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Looking Back - 25 Years of BLE in Cork - Chapter 2 - The Seventies - Growth and Development

LOOKING BACK - 25 Years of BLE in Cork




looking back 25 years of ble in cork book cover

Chapter 2 - The Seventies - Growth & Development



At County Board level there were several changes of personnel in 1972, which reflected the passing of one era and the arrival of another. John O’Connell of St Finbarr's retired as Chairman of the Board, thereby ending a twenty seven year link with the sport. His tenure of office in the ’chair' begun with the formation of BLE, and he had as a consequence steered the County Board through its initial baptism. Martin Lynch was his successor, and he would continue in office for maximum tenure of three years. Yet there were a number of problems to be resolved concerning the Chairmanship at this time.

At the County Board Convention in late 1972, Martin failed to secure re-election, and on a 32/29 count, Carrignavar man Neilus Duggan was elected. However there were irregularities in the voting, and after the intervention of Fr Kevin Ryle, National President, and Brendan Foreman, National Secretary, it was decided to re-convene the Convention. On this occasion Martin was re-elected. Jerry O'Leary retired as treasurer, a post he had held since 1967 and Billy Nestor relinquished the secretarial position in favour of Donie Duggan, Carrignavar.


There were fourteen clubs affiliated to the Board in 1973:
Bandon, Bantry, Ballymore/Cobh, Beara, Dunmanaway, Grange, Leevale, Northern, Olympic, St Finbarr's, Skibbereen, UCC and Youghal. Of these, eight still remain with Youghal AC now replaced by Celtic AC in the east Cork town.

The 1972/73 season opened on a high note, with Pat O'Riordan 1973 back in great form, winning the Oman Cup, in a new course record of 9:14. Donie Walsh was another in good form, taking the National cross-country title, and leading Cork to the inter-county Championship. The Cork women's team were narrowly beaten in their contest. Pat, Donie and Richie Crowley were selected for the Irish team to run in the International cross-country Championships that year, and for Donie it was the start of a sequence that saw him at every one of these Championships until 1981 - quite some record.

On the American indoor circuit, John Hartnett took the mile at the Martin Luther King Games, in a world class 3:58.3. Thus he broke Ron Delany's mark set in 1958. Somewhat later, John raced to a National record over three miles - on the track - clocking 13:06.4. This time placed him in the top three in the World at this distance, and deleted Mike Keogh's name from the record books. Another Corkman to set National figures was Billy Bolster of Mallow, who clocked 2:24.8 for 1,000 metres, in May.

There were some notable performances in April and May in Cork: the NCPE, later Thomond College and now Limerick University, competed for the first time at the 'Dyke with UCC the hosts. At the UCC/Munster/Darmstadt University challenge, Len Braham of the 'Barrs broke the National discus record, with a throw of 53.20 metres. The throw was initially measured at 52.86 metres beyond the national record) but on re-measuring with a steel tape the officials recorded the new mark. The Togher sports were well supported, with well over a thousand making their way through the turnstiles.

Margaret Murphy too was back to top form, and had a jump in excess of six metres in Santry. However there was no wind gauge in use and one prominent Cork Official made his presence felt as the CORK EXAMINER reported, having 'some verbal cross-fire with a BLE Official' over the matter. At the same meeting Finny Long of the 'Barrs recorded the fourth fastest steeplechase time by an Irishman, 8:57.8.

The National Championships were again held in Cork, this time the venue being the 'Dyke. Len Braham of the 'Barrs had a treble - hammer, discus and 56 for distance. The Walley brothers shared the gold and silver sprint medals between them, with Leevale athletes filling the first four places in the 200 metres. The Tarrant Trophy, for the best all-rounder, was won by Len to cap a great weekend for the near veteran athlete.

Len was in top condition throughout the Summer, and his tussles with Tadgh Twomey, with the 'fifty-sixes', was a great attraction at sports meetings. They were not the only two who excelled with the 56 though - Liam Nolan of Bandon lobbed the weight beyond the eight metre mark in Ballyhooly - in a downpour and Jim McNamara was also very much: to the fore at sports meetings. The '56' highlights came in August: at Youghal on the 5th, Tadgh had a series which, with all throws over eight and a half metres, culminated with 8.96 metres. Len was second on 8.76 metres with Liam third with 8.25 metres. At Donoughmore on the 12th Ted had the better with distance - 8.62/8.57 but Len won the height - 4.65/4.60. The CORK EXAMINER summed it all up, headlining the report - 'power sharing at Donoughmore'.

In September, Leevale became the first club in Ireland to compete in an International competition at this level. Vince Regan, Dick Hodgins and Donie Walsh travelled to Holland, to run in the International marathon. Donie dropped out towards the end, having lead the great Ron Hill by 45 seconds, at the 19 miles marker. Dick came in 21st in 2:31. Also on the International scene, Joan Fleming of St Finbarr's reached the semi-final of the 800 metres, at the European Juniors.

Over cross-country there was success for the Cork team in the women's National Intermediate, with Joan Fleming being individual runner-up, but leading fellow County athletes to the next three places! Dervla Mellerick, third individual overall, led Grange to the premier position.



In January 1974, Donie Walsh showed great powers of recovery over a weekend, which saw him win the Miskimmon Cup in Ballydare. Back in Ballincollig on the following day, he left the cream of County runners in his wake when he took the County cross-country title with some ease. A month later he took the National title in Tuam, and led Leevale to silver. Maura Mellerick, the elder of the two sisters, was third in the senior women's event, and with Dervla, Mary Lehane and Margaret Roche all giving great support, Grange were first club.
That season Donie created history, when also taking the National inter-county race, and leading the defending Champions, Cork, to victory again. This 'double' is not too often done.

On the roads, Donie took the National 15 mile Championship, and, with clubmate Tony O'Leary fourth, Leevale were among the medals. There would be no glory in the National marathon where Donie dropped out at the 30 kilometre stage but Dick Hodgins went on to win the silver through a clocking of 2:21.

The Inter-Varsities in Dublin saw the rise to prominence of UCC, and both teams did well. Elaine Kelly had a 400 and 800 metre double (58.0 and 2:18.3), and she also figured in both relay victories. Finny Long had a great win in the steeplechase - his 9:00.6 being quite superb for the gale force windy and wet conditions that prevailed.

The George V. Ryan Trophy was won again by Leevale, as was the National League Final in Belfield. St Finbarr's women were seventh overall in their Final. On the ’local' scene the County track & field leagues were held for the first time. Ballymore/Cobh organised their first open sports.

The highlights of the City Sports, in early July, were Fanahan McSweeney's 47.3 clocking for the 400 metres, and a quite superb 3:56.3 by John Hartnett for the mile. This must surely rank as one of the all-time performances by an Irish athlete over this distance. The 3:56 time equates to sub-3:50 on an artificial surface. It must be added that the ’Dyke at this time was still a grass track, superb in its own context, but not as conductive to quick times as artificial tracks.

Behind Fanahan in the 400 was Brendan Mooney, of Leevale and the ’Cork Examiner’, and Brendan Crowley of Bandon - 49,3 and 49,9 respectively.
’Up’ in Dublin - at the Montrose Hotel - Father Liam Kelleher was launching 'INVOLVEMENT', a book on Midleton Athletic Club. Some £12,000 pounds had already been collected for the proposed local Recreational Hall, and Fr Liam was hoping to add to that tally through this publication - 10,000 copies issued with a retail price of £1.

Cork athletes were again to the fore in the Internationals during the Summer. In June the Irish team were swamped somewhat by a strong German combination, and Fanahan was one of only two winners in a green singlet on the day. His 46.9 for the quarter was superb both for the time, and for the fact that he left two Olympians in his wake.

The match against Portugal proved an altogether different natter with Ireland losing out by a point - 106/105!. Cork athletes taking premier positions were John Hartnett (1,500), Brendan Coughlan (shot), Paddy Moore (javelin), Len Braham (discus) and Ann Jeffords (100). Paddy Moore’S 67.40 metres was a National record and remains his best toss of the ’spear’ to date - although he is vowing to top that mark next year!
Another to better National records that year was Len Braham, who, as he said himself , 'was just getting the feel of it (discus)!’. The European Championships in September saw only the one Cork athlete competing - John Hartnett.


With so much athletic talent now at UCC, it was hardly a surprise that the club enjoyed a tremendous season over the middy fields of Ireland. Cork won the 1974/75 National Intermediate women's title with UCC the first club. To add to a great day, Ray Treacy took the Intermediate men’s race leading both Cork and Leevale to silver.

John Hartnett too was in good form over the winter, and took the County Senior cross-country in Fermoy, having almost two minutes to spare over Donie Walsh at the end of the nine and a half mile course. Donie may have been runner-up at County level but he won the Cork to Cobh race, which again was an Irish Championship event. Leevale took the team title with Dick Hodgins and Mick Murphy filling the other two positions. At National level both combined with Eddie Hartnett, Denis Manning, Finny Long and Richie Crowley to take the inter-county Championship to Cork for the third year in succession.

Besides the Inter-Varsity cross-country the UCC women's team also collected the track & field Championships. The County Board later commented on the 'smooth running and superb organization' of these Inter-Varsities held at the 'Dyke', and the hosts were rewarded with a resounding victory in the women's event.

There was a sub-2:20 time for Dick Hodgins in the National marathon, and, besides individual honours, he led Leevale to gold in the team event. In Limerick, Donie Walsh had half a minute to spare over Finny Long, in the National 10,000 metres - taking his fifth title in six years over the distance. This was part of the National Relay Championships, in which Ballymore/Cobh duo Ger McLoughlin and Francis Kelleher won the triple jump - 13.52 and 12.46 metres respectively. The javelin title went to Leevale, with Paddy Moore throwing 61.44, and Mick O'Flynn 47.22m. Ger was to place fourth at the Youth AAA Championships, in Liverpool, in the triple, with 13.41m, and with Mary Doyle of the 'Barrs' and Ann Jeffords of Leevale at the senior WAAA, there was much Cork athletic activity in England that Summer. In July Colm Cronin set new National figures for the triple at the Wales/Luxemburg/Ireland International - 15.36 metres. Thefollowing month Colm made the final in that event at thi European Juniors in Athens. He also figured prominently in thi National League Finals with Leevale retaining the trophy.

The Southern Region Championships, in Skibbereen, were a huge success. Bernard Walley had a 10.6 clocking in the hundred metres, but the 'star' of the show was no doubt Tadgh Twomey. There were the 'usual' victories in both 56s, but his gold medal winning performance in the high jump was quite something else. The height of 1.83 may have been modest for a Championship, but Tadgh's effortless clearances was particularly noteworthy.

At the beginning of the year, BLE announced the names of thirty nine hopefuls for the 1976 Olympic Games. Cork athletes on the list included Ann Jeffords, Bernard Walley, Brendan Crowley Fanahan McSweeney, John Hartnett, Sean Power and Donie Walsh.



The cross-country season got off to a great start, with Fionnuala Morrish of Leevale winning the Junior women's race at the Home Country's International in Lancashire. Donie Walsh continued his magnificent showing over cross-country when winning the National Championship yet again - this time then was a margin of twenty seconds at the finish. Leevale won thie National Junior cross-country. Mary Fleming of Midleton won the National Intermediate women's title at Belfield, leading both her club - Midleton - and county to the gold.


john dooley 1972 national 1500m championship

The finish to the 1,500 metre final at the 1972 National Champion-ships: John Dooley (DCH) holds off Olympian Mike Keogh of Midleton to take the gold medal


ucc 4x100 team 1972
The UCC 4X100 metre relay winning team at the 1972 Inter-Varsity Championships: from left - Mary O'Connor, Maura Murphy, Rose Long and Valerie Shortland


looking back german artificial track inspection group
The group that travelled to Germany to inspect ’artificial tracks’ there: included are, at back - from left, Brendan Mooney, Martin Lynch, John Hartnett and Dave Murray. John Buckley is at the front right with Billy Nestor to his right.

Finny Long was the best of the UCC men in the Inter-Varsities, placing third. Dervla Mellerick was tenth home in the women's race yet was not a scoring member of the winning UCC squad - such was their strength! Back in Cork the Lough Relays saw honours go to Grange - men, and Leevale - women.

Con O’Callaghan, brother of Doctor Pat, an Olympian himself, and multi-National medallist died in Bantry.

Leevale retained the National League Trophy - this being three-in-a-row since inception - and St Finbarr's were second to Crusaders in the women's section. Individual men's winners included Mick O'Flynn (triple jump - 14.84) and Paddy Moore (javelin - 63.74).

Fanahan McSweeney was back in form at the City Sports, having a double in the 200 metres (22.4) and 400 metres (48.5). Liam O'Brien figured in the half mile (1:53.5), and Colm Cronin had a good effort to win the triple with 14.84 metres.

Leevale also competed in the European inter-club Championship, in Rome, and were 11th overall. Among the highlights was Colm Cronin's National record in the triple. At the end of the contest he finished with new marks of 15.46 metres. Also to do well in a European context was Kathleen Glavin of Midleton, who won three medals at the FISEC Games in Malta, in July.

Earlier that Summer, the Inter-Varsity track & field Championships were held in Limerick. Finny Long (steeplechase) and Maurice Power (400 metres - 48.6) were the sole men winners, but the UCC women romped to an easy team victory. Elaine Kelly, Mary Doyle, Joan Fleming and Margaret Crosse all had individual victories. The Ireland/Wales/Luxemburg International saw several of these UCC athletes in action, but the Irish highlights were Fanahan McSweeney's double (400 metres - 48.3 and 800 meters - 1:53), Mick O'Flynn (triple jump - 14.86 metres) and Len Braham (discus - 48.84). Of the latter the CORK EXAMINER commented that he took the 'discus event in a style and manner which belied his status'.



Bad weather had little effect on the 1977 'Grange' 1977 International, which saw Bernie Forde and Vera Duffy taking individual honours. The following week, Mary Cadogan and Mickie Walsh both placed second in the National Intermediate cross-country Championships. There were also medals for the County in both events.

Artificial tracks and athletic venues were in the news throughout the Summer: the Belfield track was officially opened in June, with Paddy Moore taking the javelin, and Len Braham smashing his discus national mark with 53.62 metres. As for a track in Cork there was hope as a party of seven travelled from the County to Regensburg, in Southern Germany, to examine the three tracks there. Their views and comments would have a bearing on subsequent track developments in the City.

Later that year the Corporation made available a portion of Council property in Ringmahon, for use as an athletics amenity. Further west, in Bandon, the Earl of Bandon placed Castlebernard Estate on the Clonakilty Road at the disposal of the local club. This land would be the scene of many a cross-country.

Declan O'Donoghue, now in Limerick, but formerly of the College Road area of the City, was appointed the National Director of Coaching - a post he would hold for the duration of the decade. Declan of course is among the top coaches in the country, and in the 'eighties was the National Throws Coach.

At National inter-club contests, UCC women continued their domination of the Inter-Varsity Championships, as they took both the cross-country and track & field Trophies. Leevale were less successful in their bid to regain the National Leagues - finishing fourth overall. Grange were eighth, with Sean Power leaping 14.70 metres to take the triple jump. St Finbarr's women were third in their section.

At the County seniors, a sixteen year old Valerie O'Mahoney, of Togher Athletic Club, won the long jump. This was something special, as she relegated Joy Murphy and Kathleen Glavin - both current Irish Internationals in the event - into the minor medal positions. At the National Juniors, two Midleton athletes two future dominant figures in their events won gold - John Hartnett cleared 3.70 metres for victory, with Joe Brice putting 14.11 metres to win the shot as well as throwing the discus to new National Junior figures of 49.84 metres.

On the International scene, the Irish men's team qualified for the semi-finals of the Europa Cup. Cork athletes to figure prominently included John Hunter, Dave Murray, Paddy Moore, Len Braham, Brendan Coughlan, Pat O'Riordan and Liam O'Brien. Not to be forgotten was Colm Cronin who set new National figures, yet again, of 15.89 metres in the triple.

St Finbarr's began work on their club house near the Lough in September, and Pearse Wyse, Club and County Vice-President was among those very much instrumental in this development.

Earlier that Summer, Bandon AC revived their sports meeting, and the matter of open sports would be a central issue at the County Convention held in November. In his secretary's report, Brendan Crowley warned Paddy Hartnett, the outgoing chairman, and the 42 delegates present of the 'perils of the young athletes all joining the top clubs'.

’This would have an on-going detrimental effect on the smaller clubs, and also on the promotion of the open sports meetings', Brendan believed. 'The non-International athlete was not having his/her share of athletics competition, and this obviously would nave the effect of fewer and fewer athletes being registered', he continued. It was agreed, by the meeting, that the promotion of the open sports was a paramount prerequisite for the forthcoming years.

Among the bye-laws passed was one which allowed County Board Officials to take part in County Championship events without payment of an entry fee!



Brendan Foster won the 'Grange' International in late January 1978 from Dave Black and Tony Simmons, as one of the most powerful fields ever seen in a cross-country in Ireland was put together by the organisers. Mary Stewart won the women's race, as UCC women filled the runners-up spot. At the International cross-country Championship, there were no less than four Cork women running - Marion Lyons, Maura and Dervla Mellerick and Fionnuala Morrish. This remains the highest number of Cork athletes in any one such Irish cross-country squad.

Donie Walsh took the Cork to Cobh classic in fine style, beating Liam O’Brien into second spot by some 39 seconds. Donie had just returned from the World Military cross-country Championships, where he filled the 11th berth. The Cork to Cobh was also in the headlines for another fact, through the involvement of Elaine Kelly, Marion Lyons and Dervla Mellerick - the first women to run in the event.

Donie won the National cross-country in Ballyfin, with Ray Treacy third. Leevale were second in the club contest. Dervla Mellerick was runner-up in the women’s race as UCC came third in the club classification. The National Intermediate title was won by Noel Shannon of Leevale, who was to enjoy a great year in athletics.

In April St Finbarr’s moved into their new club house and later that month a Cork All-Weather Track Committee was established by the County Board. The Committee included Finbarr O’Brien, Martin lynch, Reg Hayes and Brendan Crowley, and their brief was to report back to the County Board of developments.

Leevale were second in the National Leagues, despite the best efforts of Noel Shannon (1,500) Colm Cronin (long jump - 7.22), Paddy Moore (javelin - 63.20) and Dave Murray (high jump - 2.00 metres) who all won their events. Sean Power again took the triple jump - 15.02 metres as Grange placed sixth overall. St Finbarr's women were fifth in their section.

As work continued on the ’new' artificial track, at the Mardyke, the City Sports Committee had to make alternative arrangements for the Sports that year. Pairc Ui Caoimh was the chosen venue, and the crowd there were thrilled with the exploits of Steve Ovett, in the mile, and the visitors from Cornell University in America. On holding these Sports at Pairc Ui Caoimh, County Board chairman, Paddy Hartnett expressed great delight and hoped that it would lead to further goodwill between the GAA, the NACAI and BLE.

The National Relay Championships saw Leevale take gold in the 4X800 metres (7:41.6) and the women’s 4X100 metres (49.0). The National Juniors in Limerick were a confused affair, with the French National Junior squad taking on their Irish counterparts in an International held in conjunction with the Championships. Two Cork athletes did well - Mary Dempsey of Youghal winning the 3,000 metres, and Joan Hough who took the 1,500.

The year concluded with the National Congress, at the Metropole Hotel, in the City. Alderman Pearse Wyse, Lord Mayor, and long time servant of the County Board, and of St Finbarr's, officially opened the meeting. Fr Liam Kelleher and Reg Hayes were elected onto the Management Committee, with the latter and Martin Lynch being elected onto the Senior Activities Committee.

The County Board Convention again focused attention on the matter of sports meetings. Brendan Crowley in his secretary's report spoke on the failure ’to cater for the average athlete'. St Finbarr's delegates called for the abolition of the handicap system. However there was some prophetic words from Brendan - 'with better facilities in the offering, (there will be) an even more difficult time ahead'. Brendan sought a new emphasis on inter-club competition as the only remedy to promoters of open sports. The introduction of the County League was a success as many an 'athlete' who would not normally compete did so, to secure points for their club.
That Convention saw the election of Reg Hayes as chairman, and Mick Dooley of St Finbarr’s as registrar, replacing Diarmuid O'Neill, Bandon who had held the post since 1974.



The new Winter season saw Donie Walsh travelling to Gateshead, for the International there, before travelling back to Cork, to contest the senior cross-country Championship the following day. John Hartnett was too strong for the tired Leevaleman though, and took the race. Mark Earley of UCC won the County Intermediate Championship but was subsequently disqualified, as he had won the silver in the 1978 race!

Leevale won an International club cross-country contest in Wales, in January, and the club promoted a road race in sallincollig which Andy Holden of England won. Donie was back on the Irish team for the World cross-country Championships which were held in Limerick. Finishing in 46th position he was on that very successful team that took silver.

The International Military cross-country Championships were held in Mallow - on the racecourse - in March. Mick Lawton of Leevale was 19th over the 5 kilometre event as the Irish team placed sixth. Donie Walsh was yet again in the running and ran well to fill fourth place. With Richie Crowley also well placed the two were among the silver medal winning Irish team over the 10 kilometre course.

At the launch of the 'new' track at the Mardyke Doctor Pat O'Callaghan, one time UCC student, spoke at length about the need to have 'feeder' tracks throughout the county. He feared that the new facility would create a vacuum outside the City although a very welcome development there still remained irach work to be done to promote athletics throughout the reminder of the county.

The City Sports was the first 'official' event on the synthetic surface. UCC Athletic Club were part of an inter-team contest snf the club had victories in the 100 metres (Jim Crotty - 13.78), Damien McLoughlin (800 metres - 1:54), Mary Doyle (100 metres - 12.19) and Margaret Crosse (javelin - 38.80). Eamonn Coghlan ran a brilliant 3:54.8 mile to take the headlines.

There was some disquiet and front page headlines in the CORK EXAMINER through the Summer as the issue of 'expenses' for athletes made the news. There was a boycott of athletic meetings as 'local' athletes demonstrated their concern at extravagant 'expenses' allegedly paid to some visiting athletes. It fell to Reg Hayes, chairman of the County Board, to diffuse the matter.

Meanwhile work continued on the artificial track at the RTC Complex. This was officially opened in October by Jim Tunney TD. Cork had in the one year gone from a situation where there as no artificial tracks to one where there was now two and a rev era in Cork athletics was now to unfold.

 cork to cobh 1976

On their way in the 1976 Cork to Cobh Race


len braham donoughmore 1974

National 56 pound for distance record holder, Len Braham, St Finbarr's, at Donoughmore, 1974


donie walsh national senior cross country champion

Another National cross country gold for Donie


county senior women 1978

Four leading middle distance women of the period - from left, Catherine Hourihan, Dervla Mellerick, Valerie O'Mahoney and Marion Stanton Lyons, Cork County cross-country Senior Championships, 1978




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