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Looking Back - 25 Years of BLE in Cork - Chapter 6 - Olympians

LOOKING BACK - 25 Years of BLE in Cork




looking back 25 years of ble in cork book cover

Book Index

Chapter 6 - Olympians

Dave Guiney (London 1948)

John Hartnett (Munich, 1972)


Barbara Johnson (Seoul, 1988)

Mike Keogh (Munich, 1972)

Fanahan McSWEENEY (Munich, 1972)


Margaret MURPHY (Munich, 1972)

Liam O'Brien (Los Angeles, 1984)

Marcus O'SULLIVAN (Los Angeles. 1984, Seoul 1988 & Barcelona 1992)

Sonia O'SULLIVAN (Barcelona, 1992)

Donie WALSH (Munich, 1972)


Joe WEST (Helsinki, 1952)


Over the years Cork has been fortunate in having so much representation at Olympic level, and, in recent years, at the World Championships. At the Olympic Games, Cork born athletes have been very much to the fore over the years, and, in the early part of the century, the names of such as Horgan, Leahy, O'Callaghan, to name but a few, figured in the medal placings.

This tradition continues to the present, and Cork athletes will ensure that no major Championships would be quite the same without a 'Rebel' County representative. Over the past twenty five years, the following from Cork have enjoyed participation at this level - Margaret Murphy (1972), Donie Walsh (1972), John Hartnett (1972), Mike Keogh (1972), Fanahan McSweeney (1972), Liam O'Brien (1984), Marcus O'Sullivan (1984, 1988 and 1992), Barbara Johnson (1988) and Sonia O'Sullivan (1992).

Profiles of these athletes follow, and included are two further Cork Olympians - Dave Guiney (1948) and Joe West (1952). Both competed at Olympics prior to the formation of BLE, but, nonetheless, both have profiles as they continue to provide the athletics world with much needed support.

Three further 'Cork' Olympians are herewith mentioned, but are not included in the listing as such. PETER MAHER competed for Canada, at the 1988 and 1992 Celebrations. Peter was born in Ottawa, of Irish parents. During the early 'eighties' he returned to Ireland - North Cork in particular, where he fell under the guidance of Fr Liam Kelleher. Peter resumed training with the local North Cork AC, and soon was a scoring member of Cork County teams, at Regional and National level.
He subsequently returned to Canada, and duly competed for that country at the last two Olympic Games. One of the more
thrilling sights of the 1989 World Championships was that of Peter, in full flight, leading the marathon for much of the opening miles. Another to run in an Olympic marathon was JOHN WOODS, of Liverpool, and one time Grange man. John was a regular with the Grange club, in the early 'eighties', and ran in many a 'Grange' International, and the National Championships, winning several titles.

In 1988 he barely missed out on the 10,000 metre standard wher winning the National title but subsequently ran in the    Seoul marathon - for Ireland. Another adopted Corkman is SEAN D0LLMAN, of Leevale. Sean's connection with Ireland is    through his mother, who is Irish; his link, and how he actually became a member of Leevale, is somewhat obscure! Nonetheless he made the qualifying time for the 10,000 metres at the last Olympic Games, and duly took his place in the line up.

More recently Sean has been injured, thus explaining his non-appearance at the National cross-country Championships, in which he placed, in 1990 and 1991. He is one though of whom more will be heard in the future.

Whatever of adopted Corkmen, the following pages cover those Olympians who have been born in the county.


Dave Guiney (London, 1948)

Dave Guiney must surely be among the best known sports personalities in Ireland. Here in Cork, his column in the Thursday edition of the EVENING ECHO attracts a readership, not only here in Cork, but throughout Ireland, and indeed abroad in England, and elsewhere. Yet Dave's career as a journalist is but a small part of what has been, and still is, quite a remarkably active life.

dave guiney london 1948

Born into a family that had a keen interest in sport, it was hardly surprising that Dave should follow in the family tradition. There were National Champions in such diverse events as the shot and discus, the high and long jump, as well as the decathlon. Indeed the Guiney name was celebrated for its athletic 'talents'. There were also the odd Rugby International 'cap', and many other sporting honours, so Dave's involvement in athletics, to the highest level, was hardly a surprise - he was yet another of the Guiney family to thread the way to International stardom and beyond.

The list of Championship and International successes are lengthy and, as such, it is better to list them fully rather than dwell too long on any single one success. Space precludes such in enlargement, as the achievements are many.

The first of Dave's titles, at National level, were won when he took the shot and javelin, at the Youth Championships in 1940. He was altogether more successful the following year at these particular Championships, winning no less than five titles - shot, discus, javelin, high and long jumps. By this time he also was in the National record books, as he shared the National long jump record with Kevin O'Flanagan.

The first senior National title came in 1944, when he won the shot, setting a Championship record in the process. This was the start of quite a remarkable sequence of Championship titles in the shot,  as Dave remained undefeated until 1957 - some fourteen titles in all! In 1946 he was the Irish and British shot putt champion, and was also Ireland's sole representative at the (1946) European track & field championships, held that year in Oslo, Norway.

By now Dave was among the top thirty shot putters in the World. His first ranking at this level was in 1943, and he was to remain at this standard throughout the 'forties', securing a berth in the top twenty on a number of occasions. He was among top 'putters' in Europe at a time when the Scandanavian and British shot putters were at their prime. It was hardly surprising then that there followed so much success abroad - the 'war' was over, and International competition once again resumed.

In 1947, he followed in the illustrious steps of another altogether all-time great of Irish shot putting - Denis Horgan. Denisis too, like Dave, was also a Duhallow man. That year he won his first AAA shot putt title. Denis, of course, was a Champion shot man, in the decades either side of the turn of the century, He carried away quite an array of AAA Championship titles, so it fitting that another Duhallow man should be the next Irishman to win an AAA shot title. Dave defended that 1947 title successfully the following year - a year that also saw Olympic participation at the XIV Olympic Games, held of course in London.

Dave was a regular on Irish International teams, from 1946 until 1957, when he retired from the circle. He won the 'shot' in 1947, 1948 and 1951, at the triangular meet, Ireland Vs England Vs Scotland, this was quite some distinction considering the standard of putting in England and Scotland at the time. There were also to be International calls in Holland, Norway and Sweden to name but a few countries.

Between 1947 and 1953 Dave set several National shot figures, from 14.71 metres - his first, to 15.23 metres - the last mark. There also being several National records set in between these two marks.

Besides athletics there were other sports that attracted his very capable talents. He was a noted footballer and played with the Cork team at minor level, winning a Munster medal in 1938 at this level. There were also forays into the world of rugby, and Dave donned the shirts of Kanturk RFC and Clontarf RFC.

His career with the 'press’ is as outstanding as his athletics career. There was involvement with the SPORT MAGAZINE, THE SUNDAY CHRONICLE, THE SUNDAY GRAPHIC, THE EMPIRE NEWS, THE IRISH PRESS, THE EVENING PRESS, and THE IRISH INDEPENDENT. Dave was sports' editor of the IRISH PRESS, and Irish sports' editor of the SUNDAY MIRROR. He 'retired' in 1986 but yet remains involved with the EVENING ECHO and is also the editor of SPORTSWORLD.

When not busy with the latter two, he occasionally has the odd book published. In all, there have been thirty such put into 'print' since the early 'seventies! The topics covered vary and include books on hurling, football, golf, rugby and of
course athletics, and the Olympic Games.

Dave is a member of the International Society of Olympic Historians, chairman of the rugby writers of Ireland, and president of the Association of Sports Journalists in Ireland. He was also the Irish delegate to a number of World Sports Press Congresses over the years and has reported on every Olympic Games since Tokyo in 1964.

As a finale Dave was appointed Press Attache to the Ireland Olympic Team, for the Barcelona celebrations, in 1992, and duly filled that position with enthusiasm and dignity. He did not simply fill that role, as many of the Olympic team will readily relate, but also acted in a number of other capacities to ensure that spirits remained high when the odd athlete did not meet with success in the sporting arena. There was a tremendous rapport with the athletes - a rapport very much in evidence when Dave walks into any athletics complex in the country. Dave's knowledge of athletics and sport in general is near encyclopediac. This extends to the Olympic Games and in particular Irish participation therein. His continued guest for data and information is truly amazing and remains never ending. This is matched by an enthusiasm for the subject which is passed on to all those that he comes in contact with. Dave remains a charismatic figure, one not easily forgotten.



John Hartnett (Munich, 1972)

The major individual success in Irish athletics of 1970 was, without doubt, the victory of John Hartnett in the International Junior cross-country Championships. These were held in Vichy and it was a tremendous boost for the new association to have a victory of this nature at a major Championships.

john hartnett mardyke

It was to be another four years before John was to realise his potential over cross-country on the 'home' scene. In 1974 he won the National inter-county Championship, and led the Cork team to the inter-county title. He was on another Cork winning team in the 1981 race, as Tony O'Leary of Leevale swept to the winner's rostrum.

John studied at Villanova, where he was on scholarship, and there trained under the guidance of James Elliott, the legendary coach. By 1972, he held the National 5,000 metres record with 13:43, which, of course, was inside the Olympic qualifying standard for the Munich Games. On return from America that Summer, he contested the 10,000 metres at the National Championships, held that year in Banteer. These 1972 Championships rank as among the best ever, as many an athlete still was striving for Olympic qualifying standards.

John was among the leaders throughout, as the pace never slackened. In a pulsating finish, he got to the tape first, and returned a very respectable 29:02.4. At the Olympic Games, in Munich, John never ran to his true potential, and trailed in his heat of the 5,000 metres. He duly returned a time of 14:34.6 to place twelfth in that heat.

At the National Championships in 1973, held in Cork for the second year in succession - this time at the Mardyke, John took the 1,500 metre crown. Again he showed great tactical sense and his time of 3:45.9 was good. This was to prove his second and last individual Championship success.

The following year, the European track & field Championships were held in Rome, and John was selected to contest the 1,500 metres. Unfortunately he again did not attain the standard he was so capable of, and duly placed seventh in his heat.

Many will remember John in that very year, at the Cork City Sports. John's performance in the mile was outstanding, and, as the MARATHON magazine headlined the report, he was 'The Star of (the) Cork City Sports'.

That evening in July, John ran the first four minute mile in Ireland for quite some time. It was John's first appearance that Summer at 'home', after taking third place at the American AAU Championships earlier that year. Tony O'Leary set the pace early on, and the quarter was passed in 57.1. Eamonn Coughlan then took over on the second lap. Eamonn himself was looking for a European qualifying time, so the pace was not allowed to slacken, and the half was passed in 1:57.5. Here John drew level with the future World Champion.

At the bell, passed in 2:56.2, the scene was set for a very fast mile. To quite deafening cheers, the Grange man sped around the last lap, and came home in 3:56.3 - easily the fastest mile on grass and surely equal to a sub-3:50 on an artificial surface.


Barbara JOHNSON (Seoul, 1988)

Barbara has a long interest in athletics, going back to the time when she won gold at the U-ll BLOE All-Ireland Chanpionships, in 1973. This was in the high jump. There then followed something of a retirement, until Fr Liam Kelleher resurrected her career.

She was now sixteen, and a year later she showed her true potential, when she won the National under-17 pentathlon. Competing in the North Cork colours, she was still coached by Fr Kelleher. She went to UCC, where she continued her athletics training, and competes successfully at Inter-Varsity level. There were many successful forays at County and Provincial level, and indeed, with the UCC team, at Inter-Varsity Championships in the early and mid Eighties.
At University she also continued with her other main sporting interest - hockey, and indeed played with the UCC team, obviously her fitness for the game was hardly ever in doubt or questioned!

Like the majority of all-round athletes - those that specialize in multi-events that is - she had quite an aptitude for the 400 metre hurdles. It is in this event that all the attributes of a multi-eventer shine forth; strength, agility, power, speed, stamina and technique.

Barbara quickly developed into the best woman quarter hurdler in the country. There followed many successes in this event, among which was the hat trick of wins at the National Championships, from 1987 to 1989 inclusive. By this time it was Billy Oakes who ensured that she kept to training schedules and programmes. Billy himself is a well known sprinter and horizontal jumper. A regular International throughout the 'eighties', Billy is among the best triple jumpers that this Country has seen for many a year.

A regular on the Irish International team, Barbara duly qualified for her first major Championships in 1988. These were the World Athletic Championships, and, that year, Rome were the hosts. Barbara ran in the 400 metre hurdles, clocking 58.72 in her heat. She was also on the 4x400 metre women’s relay team - combining with Michelle Carroll, Patricia Amond and Patricia Walsh. The quartet were eighth in their heat, in a very good clocking of 3:32.56. The following year, Barbara secured the Olympic qualifying standard, at the National Championships, when she crossed the line in 57.93 seconds. That standard had already eluded her on a number of occasions that Summer. She was subsequently nominated as woman athlete of the meet at these National Championships.

Barbara’s consistency and dedication ensured a strong performance in Seoul, and again she ran a great race. She was sixth in her heat of the 400 hurdles in a time of 58.61.

She retained her National title the following year, and, since then, has maintained a high level of fitness. She still competes, and is a regular at Provincial and County Championships, over distances as varied as the 100 metres to the 400 metres. Her level of fitness is very high, and she is still capable of a respectable time over the ’low’ hurdles.


Mike KEOGH (Munich, 1972)


Mike was born in Midleton and he was seven when the family moved to New York. Mike Keogh was one of the outstanding schoolboy athletes in the United States, being invited to the all-star meeting in California.

He ran the fastest three miles by an American first-year University student, with a 13 minutes 33 second clocking. That
same year, he ran the second fastest indoor prep two miler, when returning 9:08.4. This was good enough for a third placing in the Philadelphia Classic, on a tight twelve lap to the mile circuit! Behind him was Donie Walsh, and there were immediate comparisons with a former Manhattan student - Marty Liquori. There followed further successes in the outdoor season. At the Penn Relays, he clocked 9:13.2 for the two miles, and then, in New Jersey, an 8:57.4 timing. Finally, he defeated the cream of American two milers in the Golden West, with 8:54.0 - the fastest prep clocking of the year.

Mike returned to his native Midleton for the first time since emigrating with his parents in 1971. He did not compete then,
but, nonetheless, he had his eyes firmly set on making Ireland's Olympic team the following year. Despite missing much of the season - some five months due to injury - tendon problems - he did clock 8:57.9 for two miles, and 13:33.8 for the extra mile, at the Freedom Games, in Philadelphia, that year. With another winter's training, he believed he was capable of making the Olympic qualifying time, in the 5,000 metres.

In the early Summer season of 1972, he defeated Tom Cryan in a 4:01.7 mile, and then finished sixth in the American Collegiate 5,000 metre Championships, in 13:48.4 - four tenths outside the Olympic standard. However the following week he won the American A.A.U. title, in 13:51.4, and, with his confidence boosted, again ran the '5', securing the necessary 13:46.8 at Portland.

He had realised his life long ambition - that of running for Ireland at the Olympic Games. In his first race in the Irish
singlet in Basle, Switzerland, he spreadeagled the field with a smashing last lap victory, clocking 13:49.6. Three days later he ran a 3:43 for 1,500 metres.

That Summer, he was defeated at the National by John Dooley in the 1,500 metres. The National Championships that year were held in Banteer.

That September Mike toed the line in his heat of the 5,000 metres. He was 5th in a time of 13:57.8.

His dream had become a reality.



Fanahan McSWEENEY (Munich, 1972)

At his best Fanahan was a brilliant athlete, with a turn of speed often reserved for the 400 metre specialists, in the Indoor American circuit. Relaxed and out of competition, he was very much a realist. After his elimination in the semi-final stage of the European Championships, in 1971, he moved up to the 800 metres. Despite a big programme of distance training, he was found wanting in the final 200 metres of the event, but the background stood to him, when he returned to the 400.

A native of Castletownroche, he excelled in his early years as a hurler, and won minor All-Ireland medals with the County. After some novice successes, he burst into the limelight at the Ballyhooly Open Sports, in 1968. That day, he looked every part the future champion, and that was the view of Billy Nestor, himself a keen observer of the sport, and one who knew a thoroughbred when he saw one. That year, he broke the National 220 yard record with a 21.6 clocking - Fanahan had arrived.


Fanahan was to hold Irish National records, at 220 yards, 200 metres, 440 yards, and 400 metres. With John Hartnett having National records from the 1,500 metres up to the 5,000 metres, it must surely be something of a record, that two athletes from the one club could have that many National records. His 400 metre time of 46.3 seconds was, in fact, taken as the record, despite having clocked it for 440 yards. That clocking came in an indoor race, behind Fred Newhouse, a future Olympic multi-medallist, over the quarter and relay, who, that evening, was setting an indoor World record. Fanahan's time was a European record.

A scholarship to McNeese had allowed Fanahan the opportunity to train and compete to a level that was indeed world class. His actual choice of McNeese is a story in itself. The coach there at the time was one Bob Hayes, and when the youthful and impressionable Fanahan was checking the various scholarships on offer, that name rang a very loud bell. Believing him to be the 1964 Olympic 100 metre gold medallist, and among the all-time greats of sprinting, Fanahan's mind was made up, and McNeese it was. It took Fanahan a couple of days to realise the error, and the Bob Hayes he was calling ' coach' was, in fact, his Coach, and not, as he thought, the legendary sprinter.

Whatever of his former capabilities as a coach, Bob Hayes had few peers, and Fanahan quickly settled into something of a celebrity on the indoor circuit. In those years, in the early 'seventies', the sight of an Irishman taking on the best of the South sprinters was something the crowd appreciated very much. The fact that Fred Newhouse was among his main rivals, and that they traded wins, added to the excitement and anticipation of the crowd. Here was a world class white sprinter!
At McNeese, Fanahan was always among the very best athletes. He was the University Most Valuable Athlete on a number of occasions. On the indoor scene, he was tremendously popular, and invariable gave the crowd what they wanted - a victory in a brisk time.

It should be added that there were in fact to be three McSweeney brothers to take up athletic scholarships to American
Universities. Pat and Terry were to follow Fanahan across the Atlantic, and here again the family must have set something of a record!

Yet the indoors could be difficult. The continuous stress of running on a curved banked track took its toll on the body, and injuries were common. Fanahan remembers occasionally returning to his 'dorm' and walking up the flights of stairs backwards, due to these re-occurring leg injuries. The leg injury would remain with him throughout his athletics career, and, indeed beyond, after retirement from the track.

Yet whatever of early injuries, Fanahan burst onto the world scene, as he had done on the senior scene, in Ireland in 1968. At the 1970 World Student Games in Turin, Italy, Fanahan qualified for the semi-final stages. The European indoor championships followed, in Vienna, and there he missed out narrowly on the medals. A bad start did not help, yet it should be remembered that 400 metre running in Europe at the time was at a very high standard.

The 1971 European Championships, in Helsinki, saw yet another good performance, as he reached the semi-final stages of the 400 metres. The following year he secured qualification for the Olympic Games in Munich, and duly took his place in the starting line up for the quarter. Yet by now injury was causing some concern; he was quite capable of a one off world class run, but at major championships, with heats and semi-finals before a final, Fanahan found himself at a disadvantage.

Back in Ireland, Fanahan was a regular throughout the county, at open sports, and at the Cork City Sports. He was never beaten over twelve races at the City Sports, and won the Pat Lynch Memorial Trophy for the hundred yards in 1970, 1971 and 1972, thereby laying claim to that particular artifact. At home, like in the American Indoor scene, he was the King.

At a time, when there were many capable 400 metre runners in Cork, not to mind Ireland - Cashel Riordan, Brendan Mooney, Brendan Crowley, Maurice Power and Mick Dooley, to name a few - Fanahan's supremacy was quite exceptional. The one person he had the greatest respect for was Pat Lynch - the St Finbarr's sprinter who was rather tragically killed in a car crash in the early 'seventies' before his career blossomed to its fullest. Yet even with Brendan O'Regan clocking 10.5 seconds for the hundred metres Fanahan still claimed the spot as premier sprinter in Ireland.

Remembering Fanahan in his sprinting days is to bring back a memory of an athlete that looked every part the world class athlete that he truly was. It was Doctor Pat O'Callaghan who looked upon the Grange/Fermoy athletic clubman as one of the greatest natural talents that this country ever produced. That, coming from one of the all time greats of athletics, does say something of the high regard that anyone who saw Fanahan in full flow holds him.

Retirement followed in the late 'seventies' with the leg still a problem. In subsequent years, Fanahan continues in the form that made him so renowned a figure on the world scene; his battle with illness continues to the present.

[Epilogue: Fanahan McSweeney battled Cancer for several years, and died on July 27th 1995. May he Rest in Peace]


Margaret MURPHY (Munich, 1972)

 margaret murphy

Margaret Murphy 

The outstanding local woman athlete of the late 'sixties' and early 'seventies' was undoubtedly Margaret Murphy, of the Ovens Athletic Club. Her specialities were sprinting and jumping, hurdling and shot putting, but she was a great all-rounder and a quite natural athlete, who took to any event with great enthusiasm and ability.

At the close of 1967 season, she was placed second in the shot, at the All-Ireland Women's Championships, in Clanwilliam, County Tipperary. In 1968, she won the County Championship 220 yards, and was second in the triple jump.

She won the 100 yards at the Cork City Sports, from 1968 to 1972. In 1968, also she won the National shot and triple jump events, was runner-up in the 100 yards and 220 yards, and third in the long jump - quite some achievement. That same year, she also won her first Munster title - the 100 yards. The following year, 1969, she won four gold medals in the County Championships, and six golds in the Munster championships.

At the All-Ireland Championships, she won the long jump, and the triple jump, and was second in the 100 metre hurdles. She also on the County and All-Ireland Pentathlon Championships. In 1970, she won five gold medals in the County Championships, eight in the Munster Championships, won the All-Ireland long jump and 100 metres hurdles, and was second in the shot, 100 metres and pentathlon. In June of that year, she set a new Irish record of 5.56 metres in the long jump.

The following year, 1971, she stretched her long jump to 6.06 metres, at the Banteer sports. She later won the National pentathlon title, and the 100 metres hurdles. She secured selection for her first International, in Spain, as well as competing in the European Championships, in Helsinki. There she qualified for the semi-final of the 100 metres hurdles in spite of injuring her ankle in the heats.

In 1972, she retained her National pentathlon title, and added the long jump and 100 metres hurdles, as well as being runner-up in the high jump, and third in the shot and 100 metres. That year, she competed in Holland, West Germany and London, and in the Olympic Games in Munich. She competed in the high hurdles and pentathlon at these Games. There were two more National titles the following year, before she retired from the sport. Among the many awards she received were Munster Athletics Sports Star in 1970, the Curtin Cup for best all-round athlete at the Cork County Championships, 1969 to 1973, the American Trophy for the best individual performance at the Cork City Sports, in 1971, and the O'Brien Cup for the best all-round athlete at the Munsters, from 1969 to 1972 inclusive.

In addition to her competitive career, Margaret prepared and printed a coaching guide to the then 'new' and innovative high jump technique, that Dick Fosbury initiated at the 1968 Olympics.

The full tally of her awards and International, National, Regional and County successes over the few years certainly singles her out as the top woman athlete of her time, and indeed among the very best woman athletes that this country has seen.



Liam O'BRIEN (Los Angeles, 1984)

liam o brien chapter 6 looking back
Liam O’Brien took up athletics in 1966, with the formation of Midleton AC, achieving a moderate degree of success in his juvenile years. Liam won his first National medal at the first BLOE - then of course called Irish Juvenile athletic board - championships, in 1967. Since then Liam has won a National medal of some description, either individual or team, every year, up to the present time.

The highlights of his juvenile career were winning his first National title, in the under 16 1,000 metre steeplechase, in 1971 and, in the following year, winning the senior boys 2,000 metre steeplechase, at the All-Ireland schools in Santry.

During the years at Thomond College, Liam won the Inter-Varsity 1,500 metres, and finished 3rd to Frank Murphy Junior, of Clonliffe Harriers, in the National senior 800 metre championship, in 1976.

Track and field in Cork at that time was still very much dominated by the Open Sports, with an event held virtually every Sunday. It was in this environment that he served his apprenticeship to the sport, having to graduate out of novice ranks, and work his way down to the scratch mark in all the middle distance events. Here the emphasis was very much on participation and competing, with athletes regularly doubling, or trebling, up for the day. It helped to have sharp elbows and a fast finish to succeed in this environment. Sadly these type of sports have now declined, to the extent that, today, there is no exclusive senior open sports on the athletics calendar.

Liam has figured very prominently in National steeplechase championships since 1978 - not out of the medals any year and securing gold on ten occasions. He was selected for his first senior International in 1977, and has been on most team internationals since then, which include seven West Athletic competitions, and 6 Europa Cups.

The highlight of his track and field career has to be 1984, when he qualified for the Los Angeles Olympics by finishing 4th in the A.A.A.s 3,000 metre steeplechase, in a personal best time of 8:27.24. Here he advanced to the semi-final of the event. It was at this stage that he was also eliminated in the 1987 World Championships in Rome.

Liam’s results in cross-country over the years tend not to match his track performances. In 1973, he won the County novice title, and had to wait until 1989 before he won his only senior title. He had a little more success at Southern Region level, winning the senior provincial title in 1985 and 1986, and dead heating with Tommy Moloney in 1987. His best position in the National inter-clubs championship was 8th, in 1980. He was also a scoring member on the victorious Cork teams that captured the National inter-counties in 1981, 1983 and 1985. He missed the 1984 success due to illness, the only occasion where he had to drop out of a race.

The highlights of Liam’s participation on the road are 45 victories in the Ballycotton Summer Series, 4 victories in the Ballycotton 10, and assisting East Cork AC to two national road relay titles.



Marcus O'SULLIVAN (Los Angeles. 1984, Seoul 1988 & Barcelona 1992)

marcus o sullivan looking back page 80b marcus o sullivan looking back page 80a
(Left) Marcus O’Sullivan (’seventies) tucked in behind Owen FitzGerald of Togher. (Right) The same pair at the 1989 National Championships, with well known coach Der O'Donovan with the stopwatch. In his early running days Marcus diminutive stature was quite a sensation. He has grown in stature in more ways than one over the years

Marcus has, for some years now, been a dominant force on both the domestic and World middle distance scene. A triple World champion, his level of performance over the past decade is such that he ranks among the greats of middle distance running, and he bears comparison, not in an Irish context but on the world stage, for he has long been on the world rankings in his specialities of the 1,500 metres and its imperial equivalent - the mile.

Being somewhat small in stature when younger, he was advised at Colaiste Criost Ri on one occasion 'to sit down, before he did himself an injury'. Early efforts to secure a place on the school's cross-country team was equally greeted with the comment to the effect that cross country could well 'be a little too strenuous for someone his size. Nonetheless Marcus' determination, which would be a constant hallmark of his subsequent career on the track, was already very much in
evidence. His PE teacher, Bernard Martin, was also one who believed in full participation, and as such, Marcus had no other choice than to take part in the athletic programme offered at the school.

Marcus joined Leevale at an early age, where his coach was none other than the great Donie Walsh. It was the former    Olympian who provided the impetus, and was the instigator of one of the great careers in athletics. At the time, Marcus was more of a cross-country runner - indeed there was a run in the World Championships in Longchamps at the time. Donie believed that this 4:06 1,500 runner was a true miler, and not a cross-country man, so the training for that year was geared towards that end. The outcome was a 3:47.6 clocking for the 1,500 metres, at the National seniors, behind Eamonn Coghlan. He did claim a National title that year, when taking the Junior 5,000 metres, beating Brian O'Keeffe and Brian Roche, the pre-race favourites. Scholarship to Villanova followed, as did Marcus' rise to prominence on the international scene. He became an Olympian in 1984, reaching the semi-finals of both the 800 metres and the 1,500 metres, setting new National figures in the former. There followed a silver in the European Indoors and another National record - still standing - in the 800 metres of 1:45.87.

That same year, he was a member of the Irish quartet who 'broke' the World best for the 4X1 mile relay. Eamonn Coghlan, Frank O'Meara and Ray O'Flynn were the others on the team, and Marcus did run the quickest of the four - 3:55.3.
The 1986 European Championships saw a finals placing of sixth in the 1,500 metres as the indoors continued to provide even more successes. Two world championship finals were reached in 1987; the first ever Indoor World 1,500 metre title was secured at Indianapolis, and, later in the year, Marcus placed seventh in the 1,500 metres at the inaugural World Championships in Rome. 1988 was Olympic year and Marcus did better than his first outing at this level - placing eight in the 1,500 metres final in Seoul.

Earlier that season he was a member of the Irish team that won the prestigious New York Ekiden Relay for the Asvcs Cup. His 13:52 time for the 5 kilometre leg ensured that the Irish team were very much to the fore when he passed the baton. The team that day comprised Frank O’Meara, John Treacy, Roy Dooney and John Doherty and with Peter Maher in the Canadian team there was plenty for the Irish spectator to cheer on.

The indoor season of 1988/1989 saw Marcus’ best form to date. He ran a World Indoor record of 3:35.6, at Meadowlands, and started among the favourites for the World Indoor 1,500 metre title, the Championships being held in Budapest, Hungary. He duly obliged, with a great win in a new Championship record of 3:36.64. Marcus regards this performance as the best of his three World Indoor successes. The atmosphere was second to none, and there was a huge Irish contingent present to cheer him on to his second title on the trot.

On the subject of times. Marcus' best for the mile is 3:50.9 - set indoors. This was run in 1988 a year before he ran his
1,500 metre World Indoor record time of 3:35.6. However during his 3:50 mile he passed the 1,500 metre mark in a time which was sub-3:34. The timekeepers neglected to stop the watches though. and so Marcus lost out on an even better World Indoor record time.

A brief flirt with the 5,000 metres saw Marcus reach the final of that event at the 1990 European Championships but he was never really at home with the longer distance. He feels that the days of milers 'moving up' to the ’5’ are long gone, as
specialization has taken over. The degree of training now required to attain world status in these longer events are such that concentration at an early age is required to reach the very top. Yet Marcus’ best for the distance is still a respectable 13:27 clocking.

Last year, he ran a personal best of 3:34.57 for the 1,500 metres in Nice, and also reached the semi-final stages of the 1,500 metres, at Barcelona, his third Olympics, and indeed was most unfortunate not to have made the final. The smallest fraction separated him from this singular achievement.

His appetite for the ’big time’ did not desert him this past indoor season, and at Toronto, at the fourth World Indoor Championships, he again struck gold in his favourite event. Three successes in four attempts at these Championships - at this level - surely singles Marcus out as among the all-time greats of middle distance running.

One could continue at length about Marcus' career, indoors and outdoors, recounting various races, canting or records ana achievements. However suffice to say that Marcus’ standing on the world middle distance stage is at the very highest level; it has been there for some time, and the fact that he is currently running in sub-3:36 times for the 1,500 metres, his speciality, suggests that we will be hearing of further successes and achievements from our internationally renowned athletics’ ambassador. Long may he be a feature of the City Sports, which appears very much to be a third ’home' to this great Corkman.


Sonia O'SULLIVAN (Barcelona, 1992)

On a Friday evening last September, Sonia was crowned the IAAF women's 5,000 metre Grand Prix winner for 1992. Her superb victory in the 5,000 metres, at the Grand Prix final, in Turin, guaranteed her overall victory in this particular event. This was the culmination of a glorious year on the track for the Ballymore/Cobh athlete.

And what a twelve month period it had been. Whatever success she attained before last Summer had been put in the shade by the tremendous achievements on the tracks of Europe. She thrilled us all with gold and silver at the World Student Games, in the Summer of 1991, before settling to further success over the cross country, in the United States, where she was a student at Villanova University.

Sonia is very much a product of the BLOE competitive circuit, having as it were 'come up through the ranks'. Successes at juvenile level were quickly followed by National cross-country championship winning performances, as Sonia quickly developed into an athlete of whom it was felt that great things were in the offering.

Her first medals at Provincial level were won, not in running, but in the walking events. However she quickly added to her tally of Championship medals, and in one memorable season won the National senior, the National junior and the Colleges cross-country Championships. She was on her way.

Scholarship to Villanova followed and, with it, more successes - both indoors and outdoors.

Among the heady achievements of the 1990/91 indoor season was that World Indoor 5.000 metre record, of 15:17.28. Sonia continued to make even greater progress on the track during the following Summer.

Her 1991/1992 winter training was very much in evidence with a superb seventh place at the World cross-country Championships early in Boston. The question then was whether the track fora be as good in the Summer. There was pre-Olympic success at the City Sports and elsewhere in Europe and much was expected of her at the Barcelona Olympic Games.

Sonia did not disappoint her growing legion of fans in Cork City and County. Fourth in the 3,000 metres and a semi-final spot in the 1,500 metres, in her first Olympics, was quite some achievement, although Sonia herself may well have been disappointed, such was her own expectations. Yet the experience of running at these Games will surely stand her in good stead for the future, as she appreciates all the more the very narrow divide between winning gold and being placed.

Her post Olympic success on the tracks of Europe ensured a World ranking among the elite of middle distance runners. Irish records fell in such a torrent that the statistician had difficulty in tabulating the new marks for various distances, from the 1,500 metres to the 5,000 metres inclusive. Her Grand Prix, at the end of the 1992 track season, ensured her a command of the attention of the whole athletics world. At such a young age, there is still obviously much to come; no doubt there will be Olympic and World Championship successes and the odd record!


Donie WALSH (Munich, 1972)

looking back 2 donie walsh
The manner in which Donie Walsh won the Irish marathon Championship in late June, 1972 will always be remembered by those who were fortunate to have been in Athlone on the day. As a result of his winning in 2:15:21.4, he was an immediate and automatic choice for the then forthcoming Olympic Games in Munich. He was also reckoned to be in with a very good chance of a medal.

Donie was by then a graduate of Villanova University. He had earned a very large reputation as a fine athlete on the American Indoor circuit and on the outdoor cross-country scene. There had been many a memorable success in America over these years prior to 1972, and, among the better achievements, was a third place in the National Collegiate 10,000 metres. Donie had also attained a very impressive array of times; 8:40.4 for an Indoor two mile, 13:27 for three miles and 28:52.6 for 10,000 metres.

Yet Donie readily admits that his first year at Villanova was something quite unexpected, as he suffered from 'culture shock'; training was intense and exacting. Yet he maintained the effort, and duly was awarded with the success that hard training yields. There is a memory of the NCAA 6 miler in June 1969, when the temperature reached 85 degrees. Donie remembers passing the three mile stage in 14:35 but has no recollection of the rest of the race, and, in particular, the last six laps!

Donie brought with him a most refreshing attitude towards his running, an attitude he still maintains, and all those that come into his orbit will readily appreciate - his keeness and utter commitment to the athlete and for the sport.

It was back in the mid-'sixties' that Donie first got interested in athletics. He won the half mile at the 'North Mon' school sports, and was subsequently second in the South Munster Colleges 880 yards, and third in the same event at the Munsters.

He initially joined Montenotte AC, where he fell under the guidance of Brian Murphy and Kevin Barry.

In 1966 he set All-Ireland College figures of 14:33 in taking the three miles. He had earlier taken the Munster Colleges three miles in 14:57; the first lap he covered in 66 seconds, and the last in 69.2. What the opposition thought of it one wonders! That year he posted personal bests of 2:02 for the 880, 4:21.7 for the mile, and 14:18 for three miles.

Success in Ireland quickly followed and with it National medals and International 'caps'. In March 1968, he ran for Ireland in the International cross-country in Tunisia, and so set off an International career which remains unparalleled.

Scholarship to Villanova followed, and with it even further successes. At the World Student Games in Turin, in 1970, he finished fourth, in a very good 10,000 metres, before running another personal best for the 5,000 metres. The respective times were 29:31.6 and 14:09.8.

He ran courageously in the 1971 European Championships, in Helsinki, in what still ranks as among the greatest of all duels at this distance. His National Record performance was quite outstanding, as the top medalists broke the 28 minute mark,
which at the time was quite unheard of to run in a Major Championship event. His own time of 28:52.6 was exceptional in the circumstances, as Donie ran his own race, and was not put off by the local hero taking the gold.

That same year, he ran a 10,000 metres in an International in Spain, in 29:34, immediately after completing the seventeen hour journey from Dublin. He also took in the 5,000 metres, and won that too for good measure, in 14:16.6.

In early June, 1972 Donie ran a 10,000 metres in Oregan, in the hope of making the Olympic qualifying standard of 28:50. He returned a time of 28:53.6, and so had to concentrate further on a qualifying standard. On his return home he upped his training, and decided to concentrate on the marathon.

Prior to his Athlone marathon, his most memorable International outing came in Switzerland the month before. Here against the Swiss, he combined with team mate Niall Cusack, to annihilate the opposition before the two came 'home' arm-in-arm a hundred metres ahead of the field.

In Athlone, Donie ran the second fastest time in the World that year for the marathon. He literally scorched away and set a very quick momentum to match the 'scorching heat', as the CORK EXAMINER reported in the review of the race.

He was regarded as being a potential medalist, and as such had many a reporter coming to him in the Olympic Village. On the day of the Olympic marathon Donie felt confident enough to 'blast' away, and set a blistering pace. Unfortunately he was unable to maintain the impetus.

Back in Ireland, there continued an unending line of Championship medals and 'caps', as Donie dominated the cross-country and distance running scene in Ireland. Between 1973 and 1980 he ran in every World cross-country Championship, quite some achievement. He also won the National 10,000 metre title three times in four years - 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974 and 1975 anc was also second in 1972 to John Hartnett.

Over the cross-country courses of Ireland, he was very much the man to beat throughout the 'seventies. He started every County and Regional cross-country Championship as favourite in this decade, and at National level success followed on success.

There was individual gold in 1973, 1974, 1976 and 1978. He also won the inter-county Championship in 1973, and remains among the very few to have won both the inter-county and the inter-club Championship in the one season - 1973/74. Donie was also of course on the three Cork County winning teams in the 'seventies, and also collected quite an array of silvers and bronzes, both for individual and team performances.

As already mentioned, Donie figured on every Irish team at the World cross-country Championships from 1973 until the end of the decade. He was of course on that silver medal winning combination at Limerick, as John Treacy struck individual gold for the second successive year. For Donie, the World silver was the culmination of a lengthy and quite extraordinary career.
He remains among the best ever distance runners that Ireland has seen, and his experience and expertise are now readily given through his coaching with the Leevale Club.


Joe WEST (Helsinki, 1952)

Joe was born and reared in Carrigaline, in the area where he still lives. He was an accomplished all-round sportsman, and starred in athletics, hurling, football and bowling. His interest in athletics came via the 'Pathe News' film clips that were once such a part of the cinema. The sight of Son and Cabrera winning the 1936 and 1948 Olympic marathons attracted the young Joe West to athletics.

He was a member of the Owenabui Athletic Club, and won almost every race, from the half-mile to the marathon, through his initial involvement in the sport in the 'forties'. In 1943, he on the Cork Harrier Championship, and also the Cork senior Cross-Country, which he retained in 1945, and won again in 1947. He led his club to team success in 1945, and in 1951.

That year, he emigrated to England and, joining the Coventry Godiva AC, was equally successful in athletics there. He won several road races, and was a medal winner at Regional and National level, both with his club and Warwickshire. In 1952, he
was invited, by Billy Morton, to run in the AAAU marathon, which was being classed as an Olympic trial. Joe did not hesitate, even if the furthest he had run to date was a fifteen miler. Despite the presence of favourite John Henning, he duly won the title and below the 2:40 standard.

Back in England, he then took in the Polytechnic marathon, run on the Windsor to London course. He enjoyed his run, and beating John Henning again, was eleventh overall in 2:32. Joe was a nember of the two man Irish athletics squad at Helsinki. Joe accompanied Emil Zatopek, the eventual winner, for half the journey. He duly completed the course, deriving great satisfaction in realizing his dream of Olympic competition.

In 1954, he returned home to Carrigaline for good, and joined the Rising Sun Athletic Club. There were to be further successes on the roads. He won the 15 mile Irish Championship, in Killarney, in 1954, and retained it the following year, in New Ross, County Wexford. Before the Killarney race, he was approached by one of the Kerry athletes, who asked that, if Joe was leading coming into the town of Killarney, that he would allow the 'local' man to go through the town first. As it so happened, both had shaken off the rest of the field early on, and Joe granted the request! However, on entering FitzGerald Stadium, where the finish was, Joe accelerated away from his Kerry 'friend', and went on to win the gold medal, and the quite magnificent bronze 'Tailteann' shield for his achievement.

He won the 'marathon' at the City Sports the following year, and, here again, there is another story; the finish was on the track at the 'Dyke, and the athletes, coming from the start at Tivoli, had to run up the Mardyke Walk. Joe passed the entrance, believing it to be further up the 'dyke; he was stopped by a policeman. Donal O'Neill, who told him of his error and, despite the detour, Joe still went onto victory. He was also successful over cross-country, on his return, and won the Cork Senior 1954, helping his club Rising Sun to the team title.

At the present Joe remains very active and is a regular visitor at 'local' athletic meetings.

About Us

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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