against this . The £20 notes started flowing into the Bonass coffers
and we wondered if Old Bonie had ,perhaps, a dram or too of excessive liquor taken. But Bonass
had a smile on his face . He knew that history and probability were on his side.
The last Sunday in February dawned gloriously sunny . It was like a day stolen from Summer. And
yet , as a famous man said “So foul and fair a day I have not seen”. The venue was the Phoenix
Park in honour of Donore’s centenary . The course was bone dry and hard . The prediction was
that the track runners would have a field day –and they weren’t wrong. Clonliffe got off to a
dream start when Derek Waters romped home 150m.clear in the Junior race . Waters had won a
multitude of under-age club and schools races in the preceding three years both for Clonliffe and
St.Aidan’s.In second place came Killian Lonergan , back in training only a month after injury.
Adrian Kearns came 10 th . A very fine performance for the lad who would normally be our fourth
man . Ah ! But that was the problem : where was our usual third man ? Shane Dowler would
normally be right up with Waters and Lonergan but on this day he was suffering from a nasty cold
and he laboured to finish 27 th . When the positions were totted up , Clonliffe were agonisingly
beaten by one point by their great rivals , Leevale. So , that was the Double Double gone . A faller
at the first fence.
But hope springs . On to the Big One . And here Clonliffe hearts were lifted by the performance of
the youngest member of the Senior team . Noel Cullen was on fire and decimated the field in the
same way as Waters had the Junior race. Noel looked effortless as he opened up a huge gap on
the other runners. His delighted coach ,Paddy Marley , got understandably excited ( Yes, Paddy
Marley actually got excited ) and ran alongside his young protégé as he came into the finishing
straight . Noel, at 23 , became the youngest ever winner of the National Senior Cross country title.
Clonliffe supporters thought the title was in the bag when they saw Richard Mulligan finish
strongly in 3 rd . place and the Great Hairy One in 6 th . Jerry Kiernan ( for it was he , though never
called anything other than The GHO by his life long friend , Pádraig Keane ) had an extraordinary
run for a man just three months short of his 40 th . birthday. He was rewarded by being appointed
Captain of the Irish team for the World Cross. But then we waited . And waited…. . And we
remembered another of Laro Byrne’s hypotheses : “ In order to win the National you need SIX
really good runners , not four . Two of your team will run out of their skins , two will run just up to
par and two will have complete off days”. Our fourth man surely had an off day and he jogged
home in 42 nd . place. Just one of those inexplicable days when there seemed to be nothing there .
That night in the Clonliffe Shebeen we weren’t sure whether we were having a celebration or a
Wake . We had the two individual winners , we had four men on the Irish teams , including the
Captain ; but the main trophy had gone to the club which was marking its centenary and some
felt that it was only appropriate that it was Donore that should be celebrating that night . Fate
seemed to have played a cruel trick on us . Lady Luck seemed to have completely deserted us.
Karma perhaps for what had happened the year before.
And the heartache was to continue for another six long years. Six years without the Natonal title.
How did this happen ? It was due to a number of factors . The Old Guard of Kiernan , Finnegan and
Keane , Noonan and Tierney were getting a bit long in the tooth. Athletes like Taylor and Curran
retired prematurely due to niggling ,long term injuries and many of our most promising youngsters
like Niall Bruton ,Waters , Lonergan and Dowler headed West on athletic scholarships to the U.S.A.
Clonliffe were never out of the Top Three ( second on three occasions ) in those desert like years
but since when did Clonliffe Harriers become satisfied with Silver or Bronze ?
There were memorable Nationals during the great drought but they brought little joy to Santry.
The ’94 national was awarded to Ballinlough, the home town of one of Clonliffe’s greatest
warriors, Pádraig Keane . Unfortunately , weeks of torrential rain beforehand turned the course
into a total quagmire and it resulted in the slowest winning time ever . A picture of the winner ,
Peter Matthews ( for it was he , the man who had suffered such bitter disappointment just two
years before ) appeared on the front page of many newspapers the next morning .But few were
able to recognise him as he was covered in black mud from head to toe .
The scene switched to Naas in ‘95 and it heralded an utterly new power on the scene in the form
of Mullingar Harriers. The race was won by their top cross country man , David Burke and he was
followed in 3 rd . by Cormac Finnerty ( who later that year would run a 13:17 5000m. and qualify for
the Atlanta Olympic Games in ’96 ) and his brother John Burke in 7 th .with Tom McGrath
completing their scoring four in 13 th . Mullingar went on to win three more titles in’96, ’98 and ’99
with DSD spoiling their party in ’97. In 1998 Mullingar packed all four scorers into the Top 6
( 3,4,5,6 )for a total of 18 points ! Not easy to beat that ! Clonliffe could only look on in sadness ,
almost despair, while Jerry Kiernan wondered what could be done to break this midland “ hegemony”. We did get something to cheer about occasionally .
In 1996 , for instance, with the National once again back in Santry Demesne, and once again on a sun kissed afternoon , Noel Cullen and John Downes ( Limerick ) provided one of the greatest individual duels ever seen in a
National. This was real “ mano a mano” stuff, two heavyweights slugging it out , neither one
prepared to yield , almost running each other into a state of oblivion . The lead changed hands
several times and the pundits found it impossible to predict who the eventual winner might be.
Finally ,with one great surge, Downes drew clear in the final 200m. and the gallant Cullen had to
yield. Afterwards , an utterly drained Downes admitted that he was almost out on his feet in the
final stages. “ If Noel had been able to find one last, big effort I would have thrown in the towel . I
had nothing left in the tank”, was Downes’s honest admission afterwards . The race clearly proved
another one of Laro Byrne’s many principles : “ There can be only one winner – but there doesn’t
have to be any losers . If you give of your very best in a race then , regardless of your finishing
position , you are not a loser “ . Cullen lost none of his greatness in that race ; he had given his all ,
probably more than in the National he had won three years earlier. He led Clonliffe to second
place and there was also a sign of hope for the future in the performance of a young Cian
McLoughlin who had joined us from Blackrock A.C. Cian finished 20 th . in this, his first Senior
National. But, coached by Jerry Kiernan , within two years he had made the Irish Senior team for
the World Cross in Marrakech. (This was the World Championship in which Sonia O’Sullivan won
both the Long and Short Course Championships ! ) Later in 1996, Noel Cullen came with three
seconds of making the qualifying standard in the Olympic Games 5000m. Running for Ireland in
the Westathletic competition, on a wet and windy Sunday morning, Noel had to make all the pace
himself and finished all alone in an excellent 13:36.22.
Mullingar won their last title in 1999. On another waterlogged , mud bath of a course in Stranolar,
with torrential rain and an icy winds making conditions almost impossible for the runners ,
Clonliffe finished a respectable second , 15 points behind the winners but 30 points ahead of DSD.
The redoubtable Noel Cullen was 2 nd . again to maintain his remarkable record of consistency in
this race . Incidentally , some Clonliffe supporters get a bit carried away on National day and tend
to indulge in rather strange behaviour. Tommy Griffin Junior for instance , better known as “Young
Griff “, believed he was doing his brother in law , Noel Cullen , a favour by running alongside him
on various parts of the course shouting all sorts of abuse at him . “ Get the lead out of your arse
Cullen , you lazy b****x , ya “ would be one of the milder exhortations. “ Ah sure he means well “
was Noel’s usual mild reaction later .
And so to the Millennium year of 2000. The National was to be held in ALSAA and, as soon as we
heard that , we believed that Fate had turned on our side again . It was a flat course which would
suit track men like Cullen and Niall Bruton who had agreed to pause his American Indoor
campaign and run for his Club. Cullen once again led the team home and he was followed by
McLoughlin in 7 th ., Bruton in 12 th . and Nigel Brunton, another Kiernan protégé and who had also
joined us from Blackrock, in 17 th . Some result show the name of Paulo Doglio as being on the
Clonliffe scoring team that day but, while Paulo was having his first race in the Black and Amber,
he was not eligible to score for us. While the new AAI was in the process of being formed, this
race was still held under the old BLE rules whereby an athlete could not represent a Dublin club
unless he or she was born or residing in Dublin. Paulo was never told that he didn’t count for
Clonliffe that day . When the presentation was being made he proudly went up for his medal and
received it from the Competitions Secretary ( who shall remain nameless ) . The gallant Noel Cullen, in a magnificent sporting gesture, allowed Paulo to take his medal and, so, this wonderful
Italian man ( with an Irish mother )became a great servant of the Club and , when the residency
rule was abolished , he scored several times for Clonliffe in subsequent years . He also became a
very proud member of the Irish team and ran for Ireland in several World and European cross
country championships. His first World cross was actually in Belfast in 1999 and, the day before
the race . Paulo went for a short , easy run proudly clad in his Irish gear. After some time , having
wandered into a certain part of the city, Paulo became aware that people seemed to be shouting
insults at him and were making aggressive gestures at him . Bemused and a little intimidated ,he
picked up his pace and made it safely back to the team hotel. “ But why they shout at me ? “ he
asked the other team members . Paulo had to be given a very fast lesson in Irish history !
Another feature of that day was the victory of Anne Keenan- Buckley in the Women’s race.Having
been the bridesmaid on a number of previous occasions , Anne finally took the title which she so
richly deserved . Unfortunately, she was not wearing the Black and Amber vest : Anne had
returned to her native Laois some years before and was back running for her original club, North
Laois. Anne prevailed after an epic battle with Rosemary Ryan from Limerick which was
reminiscent of the duel between Downes and Cullen in the men’s race four years before . The ten
years from 1994 to 2004 also marked a remarkable rivalry between Seamus Power of Clare and
Peter Matthews of DSD. Those ferocious rivals, who were also best friends, ( Seamus was
godfather to Peter’s first child ) won nine out of the ten titles between them , John Ferrin ( North
Belfast ) in 1999 being the only athlete to deprive them of total dominance. Incidentally , Power
won nine consecutive National Inter-County championships ; a record unlikely ever to be
equalled, let alone broken .
Joe Cooper became Captain of Clonliffe and so began a remarkable streak of victories , the most
sustained successful period in the Club’s history . Joe , however , had to wait a couple of years
before finally hitting the jackpot . He had to wait until 2004, and a trip to Roscommon ( where
else ? ), before his team won their first National . On the lush ,grassy surface of Roscommon race
course , with no mud and no spectators ( the local GAA Club were probably playing a Junior B
fixture ) , Clonliife bridged a three year gap. The team of Killian Lonergan , Cian McLoughlin, Paulo
Doglio ( now fully eligible under the new AAI rules ) and Rory Byrne ( another transfer from
Blackrock ) had a fairly comfortable victory over DSD and the rising force of Raheny. Joe’s first
delighted words on realising that the title was in the bag were “ We’re back in Europe” ! And,
having won his first National, Joe now couldn’t stop winning . A remarkable seven successive
titles before Clonliffe knew the taste of defeat in a National again . A number of factors
contributed to this amazing record. A number of our own young athletes were now coming of age
. Killian Lonergan was back home having completed his degree in Harvard and was setting a great
example in dedication to all the other runners in the club. Young products of our “ Youth
Academy” were graduating to the Senior ranks. Runners like the multi-talented Colm Rooney (
who had strolled away with the National Junior title in 2002 ) and Aidan Bailey ( winner of the All
Ireland Community Games 1500m. title in 1999 ) became scoring members of the Senior team .
The new AAI rule , which did not require athletes to have been either born in Dublin or residing in
Dublin in order to represent a Dublin club , enabled athletes like Doglio , Alastair Cragg, Chris
Cariss, Sergiu Ciobanu and Mark Kenneally to join Clonliffe . But Joe’s hard work and irrepressible
personality were probably the most decisive factors in this period of total dominance .
If he was ever accused of being lucky , Joe simply replied “ And the harder I work , the luckier I get “.
Enough said !
But many of those titles only came after hard fought victories indeed .The very first year for Joe’s
troops to defend the title resulted in a very hard fought victory over a new threat ,St. Malachy’s ,
Belfast. The race , held in Santry , saw Clonliffe having just 5 points to spare over their Northern
rivals. Mark Kenneally , who had transferred from Raheny led the team home in 2 nd . A new face in
the scoring four was Aidan Bailey joining the very experienced Lonergan and Doglio
The following year, the National resulted in what Dick Hooper ( writing in The Irish Runner )
described as “ an absolute dog-fight “ . Held once again in Santry Demesne , our “ Noisy
Neighbours” from Raheny gave us the fright of our lives . And Vinny Mulvey ( one of the bravest
little athletes to ever don a running shoe ) had the temerity to win the Individual title for Raheny
on our home turf. But Killian Lonergan in 3 rd . led home the Clonliffe team of Mark Kenneally ,
McLoughlin and Gary O’Hanlon (another new recruit ) to a narrow win . Raheny were probably all
fired up by the sight of their former star , Kenneally, now running for their deadly rivals and they
came very close to getting revenge. And they eventually did -but they had to wait another decade
to do so. And just like City made United eat their words in Manchester , Raheny would in time
become so successful in both cross country and National Road Relays , that nobody refers to them
as “ noisy neighbours” any more ( except in sllaggin’ matches , perhaps ! )
The title was retained fairly comfortably the following year in Sligo . Kenneally finished 2 nd . and
Lonergan 8 th .Another two new names , Colm Rooney and Sergiu Ciobanu, were added to the roll of
scoring four honour . Dick Hooper ( again writing in The Irish Runner ) had written at some stage
that if a Clonliffe man didn’t have at least one National Senior Cross Country Gold Medal in his
pocket he wouldn’t get served in the Clonliffe Bar . Well, the list of eligible servees was growing
Sergiu , who had come to us in July 2006, and who had won the National Novice title the
following December , went on to become one of our most successful athletes ever and also one of
our most loyal clubmen.
The scene switched to Belfast in 2008. We travelled North utterly convinced that our marquee
signing , Alastair Cragg, ( Joe said he believed in “ buying big” !)could not be beaten .South African
born Cragg who was , and still is , the Irish record holder for 5000 and 10000m.had declared for
Ireland the year before . Consequently under AAI and IAAF rules he had to join an Irish club.
Alastair was on athletic scholarship in Arkansas University and his coach there , the legendary John
McDonnell , ( a former Clonliffe man himself )advised him to join his old club. We also welcomed
Chris Cariss from London , whose uncle was Colm Brennan a former Clonliffe President . Like
Cragg, he too had declared for Ireland and was advised by his uncle to join Clonliffe . But , perhaps,
a touch of complacency crept in and Alastair had to settle for Silver behind Cathal Lombard. No
problem team wise though, and Alastair was ably supported by Cariss , Sergiu and Brian McMahon
who had come to us from the Rebel County ,to give us victory over Raheny by 10 points.
The national was ( believe it or not ) back in Santry again in 2009. This was one of Joe’s proudest
moments because not alone did the Senior team comfortably retain the title ( with Mark
Kenneally finishing 2 nd .once again ) but the Juniors , which Joe and indeed , Gladys, had nursed from the time they were veritable babies , also took national honours for the first time since 1983.
A feature of this race was a storming last lap by one Jayme Rossiter which resulted in a 3 point
victory over St. Malachy’s . Another member of that team who is still contributing to our current
Senior squad was David Fitzmaurice who came home from New York last year to help his old Club.
Mark Kenneally finally won his National Senior title in 2010 in the Phoenix Park . After finishing
2nd. on three occasions , justice was finally done when Mark came home a convincing winner
from one of his former training partners ,Gary Thornton. Mark had won the National Short Course
title back in 2005 but, like many people . he probably didn’t consider that a “real” national title. At
this point in his career , having finished a magnificent 7 th . in the European Cross in Santry the
previous December, Mark was well nigh unbeatable in domestic competition. He led Clonliffe to
another 20 point victory over Raheny, with Cariss , Sergiu and another new name John Haneghan
making up the scoring four. Two years later ,of course, Mark represented Ireland in the Olympic
marathon in London.
All good things eventually come to an end and finally , in 2011, Clonliffe tasted defeat for the first
time since 2003. DSD had a very low total of 25 to win easily from Raheny with Clonliffe pushed
right back to 3 rd . But the following year Clonliffe emulated that performance , bouncing right back
on home turf again , to regain the title with 25 points from Raheny and DSD . Sergiu led the team
home in 2 nd . place with Gary O’Hanlon, Brian McMahon and James Keaven making up the scorers.
2013 brought more joy ,with an Individual and team victory in Tullamore. Sergiu was an
immensely popular winner and he led home Michael Mac Diarmada , David Flynn and Gary
O’Hanlon to another convincing victory over Raheny and Rathfarnham . Mac Diarmada and Flynn
were two more of the graduates from our own Under Age ranks and, while Flynn was no surprise
having finished 2 nd . in the National Junior a few years before and having competed for Arkansas
on the cut throat American NCAA circuit , Mac Diarmada was the starring surprise packet with a
magnificent 7 th . place finish . Later that year he made his marathon debut and ran a very
respectable 2:25. Unfortunately, injury has prevented him from realising his full potential .
The next year in Dundalk, DSD once again pushed us back to the runners up spot with the
narrowest of victories : 34 points to our 35. Agonising ! The Junior Women’s race saw Hope
Saunders win her first National Junior title. An extremely talented athlete, Hope won her second
National Junior title the following year but ,unfortunately , like so many other athletes over the
years chronic injury prevented her from making the break through into Senior ranks.On that same
day in Dundalk , however , Sarah McCormack became the fourth Clonliffe woman to win the
National Senior title leading her team to a very respectable 3 rd . place.
Clonliffe won back the title the following year but then the long promised Raheny break through
finally happened . After many heart breaking afternoons and miserably cold , mud drenched
performances when the Raheny men had to accept defeat after defeat at the hands of their
nearest neighbours , they finally came good . Too often they had to settle for an agonisingly close
second place . “So near , but no cigar”. But now , after so many disappointments , they tasted the
sweetness of success. Not in a long time was a victory so sweet .We did not begrudge them their
well earned success. Some of us ( the ould lads ) recalled that long lost Sunday in Ballinasloe when
we won our first title deposing the seemingly invincible Donore .So we knew how the Raheny lads
felt. It was to our club’s credit that we were magnanimous in defeat and sincerely congratulated the Raheny coaches and mentors, men such as Pat and Dick Hooper, Paul Brady and so many
others who had toiled for years to make this moment a reality . It made the victory all the sweeter
for Raheny that the win was achieved with a team composed entirely of young lads who had come
up through their own under age ranks. There was a real “ Pride in the Parish” emotion sweeping
through the overjoyed ranks of the Raheny supporters .
Even though we did not begrudge them their success, we were determined to make their reign a
short one and very soon Joe started plotting how to bring the Title back home . But we had to
suffer another two years ( 2017 and 2018 ) of Raheny dominance . We began to really understand
the frustration and disappointment that they had suffered for years.
And then in 2019, on a dark afternoon in Abbotstown ( which seemed to have become the home
of the race during the previous two years ) Joe had possibly his greatest hour. He gambled on
putting Efrem Gidey on the Senior team and his gamble paid off . Efrem led the team of himself ,
Jayme Rossiter , Colm Rooney and Cathal Doyle to a marvellous victory . To put the icing on the
cake , our Junior team won as well . So, another double for Joe .But a darkness was about to fall
on the nation , on the club and , especially ,on Joe himself. We feel so grateful that he got to
experience such sweet success because , as we all know , Joe was in the early stages of a fatal
illness. As the darkness of pandemic lock down descended on the country , Joe was fighting his
own private battle. We hope that the memory of so many great victories was of some slight
consolation at least to him in his final months and weeks. Joe left us just before Christmas on that
fateful year of 2020. What he would most love now is to see the National Senior title return to
Santry . Last year DSD were simply unbeatable with a stunning performance of putting three men
into the Top 4 . No answer to that . As we head for Rosapenna ,however, we hope that the
memory of all the previous great Clonliffe victories will inspire our team to bring home the title .
No greater way of honouring Joe and his extraordinary legacy .
Rust never sleeps.