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Grange International Cross-Country of 1980 Recalled 40 Years On - Guest Article by John Walshe


 grange international cross country 1980Gerry Deegan wins Grange International Cross-Country 1980

This article, by John Walshe, appeared in The Echo, on Wednesday January 22nd 2020

During a glorious decade from the mid-1970s onwards, the north Cork town of Fermoy played host to an array of world class athletes, who displayed their talents before an enthusiastic and appreciative attendance.  

The idea of the Fermoy International Cross-Country came from Tom Burke, then secretary of the Grange Athletic Club (now known as Grange-Fermoy). Like a lot of similar brainwaves - some of which never come to fruition - it reputably came about in the early hours of the morning, after the club’s annual dinner-dance.

The first race, in January 1976, saw Andy Holden of Tipton Harriers take the honours. Holden, who tragically passed away in 2014 after a long illness, had competed in the steeplechase at the Munich Olympics, the same year he set a British record of 8:26.4 for the event.

The following year of 1977, on a day of strong winds and heavy rain, Bernie Ford from Aldershot (who finished eight in the 1976 Olympic 10,000m, and would go on to run 27:43.74 later that year) maintained the British dominance. In 1978 it was another British star of that era, Brendan Foster, who thrilled the crowds. Foster would later that summer run 27:30.3 for 10,000m.

Another outstanding athlete who hailed from the same North-East athletics hotbed was Mike McLeod, and he maintained the British dominance when winning in 1979, which meant that an Irishman had yet to taste success around the fields of Fermoy. But 40 years ago this weekend, on Sunday January 27, 1980, the long awaited home victory was finally achieved by Gerry Deegan, from Waterford.

gerry deegan waterford ac
Gerry Deegan

The Deice man first took up athletics when he was aged 10. At that time there was a good crop of young athletes in the county, including John and Ray Treacy, along with Tony Ryan, and a few years later, Brendan Quinn. In 1977, when he was just 21, Deegan won the first of five national senior cross-country titles, at Ennis. He finished an impressive 21st that spring, at the World Championships in Düsseldorf, and then followed the route of Treacy, by taking up an athletics scholarship at Providence College, although he only spent two years in America.

Improving his World Cross-Country placing to 14th, behind John Treacy’s first world title, in the mud of Glasgow, he was the third scorer a year later, on that historic day, at Limerick, in 1979, when Ireland took the silver medals.  

In between, Deegan scored a rare victory over his county-man, when coming with a late surge to win the IAC Invitational C-C ,at Crystal Palace, in December 1978. Over the 8580m twisting course, he was just a second ahead of Treacy, with future world marathon record holder, Steve Jones, another second back in third.

The Grange International of 1980 wasn’t the only major event to take place that winter, on the lands of Patrick Coughlan, just outside the town on the old Dublin road. A month before, the BLE Inter-Counties moved there from its previous Waterford venue of Kilbarry, as John Treacy easily led his county to another title, when finishing 45 seconds clear of Deegan, with local Ballyhooly-man John Hartnett in third.  

Deegan proved he was clearly coming into top shape when, on January 13th, he added his name to a prestigious roll-of-honour, with a convincing victory at the Quinlan Cup in Tullamore. In what was undoubtedly Ireland’s top road race of the time, the Waterford man beat a classy field, including Neil Cusack, John O’Toole, Paddy Murphy and Roy Dooney, over the 12km distance.  

Deegan had been troubled with a knee injury in the weeks leading up to the Grange International, but showed no ill-affects as he spread-eagled the field, after the opening half-mile. Reigning European Junior 5000m champion Steve Binns – he had also set a world junior best of 13:27.04 the previous year – led the chasing group, but couldn’t regain contact, although he closed slightly, to finish nine seconds behind the Waterford man’s winning time of 31:21, for the six miles.

Dave Black, with a 10,000m best time 27:36.27, took third spot in 31:40. John Hartnett gave the crowd plenty to shout about when taking fourth, ahead of Danny McDaid, one of the heroes of the Irish team at the previous year’s World Cross-Country.

Marc Smet from Belgium, winner of the Berchem Marathon the previous September, in 2:10:00, could only manage 11th, just ahead of Jerry Kiernan, with Leevale’s Donie Walsh in 17th. The Limerick team of Robert Costelloe (6th), Pat O’Callaghan (18th) and Ritchie Clifford (31st) took the team award with 55 points, three ahead of Clonliffe. Grange finished third on 68 points, with Hartnett backed up by Billy Bolster (29th) and Gerry Murphy (35th).  

Although somewhat overshadowed by the men’s spectacular, the women’s race, over two-and-a-half miles, saw an impressive victory by Vera Duffy. The Glaslough athlete finished nine seconds clear of British international Paula Fudge, with Eithne Kenny (DCH) in third. Fionnuala Morrish of Leevale, in her first race of the season, did well to finish fourth, with two more Cork athletes, Marion Lyons (St Finbarr’s) and Valerie O’Mahony (Togher), fifth and sixth.  

In 1981, Deegan had to settle for second, behind Hans-Jurgen Orthmann, from West Germany, and it was another Irishman, Limerick’s Frank O’Mara, who brought the Fermoy International Cross-Country to a close, when winning the final race in 1987.

The period that brought a galaxy of stars to the North Cork town was therefore at an end. It was an era that is still fondly recalled by those who were fortunate enough to be part of what was truly an international feast of world-class athletics.

Other Guest Articles by John Walshe

Youghal AC's London Emer Casey 10k Exploits


30 Years Ago - Liam O'Brien Wins Cork County Senior Cross-Country Championship


50 Years Ago - When John Buckley Beat The Olympic Champion


40 Years Ago - Jerry Murphy Wins Munster Marathon Championship


Aoife Cooke Runs 55:17 in Mallow 10 2019


Munster Cross-Country of 1989


Steeplechase Legends Meet at Antrim International


Aidan Hogan - Ultra-Athlete




Cork to Cobh 40 Years Ago


Unique National Double for McGraths


Dick Hooper Speaks at St Finbarrs AC Function



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