50 years ago today: The Inaugural Morton Mile – Monday 10th August 1970. (By Club Historian Dominic Branigan) . Following the death of long time Club Hon Sec Billy Morton in December 1969 Clonliffe Harriers decided that his many years of service, not only to the club but to Irish athletics in general, should be duly commemorated. Having brought many of the worlds greatest athletes to Dublin over the previous quarter of a century, and culminating in the miracle mile of August 1958, it was decided that a race over this distance and named in his honour, would be staged every year on his beloved Santry track.
Just over 12 years from the “Miracle Mile” an International Sports meeting was held in Santry on 10th August 1970, the highlight of which was the staging of the Inaugural Morton Mile. In the forward to the event programme club President Mattie Hewson stated : “Many fine tributes were paid to Billy, both before and after his death, all of them richly deserved. The best tribute we can pay to him is to endeavour to carry on his great work for athletics by developing our athletes in the club, in the country, and internationally, as well as preserving and improving our stadium. The memory of Billy’s great courage and charity is a tremendous help in achieving this goal. Billy’s immortal phrase was “everything will be all right”. It will be”.
True to form, the line up for the first Morton Mile consisted of a stellar field headed up by then Olympic 1500 metres gold medallist Kip Keino and European 1500 metres silver medallist, Clonliffe’s own Frank Murphy. Also on the start line was then USA 1500 champion Marty Liquori who had also run in the Olympic final in Mexico. The host club provided Clonliffe international and current club president Paddy Marley along with rising star Tom Gregan,
The full line up was as follows :
1. F. Murphy Clonliffe Harriers
2. P. Riordan Leevale
3. J. Dooley DCH
4. B. Geraghty UCG
5. R. Power Limerick
6. T. Gregan Clonliffe Harriers
7. P. Marley Clonliffe Harriers
8. K. Anderson Sweden
9. K. Keino Kenya
10. A. Kupczyk Poland
11. S. Waskiewiez Poland
12. M. Liquori USA
The track looked in excellent condition but earlier rain had made the possibility of very fast times more difficult. As the field set off, Keino, as was his normal tactic, sat at the back until things had settled down but by the end of lap one, run in a slow 61 secs, he had taken the lead. As they reached the halfway point in 2.01 Keino was still in front and at the bell Frank Murphy was his only serious challenger.
As they entered the final lap the massive crowd urged the local clubman on and with 300 to go Frank made his move and built up what looked like a lead which would relegate the Olympic champion to second place. Down the finishing straight the Clonliffe man was still in command but with a mere 50 yards remaining Keino made one last surge which carried him to victory by the proverbial “width of a vest.” The Kenyan’s time was 3.59.20 with Murphy running 3.59.30 and while the time was not, even at that time, exceptionally fast, the excitement of a close run race, “thrilled a bursting at the seams attendance”. The 21 year old American Marty Liquori was a distant third.
While the host club did not provide the winner of the centrepiece event, the Clonliffe ladies did take home some honours when Ann O’Brien won the 3000 metres from her sister Nuala, while in the 800 a Clonliffe clean sweep was led by Claire Walsh who was first across the line in a time of 2.07.30. She was followed home by her sister Jean O’Neill while third place was filled by 15 year old Jean Appleby whose 2.13 got her inside the qualifying time for the European Junior Championships. And so ended yet another memorable night of athletics of which the legendary Clonliffe Impresario would have been proud. The Santry track, made world famous in 1958, had now begun a new era of top class athletics.
The Morton Mile had set a standard which has continued, and indeed has been improved upon, over the intervening 50 years. The Morton Games, which was inaugurated 10 years ago, and which was built around the Morton Mile, is now Ireland’s premier Track and Field event and has attracted many of the world’s top athletes thus continuing to fulfill the dream of Billy Morton so many years ago.