Guest Article by John Walshe

This article, by John Walshe, Ballycotton Running Promotions, appeared in the Evening Echo, on November 27th.

Cork Athletics Homepage

Ballycotton Running Promotions

Paddy Coleman - Christy Cooney
Paddy Coleman Presentation
Paddy Coleman (right) receiving a presentation from fellow Youghal man Christy Cooney, former President of the GAA Paddy Coleman (third right) pictured with Martin Drake, Youghal AC, Chairman, East Cork Division - Athletics Division, along with former international athletes Richard Crowley and John Buckley both St Finbarr’s AC

Photos: John Walshe

Many famous names have appeared on the John O Jagoe Memorial Trophy which is given each year to the athlete credited with the most outstanding performance at the Cork City Sports.

Formerly known as the American Trophy, the list includes Olympic and World medallists and record holders Steve Ovett, Mary Slaney, Yuri Sedykh, Eamonn Coghlan and Cathy Freeman, along with Cork’s own Sonia O’Sullivan and Robert Heffernan.

Fifty years ago last July, the award went to a Youghal man who was recently honoured by his own at a function held in the local GAA complex, a building he was also instrumental in establishing for the seaside club during his term as chairman of Youghal GAA.

Paddy Coleman was one of Cork’s outstanding middle-distance runners of the 1960s and although his career was cut short due to injury, his performances – including two Irish titles - as a 21-year-old during that summer of 1965 are still fondly recalled.

On the evening of Wednesday July 7, one of the finest fields seen in NACA competition assembled for the 1500m at the Cork City Sports. The line-up featured Dick Hodgins of UCC, a former winner of the title and now Meet Director of the City Sports, along with Bobby Buckley (Grange), Denis Buckley (St Finbarr’s) and Mick Heery from Dublin.

At the bell, Hodgins had a slight lead from Heery, Coleman and the two Buckleys. Down the back straight, Coleman made his move and despite the best efforts of Bobby Buckley (aged only 19) he held on for victory in a time of 3:53.0, just outside the then Irish NACA record of 3:52.3 held by Terry O’Connor from Dublin City Harriers.

“I timed it perfectly, I was pleased it was a fast race and knew at the three-quarter stage we would have a good time. Bobby Buckley pushed me to the limit,” stated the Youghal man after being awarded the American Trophy.

Four days later, he won the Munster mile title in Cobh in a time of 4:20.0 and then, at the NACA championships which took place in Banteer, Coleman won his second Irish title, this time over the classic one mile distance.

Hodgins finished second with Bobby Buckley having to settle for third. The time was a slow 4:21.5 (compared to Coleman’s best of 4:12) but, as he explains a half-century later, it was all about the winning: “That was a very slow tactical race, the first lap was 90 seconds so I had to go off and do the last three laps on my own.”

It was a local FCA event where it all began for the then 19-year-old. “I won that race by about a half-mile, wearing football boots,” he recalls. “It was Paddy (Waxer) Daly who first got me interested, he was a great man and got me running internationally with the army. I ran against two famous athletes in a cross-country race in Madrid, Billy Mills from America and Mohammed Gammoudi from Tunisa. Both won Olympic gold medals in different year, Mills in 1964 where Gamoudi was second but Gamoudi came back and won in 1968.”

After such a successful track season in 1965 (along with captaining the Cork team to All-Ireland junior cross-country victory), Paddy’s fame had reached across the Atlantic. On display on the night of his presentation was a copy of a letter dated July 5, 1966, sent by David E Walker, Head Coach at East Tennessee State University, offering him a scholarship to the States.

'We have a nine lane all-weather track here and do extensive travelling to larger meets in the United States during the school year. I’m sure you would be more than satisfied with our track programme,' went the invitation. In later years, the college would attract many top Irish athletes including current mile record holder Ray Flynn and Boston Marathon winner Neil Cusack, but the young Youghal man sought advice before reluctantly turning the offer down.

“I spoke Noel Carroll and Brendan O’Reilly who had come back from America, I had to go to Dublin to meet Noel but Brendan was singing at a gig outside in Knockadoon and they both advised me against going. Noel Carroll told me that the degree I’d get would be worth nothing when I got back.”

However, a problem with deep seated varicose veins would signal a premature end to Paddy’s all-too short athletics career. “I was told by my doctor that I would have to have an operation for them, but he said if I gave up running there would be no problem for the rest of my life.

“I was only around 24 or 25 at the time, but I had trained very hard. I used to do 100 miles a week from October to the end of March. I did from Youghal to Killeagh three nights a week, on a Tuesday and Thursday I would run seven miles on the beach and 13 miles on the road that night. You would have an easy day on Saturday and on Sunday morning I’d go for a 20 mile run.

“I used to follow the training schedule of Peter Snell [1960 800m and 1964 800m/1500m Olympic champion] but I’d say I burned myself out, through pure ignorance more than anything else. We had no coaches or sports scientists or anything like that, but I enjoyed my career while it lasted.”