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Looking Back - 25 Years of BLE in Cork - Chapter 3 - Consolidation and Maturity

LOOKING BACK - 25 Years of BLE in Cork




looking back 25 years of ble in cork book cover

Chapter 3 - Consolidation



The 1980 'Horae Countries' cross-country International saw Catherine Hourihan and Fionnuala Morrish carrying the Cork colours. Both figured in the County senior cross-country but were nonetheless behind the winner, Valerie O'Mahoney of Togher. John Hartnett of Grange took his fourth title as runner-up Donie Walsh lead Leevale to yet another club Championship.

At the George V. Ryan 'meet' in Dublin there were successes for Liam O'Brien in the steeplechase (8:49.3), Dave Murray in the high jump (2.02 metres) and Joy Murphy in the long jump (5.21 metres). The Nationals saw Liam O'Brien win his first steeplechase as Joe Brice and Mick O'Flynn retained their discus and triple titles respectively.

John Hartnett of Midleton won the pole vault with a 4.20 metre clearance and at the UCC Decathlon in July he topped the 6,000 points mark, establishing a new county record with 6,011 points. Barbara Johnson, a student at the College, competed in her first pentathlon.

The same month Frank O'Meara ran a 3:56 mile at the City Sports. There were other World Class performances including a 2.28 metre high but two athletes from the Soviet Union captured the    imagination of the crowd. Sergei Litvinov beat his compatriot Yuri Sedykh in the hammer - 82.20 metres / 80.34 metres. This was their first visit to Cork and the City Sports but the link would continue and indeed be reinforced with altogether better distance throwing.



Over the winter Richie Crowley had his first individual gold at the County Senior cross-country. Such was the middle distance talent in the County that Richie had to wait until now for that particular medal. Fionnuala Morrish of Leevale won the women's race and went on to win the National inter-county Championship, leading Cork to silver.

Robin Sykes, the National Coach, travelled to Cork in April and conducted a weekend course for coaches. Among the more memorable achievements was of County Board Secretary, Brendan Crowley, attempting the discus. Brendan's initial efforts were non too technical but Robin eventually enjoyed success as everyone's efforts were finally rewarded with Brendan actually managing a turn and some distance from the subsequent throw.

Eamon Coghlan took the mile at the City Sports in some style, breaking the National record in the process. His 3:52.11 underlined his standing in the wider World of athletics.

Michael Kiernan of Leevale and Dolphin RFC made his County debut and enjoyed a sprint double, returning very favourable times. The Irish rugby international took his talent to the National seniors and won gold over 200 metres, recording a personal best of 21.48 in the final. Liam O'Brien (steeplechase) and Joe Brice (discus) retained their National titles.

One Deirdre Murphy of Ballyvourney competed for Ireland in the 130 metre hurdles in Skopje, Yugoslavia with the hosts and Ireece providing the opposition. It surely was a proud moment for the parents as she maintained the family tradition. For Margaret, Deirdre's mother, it surely brought back memories of past glory, of Helsinki and Munich.

At the annual County Convention Reg Hayes, the outgoing Chairman, spoke at length on two topics - sport in schools and women's athletics. On the former he urged all clubs in the county to approach local schools in an effort to promote athletics and to inculcate the idea of the necessity of physical education and its place in the all-round education of the individual. Reg also spoke on the state of women's athletics, describing this area as being in a 'sad state of affairs'. Remedial action was necessary to ensure that standards did not fall further.



Among the motions passed was one sponsored by Leevale which lead to the establishment of a coaching sub-committee.

The 'Grange' International cross-country was again blessed with a number of World class athletes from overseas. Paula Fudge and Mick McLeod took the individual honours. Valerie O'Mahony of Togher and Tony O'Leary of Leevale in 5th and 16th places respectively were the first Cork runners 'home'.

Leevale enjoyed all-round success at the County senior cross-country providing individual winners in Tony O'Leary and Fionnuala Morrish and also taking both team titles. Fionnuala went on to win the National senior cross-country Championship as Tony led Cork to triumph in the inter-counties. The winning Cork squad included, besides Tony, John Hartnett, Richie Crowley, Pat White, Liam O'Brien and Billy Horgan. At the National seniors during the Summer Joe Brice took his fourth discus title in a row, his winning throw of 50.86 metres being the lowest of his four Championship returns. For Liverpool born John Woods, competing in the Grange colours, there was some disappointment in the 10,000 metres. He won gold but his new personal best time of 28:30.64 was outside the European qualifying standard of 28:30! Yet there was to be a European performance for John and he went on to finish seventeenth in the Athens final in 29:39.88.

Brendan Crowley in his Secretary's report to the annual Convention (1982) spoke on the upsurge in road running which he believed was having a detrimental effect on track & field athletics in Cork. He added that 'road running...(was) the most popular form of athletics within the county (now)' and that one good aspect of this boom was BLE and NACAI athletes running together, something that he hoped would spread to track & field and cross-country. However 'too many events packed into a season could result in events killing each other' - there were some twenty road races that year in the County.



The Inter-Varsity track & field in Belfast saw Billy Oakes very much to the fore. He won the long (6.81 metres) and the triple (14.57 metres) jumps before anchoring the UCC relay team into the medals. Brid Naughton was superb too for the Cork students, taking the 100 metre hurdles in 15.5 and the shot - 11.02 metres. Togher, athlete Ger Horan made it a high hurdle double for Cork when he won the '11O' in 15.0 seconds.

The Cork to Cobh race was won by Mick Walsh in 65:23 with brother Donie in second place. For the uninitiated and for the unsuspecting cameraman the two brothers caused much confusion, with both sporting similar haircuts, identical headbands and facial hair it was easy to make a mistake in identity. One wonders whether it was a plot to upstage the unsuspecting?

The European Marathon Cup in June in Laredo, Spain was the scene for yet another great Donie Walsh run. The evergreen Leevaleman was well up the field when clocking 2:23 at the finish. He figured on the Irish scoring squad of three and enjoyed another good placing in a World class field.

There were some notable Cork performances at the National Championships in Santry: Liam O'Brien won the steeplechase in 8:39.65 from Joe Hartnett of the 'Barrs, 8:44, and Kieran Stack, Eagle, 8:49. In the high jump Bill Thierfelder won with a leap of 2.16 metres. For Bill who sought International competition    in the Irish colours, there was to be disappointment as he was never to realise that ambition. He competed for the 'Barrs when in Ireland and in those colours re had a jump of 2.22 metres that year. Tadgh Twomey bade farewell to the Nationals too - but had at least the satisfaction of seeing fellow Bandonian Liam Nolan in mighty form. Liam had an 8.18 toss in the distance and a 4.47 clearance in the height to ensure a medal placing in both.



The World cross-country Champion Leon Schots of Belgium made the trip to Fermoy and duly took off with the first prize at the 'Grange' International. Yet another all-time great to grace the event and thrill the 'local' athletic enthusiast. At Mallusk Richie O'Flynn of Bandon was a great second in that particular cross-country.

Cork enjoyed a quite remarkable cross-country season and the County Board hosted a dinner in April to honour the many ithievements: novice men - 1st in Southern Region, intermediate Hen - 1st in Southern Region and at National, Senior men - 1st in Southern Region, Senior women - 1st in Southern Region and runners-up at National and the Junior men - 1st in Southern Region and 2nd at National.

Billy Oakes was in superlative form at the Inter-Varsities: he again had the horizontal jumps double and his marks of 6.95 metres and 14.70 meters ranks him as the top man in these events in the country. The women's team did well to capture rreir title and the efforts of Brid Naughton (shot - 10.57 metres), Fionnuala Morrish (1,500 metres - 4:35.7), Barbara Johnson (400 metres - 63.9) and Noelle Morrissey (100 metre hurdles and long jump - 15.9 and 5.60 metres) ensured overall succeess. The 4X100 metres was also easily won and in a good clocking of 50.8.

The County 10 kilometre road race Championship fell to Sean Harte of St Finbarr's in 32:18 with St Finbarr's also taking the team prize. Donie Webb of Imokilly won the over 35 category, Dick Hodgins the over 40 and Derry O'Driscoll the over 45. At the Southern Region 'vets' Championships Bernie Walley was back on the winner's rostrum through his win in the 100 metres (12.19). Jackie O'Callaghan was on the track as well and he had success in the 3,000 metres: 9:21.

The City marathon made the headlines of the CORK EXAMINER: the report was headed 'astonishment and bewilderment as BLE officials take the stripes off the stars'. Jerry Kiernan and Deirdre Nagle were first across the line but were disqualified for illegal advertising on their singlets. There was uttei disbelief and amazement all round and embarrassing from s number of points: the main sponsors were at the centre of the row as the two athletes wore singlets from that particular company. It was unfortunate to bring the matter to a head at the presentation ceremony but this nonetheless was done. Jerry Kiernan received his prize for winning the race, Dick Hooper the National Marathon -Trophy which he promptly handed over to Jerry! There were so many presentations and re-presentations that few knew what was happening.

In spite of that aspect of the event the race was expertly organised and efficiently managed.

Bill Thierfelder was back in action at the City Sports and on this occasion won with a leap of 2.15 meters. However the mile again took the limelight as Steve Scott raced through to a 3:50.99 clocking, taking no less than eight others below the 4 minute mile mark. What was once a magical barrier was by now somewhat commonplace and with nine athletes running below 4 minutes in Cork at the Sports one wonders what future generations will think of what we consider magical times and distances.

Of World class performances, the City Sports Organisers must have wondered what they had done to ensure hammer result like that of the '84 Sports. Yuri Sedykh stood in the circle for his first round effort and after a brilliant sequence of turns the hammer sailed out beyond Sergei Litvinov's current World Record. Yuri's effort measured at 86.34 metres - a new World Record. Sergei was not at all beaten and although he did not match that distance he did return a throw of 85.14 metres further than his own World Record which Yuri had beaten with that first round throw. In all the former World Record was surpassed on seven occasions - surely one of the greatest of all hammer throwing competitions.

The National Championships saw yet another Cork one-two-three in the steeplechase. Joe Hartnett and Kieran Stack were chasing the Olympic qualifying standard which Liam O'Brien had already attained. A slow lap midway through the race ensured that the aim was not achieved but nonetheless the trio ran great times - O'Brien 8:33.48, Hartnett 8:34.52 and Stack 8:52.47. The third lap of 71 seconds cost Joe his Olympic aim. For Ray Shanahan there was a silver in the 800 metres and the comment that 'next year (1985) will be my first serious year in athletics'.

At the Los Angeles Olympics Liam reached the semi-final of the 'chase, returning 8:34.90 to finish 11th. Marcus O'Sullivan was at his first major Championships and ran in the 800 metres and 1,500 metres. In the '8' he was sixth in his semi in 1:46.21 - a new National record. He also made the semi-final of the 1500 where he was ninth in 3:34.90.

On the national front the new Editor of the MARATHON magazine was none other than Fr Liam Kelleher. The new look for the publication was most welcome - the larger format, now A4 size, and colour photographs was well received.

The County Convention saw a new chairman as Reg Hayes ’stepped down’ after a double term. He was replaced by yet another St Finbarr's member, Mick Dooley. Billy Nestor too retired as PRO, having filled that post since 1967. Bob Burke of Grange replaced the now legendary figure.



Tony O'Leary and Carmel Lyons both of Leevale won the men's and 1985 women's County senior titles and also led their clubs to team honours. Another Leevale athlete, Ricky Burke enjoyed a good run in the National 25 kilometre road race in Castlelyons - taking the silver and leading his club to that position in the club listing. On the indoor scene there was a silver for Marcus O'Sullivan at the 'Europeans': his time for that second place spot was 3:39.75.

Terrie Horgan of Mallow jumped to 5.87 metres to set a new National junior record in July and Cork again had another long jumper of probable International standard. At the Nationals there was gold for Paddy Moore in the javelin and Aidan O'Regan of Leevale enjoyed a sprint double.

For another Cork veteran there was a comeback in the County senior track & field Championships - the 'Cork 80O'. Len was back! Among the many titles he won that year were the 56 for distance, at 7.64, and the hammer with a throw in excess of 40 aetres. He also won the 56 for height and the discus! Quite a remarkable performance.

On the European front there was a final place for Paul O'Regan of Leevale at the European Juniors in Coitus. He was to place seventh in 47.26. Further European success for Cork athletes followed in the European 'vets' road races. Here John Buckley won silver in the 10 kilometres (31:59) and bronze in the 25 kilometres (80:27). Derry O'Driscoll recorded the same time in the '25' and took silver in the over 45 category. Both also ran well in the Dublin Marathon in October - winning their respective age categories in 2:26 and 2:37 respectively.



Eamon Martin won the 1986 'Grange' cross-country in fine style 1986 from John Woods. Valerie O'Mahony of Togher was a popular winner of the women's race. Up in Mallusk Richard O'Flynn was again running in the Irish singlet and maintained a Cork presence at this cross-country. On the indoor circuit - in England - Anita Philpott of North Cork won the WAAA Intermediate 1,500 metres in 4:36.63 with another Cork athlete, Togher's Anthony O'Keeffe taking his place in the 400 metres.

Banteer celebrated their centenary sports with Ron Delany and Doctor Pat among the dignitaries. Among the many events on the lengthy programme was the first women's hammer competition in the country - one wonders what Doctor Pat thought of it all. The winner of the event was Una Cosgrove - a student at UCC of course. The famed sports has of course since lapsed.

The City Sports were once again a feast of sport. Future World Inampion, Bert Cameron won the quarter in 45.8 - and one wondered what Fanahan would have made of the Jamaican if he were in his prime. Gar Honey of Australia was just short of eight metres in the long and Billy Oakes rose to the occasion returning 7,37 metres in that event. Steve Scott was back and clocked 3:52 - a second ahead of Marcus O'Sullivan. Lincoln Asquith was a great winner of the hundred in 10.2 and Tom McKean ran away with the 800.

On the International scene Marcus made it safely through to the European 1,500 metre final and again thrilled us all with a sixth placing in 3:42.6. On the 'vets' front John Buckley took bronze in the over 40 European 5,000 metres. Other Cork athletes to figure at this level included Mick Kiely and Derry O'Driscoll.

At the National Congress in Limerick Paddy McGovern retired as National President. Reg Hayes replaced him - there being no contest. Elected onto the Management Committee was another Corkman - Fr Liam Kelleher. The National inter-county was hosted by UCC at the 'Farm' and this provided the new National President, Reg Hayes, with his first function. He himself was surely delighted with the performances of Tony O'Leary and Valerie (O'Mahoney) Collins who both won their races. Another Cork athlete was runner-up in the women's race - 17 year old Anita Philpott of North Cork. For Valerie there was some relief in her win as she had missed much training in the preceding two months due to a knee injury.

At the National cross-country another Cork athlete was making her mark as Sonia O'Sullivan completed a remarkable list of victories that season. She duly won the National inter-club contest to add to the National Junior and Colleges cross¬country wins that very year. The County seniors proved to be quite special that year as the CORK EXAMINER noted - 'O'Leary scorches to six in a row'. For Tony O'Leary this was indeed his sixth individual title in a row - quite some achievement.



Marcus O'Sullivan fulfilled all expectations with what ranks as 19 among the greatest performances by an Irish athlete when winning the World Indoor 1,500 metres at Indianappolis. He returned 3:39.04 but that epic run will live forever in the minds of all those who were privileged to see it - whether in the stadium or on the television.

The St Finbarr's team of Eric Crockett (2:22.09), Derry O'Driscoll (2:34.18) and John Buckley (2:30.28) won the National club Championship in the marathon as Leevale's Ricky Burke finished third. Ricky ran a great Belfast Marathon subsequently to place second in 2:19.24.

The Europa Cup in Portugal saw four Cork athletes on the Irish team - Marcus was second in the 800 metres (1:52.2), Liam O'Brien - second in the 'chase in 8:37.10, Billy Oakes - fourth in the triple with 15,24 and Sonia O'Sullivan who was third in the 800 metres in 2:08. At the European Juniors in Birmingham Terri McCarthy of Togher ran 55.53 for a personal best in the 400 metres, Anita Philpott was 6th in the 3,000 metres in 9:16 and Leevale's Aidan O'Regan was 5th in his semi of the quarter in 48.25.
The second World Championships were held in Rome in September. Marcus was back and he reached the semi-finals of the 1500. Liam O'Brien ran in the steeplechase and placed 11th in his heat in 8:40.88. Barbara Johnson of North Cork ran well to place fifth in her heat of the 400 metre hurdles, clocking a very respectable 57.85 seconds.

The National Intermediate cross-country provided a double victory for Cork. Bryan Meade of East Cork won the men’s race and Valerie Vaughan of Blarney took the women's event in some style. The inaugural National Indoor Championships were held in Nenagh and Ray Shanahan duly ensured that the Cork colours were to the fore.’ He won the 1,500 metres in 4:02.58 and became the first metric mile National Indoor Champion.

Marcus O'Sullivan was at his best yet again and after clocking 3:50.94 for the mile indoors he retained his World Indoor 1,500 netre title in Budapest. His time of 3:36.64 was quite superb and an indication of the form he was in. He was also on the Irish team that won the New York Ekiden International Road Relay for the Asics Cup in April. At the 1988 Seoul Olympics he placed 8th in the 1,500 metres final with 3:38. Barbara Johnson of North Cork was 6th in her heat of the 400 metre hurdles in 58,61. Among the coaching staff was Corkman Declan O'Donoghue. At the World Juniors Sonia O'Sullivan made the lengthy trip to Canada in the presence of the team coach - Fr Liam Kelleher. Terrie Horgan was another in good form and she jumped 6,28 netres in the National Leagues. However the absence of a wind gauge prevented her claiming a National record.



Tony O'Leary was back to winning ways in the County senior cross-country with Valerie (O'Mahoney) Collins taking the women's race. East Cork took the men's team title yet again. Ray Shanahan successfully defended his National indoor 1,500 breaking his own Championship record in clocking 4:00.67.

The National Championships were held at the RTC Complex and there were Championship golds for Darren Haddock (100 metres), Marcus O'Sullivan (800 metres), Kieran Stack (steeplechase) Billy Oakes (long and triple jumps), Valerie O'Mahony (1,500 neters), Barbara Johnson (400 metre hurdles) and Terrie Horgan long jump).

Der O'Donovan's actions in providing a temporary 'water station' for the 10,000 metre runners created mild controversy. The weather was excessively hot and the athletes suffered as a consequence. The runners were delighted when Der decided to use the water hose and sprinkle water on them as they passed by. This action was greeted with dismay by several officials but after some 'conversation' Der continued with his water spraying performance - 'O'Donovan's rain'.

The following winter Liam O'Brien finally won his first County senior cross-country Championship. It is a reflection of the standard of distance running in the county that the Olympian had to wait until now to win the title. Valerie Vaughan of Blarney/Inniscarra took the women's title.

At the County Convention Ted Murray of Togher replaced Fr Liam O'Brien as chairman of the Board. Pat Walsh of Skibbereen succeeded Mossie Cotter, Togher, as treasurer. Among the more interesting topics discussed was the proliferation of road races - one delegate pointing out that there were at least 45 races that year alone 'and all with permits!'.

 top cork women of the eighties

Top Cork women of the 'eighties: from left, Valerie O'Mahoney, Catherine Hourihan and Fionnuala Morrish


cork county senior xc 1984

Olympians to the fore at the 1984 County senior cross-country Championships: from left, Peter Maher (Canada, 1988), Marcus O' Sulivan (715 - 1984, 1988 & 1992), Tony O'Leary (716 - the 1984 Champion) and Liam O'Brien (614 - 1984)




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Cork Athletics County Board is a constituent member of Athletics Ireland. Cork Athletics is the governing body, administering athletics, track and field (T&F), cross-country (XC) and running in county Cork. The Board comprises elected representatives of constituent athletic clubs and running clubs. Cork County Board AAI organises Championship races and competition, including road, track & field (T&F) and Cross-country (XC), at junior, juvenile, senior and masters levels, and selects representation for the county. In addition, training and education is provided for coaches and officials. The Board also regulates the Athletics Ireland race/event permit (licence) process for county Cork.
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