Cork Athletics on Vimeo
Cork Athletics on Flickr
Cork Athletics on Instagram
Cork Athletics on Facebook
Cork Athletics on Twitter

30 Years Ago - Liam O'Brien Wins Cork County Senior Cross-Country Championship – Guest Article by John Walshe


Guest Article by John Walshe

 This article, by John Walshe appeared in The Echo, on Thursday October 10th 2019


liam o brien a

 Liam O'Brien of East Cork AC winning his first Cork County BLE Senior Cross-Country title at Dunmanway
Photo: Denis Minihane (Cork Examiner)


This coming Sunday at Carrigadrohid, near Macroom, Tim O’Donoghue will be hoping to retain the Cork County Senior Cross-Country crown he won so convincingly last year, at Carraig na bhFear.

His victory, 12 months ago, was the first by a member of the East Cork club since Donnacha O’Mahony won the last of his six titles, in 2003. Before that, you have to go back another six years to find the previous winner in the maroon colours, that being Garrett Barry in 1997.

It may come as a surprise to many to realise that the club’s most decorated athlete, who reigned supreme during the 1980s and 90s, has just one solitary Cork senior cross-country title to his name, and that came 30 years ago this winter.

They say good things come to those who wait, but for Liam O’Brien that wait lasted the best part of 10 years. Although somewhat underrated on a national scale, amongst his fellow athletes, the Ballinacurra native is regarded as one of the country’s most versatile and successful runners of his era.

Take any distance, from 400m on the track to 15 miles on the road, and O’Brien figures amongst the top finishers. With personal best ranging from a four-minute-mile (4:00.80) to 47:57 for 10 miles, very few could challenge him.

His greatest moment came in 1984, when he reached the semi-final of the 3000m steeplechase at the Los Angeles Olympics. That summer, to qualify, he achieved an Irish record of 8:27.24, at the Crystal Palace meet in London. Thirty-five years later, it’s still the second fastest on the Irish all-time list.

But it wasn’t for lack of effort that he failed to win the coveted Cork crown over the country, as, during the eight years from 1981 to 1988, he finished second on five occasions, and third in the other three.

The man who spoilt the show in seven of those championships was Tony O’Leary of Leevale. The other winner, in 1987, was Richard O’Flynn from Bandon. On that occasion O’Brien did finish ahead of the Leevale man, when taking silver.

Looking back on those years, O’Brien agrees that O’Leary was his main obstacle: “Yes, Tony was the main man; he was a better cross-country than me. Also, at that time of year I would have to work very hard, as my main focus was track and field. The form at cross-country wouldn’t be as good as I’d like.

“There was also one year I remember I was running a cross-country race in the UK, on a Saturday, and came back that night and turned out in the county the following day.”

And so, on to 1989, at Dunmanway, where the championships were decided over five flat laps that made up the 10km. O’Brien’s clubmate Tom Owens led a 10-man bunch through the first lap, and then another East Cork man, Bryan Meade, took over on the second circuit.

Leonard O’Regan of Leevale, back from scholarship at Louisiana State University, was second at this stage with O’Brien on his shoulder. Going into the penultimate lap, it was down to a two-man race. Although O’Regan tried on several occasions to get away, it came down to a sprint finish where there was only going to be one outcome – victory for the East Cork athlete by a margin of four seconds.

“Yes, it was a hard-earned victory, at that time of year I would always have to work hard,” O’Brien recalls. For good measure, East Cork easily won the six to score team award, with O’Brien backed up by John Kearney (third), Bryan Meade (fifth), Donnacha O’Mahony (seventh), Tom Owens (ninth) and Jerry Wallace (13th).

“Winning the county team title is one of the rare occasions, where in an individual sport the team title supersedes the individual title,” adds O’Brien, giving an indication of maybe where his priorities lay.

Although he would go on to add three more national steeplechase victories to the eight he had already won - plus a national masters cross-country title – the was one other local victory that is etched in the mind.  

On a chilly July evening in 1991, the Cork City Sports took place at the Mardyke. There wasn’t much to cheer about for the home fans until the final event of the night, the 5000m. This featured a number of top British runners along with most of the best of the Irish, including 36-year-old O’Brien.

As the large field was whittled down, just three contenders remained – O’Brien, the US based Noel Berkeley, and Noel Richardson from Limerick. As the pace increased and the lap times came down from 67 to 64, O’Brien bided his time, until the finishing straight, before outsprinting Berkeley to cross the line to a tumultuous reception.

The time of 13:52.72 may have been over 16 seconds outside his best of 13:36.19, achieved at the same venue four years before, but then, for Liam O’Brien, times never took on any real significance.

On almost every occasion, it was all about the win.

Addendum by Cork Athletics

liam o brien cork city sportsLiam O'Brien Technical Director of Cork City Sports International Athletics Meet

These days Liam O'Brien is still deeply immersed in the sport he loves so much; apart from being he driving force behind East Cork AC, Liam is Technical Director of Cork City Sports International Athletics Meet, and is passionate about schools athletics, where he is equally heavily involved. What does he do in his 'free time' ...if he finds any!! He is a keen orienteer and has competed abroad, including Sweden, where he makes an annual pilgrimage!

Related Articles


Liam O'Brien and The Ballyandreen 5 - Cork Athletics


Steeplechase Legends Meet at Antrim International



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.
Copyright © Cork Athletics 2001-2022. All rights reserved.    Website by: Déise Design