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40 Years Ago - Jerry Murphy Wins Munster Marathon Championship – Guest Article by John Walshe

Jerry Murphy, Leevale AC, wins 1979 Munster Marathon Championship


This article, by John Walshe appeared in The Echo, on May 11th 2019


jerry murphy photo john walshe
Jerry Murphy, Leevale AC, pictured with his commemorative piece on the 1980 New York Marathon - Photo: John Walshe


There is no doubt that only a tiny percentage of runners experience the elation of crossing the line in first place in a marathon. To win on your birthday then is a much rarer occurrence, but one such man who did so 40 years ago this weekend is Jerry Murphy from Douglas.

The occasion was the Munster Championship, which took place from the town of Rathkeale, in Co Limerick, on Sunday May 13, 1979. Four decades ago marathons, indeed road races in general, were a long way from what we know today.

A field of 30 to 40 runners was considered a good turnout, and, in all probability, you could have entered that Championship on the day for an entry fee of maybe 50 pence – a long way from the €65-€75 that is be asked of nowadays.  

A Munster marathon had been held intermittently during the 1970s, and Murphy already had one victory under his belt, along with a best time of 2:24:33, achieved when finishing sixth in the Irish (BLE) National Marathon, in Galway four years before.

Promoted by the Southern Region Council, and held in glorious sunshine, the course in Rathkeale was typical of the day, in that it was simply 13 miles out and back. The outward journey was into a fresh headwind and amongst the leading group were two Limerick men, Neil Cusack (Boston Marathon winner of 1974) and Robert Costelloe. However, both were using the race as a training run and would make their exit at halfway.

The early leader was Paul Mulholland, from Midleton AC, who reached five miles in 28:35, just ahead of Davie Browne, from Waterford. Mulholland had run 2:33:59 two years before at the BLE Marathon, in Loughrea, and was the pioneer of marathon running in the east Cork region.

At 11 miles, Mulholland began to drop back. This left Murphy, and his Leevale team-mate Liam Horgan, in control. In any race there comes a moment where the contest is won or lost and, 40 years on, Murphy still recalls where the decisive point came that day: “At 17 miles, Liam started really pushing the pace. At around the 19 mile mark, I turned to him to say I wasn’t feeling great and to go ahead. When I turned, he looked straight at me and said ‘Jerry, continue on and I’ll try and follow’.”

At the finish, Murphy’s winning margin was almost three minutes, as he not alone celebrated victory but also his 29th birthday, in style, crossing the line in a time of 2:28:47. Horgan – who sadly passed away in 2013 after a lifetime of Leevale service - survived an attack of cramp to hold on for second in 2:31:44 with Mayo-man Michael Joyce taking third, in 2:39:16, in front of his St Finbarr’s colleague Flor O’Leary (2:40:17).

Willie Hayes, then of Reenavanna Harriers, but a ‘Barr’s man now for many years, finished fifth in 2:40:23, ahead  of Gerry Walsh, from the Doheny club in Dunmanway (2:44:27).

The following year, Murphy, Joyce and Hayes travelled to New York for one of the first marathons to take place around the five boroughs of the Big Apple. With all three wearing Discover Ireland singlets, Murphy finished in a time of 2:31:44 with Hayes close behind on 2:31:58 and Joyce – a well-known Cork solicitor these days - recording a personal best of 2:38:05.

“It was after that New York Marathon I feel my problems began,” Murphy recalls. “I didn’t realise at the time but I had diabetes, and it wasn’t discovered until 20 years later. I was also unaware at the time that I was celiac as well.”

A mainstay of many a winning Leevale cross-country team, he also has the unique distinction of having competed in over 30 Cork senior championships over the country.

With both Leevale and St Finbarr’s having two runners in the top four, the Munster team race came down to the third scorer, and although Donal Burke’s 13th place gave the ‘Barr’s 20 points, John O’Leary, in 15th spot, gave Leevale the title, by a margin of just two points.

Although no veterans (or masters, as they are called nowadays) were acknowledged, O’Leary would have qualified at the time as he had turned 40 the previous December. Remarkably, then, that four decades later the near-neighbour of Jerry Murphy is still competing - 10 days ago he returned a time of just over 42 minutes for five miles at the Midleton 5.

He too vividly recalls that warm Sunday around the roads of Rathkeale, in what was his second marathon: “I knocked around 35 minutes off of my first. I remember it was a boiling hot day and I was wearing a cap from the sun, and it blew of after a few miles. There were two or three of us together and I wouldn’t stop but didn’t one of them go back and pick it up, a lovely fellow whoever he was.”  

Just 22 runners, all men, finished that day. Although there was speculation that Jean Folan - one of the pioneering Irishwomen at the marathon distance, and who would win the Ballycotton ’10’ the following March – was going to run, it was not to be.

Of course that year of 1980 all things utterly changed with the first running of the Dublin City Marathon and long distance running would no longer be a solitary male pursuit carried out on the lonely Irish roads.

Results of 1979 Munster Marathon


1 J Murphy Leevale 2:28:47
2 L Horgan Leevale 2:31:44
3 M Joyce St Finbarrs 2:39:16
4 F O'Leary St Finbarrs 2:40:17
5 W Hayes Reenavanna 2:40:23
6 G Walsh Doheny 2:44:27
7 G Ryan Premier 2:48:11
8 J Carroll Tipperary Town 2:49:58
9 P O'Regan Limerick 2:50:55
10 S O'Toole Premier 2:55:55
11 P Carmody St Johns 2:56:08
12 J Walshe Midleton 2:57:45
13 D Burke St Finbarrs 2:58:35
14 M Minogue Tulla 3:01:12
15 J O'Leary Leevale 3:02:15



Other Guest Articles by John Walshe


50 Years Ago - When John Buckley Beat The Olympic Champion – Guest Article by John Walshe


Munster Cross-Country of 1989 – Guest Article by John Walshe


Steeplechase Legends Meet at Antrim International – Guest Article by John Walshe


Aidan Hogan - Ultra-Athlete – Guest Article by John Walshe


RUNNING FOR BETTER – Guest Article by John Walshe


Cork to Cobh 40 Years Ago - Guest Article by John Walshe


Unique National Double for McGraths - Guest Article by John Walshe


Dick Hooper Speaks at St Finbarrs AC Function - Guest Article by John Walshe




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