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Cork Cross-Country of 1980 - Guest Article by John Walshe

Cork County Senior Cross-Country Championship 1980

 This article, by John Walshe, appeared in The Echo, on Monday November 30th 2020


richie crowley county senior xc champion 1980

Richie Crowley, celebrates his win


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(by John Walshe, The Echo, Monday 30/11/2020)


richie crowley cork athletics awards night 2019

Richie Crowley at Cork Athletics International Awards Night 2020, where the members of Cork's winning 1968 National XC Championhip team were honoured.

The Cork senior cross-country championship is usually the highlight of the winter season. Like most other events, this year it too has fallen victim of the many cancellations but hopefully it will go ahead after Christmas if current restrictions are eased.

To win the senior men’s race has never been easy, none more so than during the 1970s. The first nine years of that decade had seen Olympians Donie Walsh and John Hartnett claim seven titles between them, with the other two going to Ray Treacy.

One man who was always there or thereabouts during those years was Richard Crowley of St Finbarr’s, having been runner-up on three occasions along with two third place finishes.

But 40 years ago, on the last Sunday of November 1980, in dry and firm conditions at Clonakilty, the Blarney-man’s day finally came when he took the coveted title for the first time.

The absence of Leevale’s Walsh and Treacy made Crowley’s task somewhat easier but he still had to contend with some of the county’s top cross-country exponents of the day.

Along with Tony O’Leary (Leevale), Billy Bolster (Avondhu) and Liam O’Brien (Imokilly), Crowley was in the leading bunch from the start which was led by another Leevale athlete, Mick Lawton, a native of nearby Courtmacsherry.

With a mile-and-a-half of the 12km course left to run, Crowley made his move on a hill. He slowly pulled away to finish an untroubled winner having around 80 metres in hand over O’Leary with Lawton third and Pat Whyte (Imokilly) fourth.

Sean O’Flynn (fifth), Mick Walsh (seventh), Gene Mealy (10th) and Jerry Murphy (13th) provided the backing for O’Leary and Lawton to ensue the team award for Leevale as Crowley led St Finbarr’s to the silver medals.

A few years ago Crowley was the recipient of a Hall of Fame Award bestowed on him by his St Finbarr’s club. On that occasion he recalled his early days in the sport and growing up in Blarney. “The first time I ever ran was in the Blarney Sports as an U14, I remember standing on a peg with no shoes on and cutting my leg, I’ll never forget it.

“A neighbour of mine, Tim Crowley, who was a good cyclist, then asked me if I’d go to a local cross-country league on a Saturday. There were around 20 in the youths race and I came third behind George O’Riordan, who went on to play football for Cork, with Pat O’Connell in third.”

Richard Crowley would go on to represent Ireland on three occasions at the International (now World) Cross-Country Championships, at San Sebastian in Spain in 1971, at Ghent in Belgium in 1973 and at Chepstow in Wales in 1976.

He also ran for his country on the track and on the road and has the unique distinction of being the only runner to win three of the most iconic road races in the country – the Quinlan Cup at Tullamore, the 15-mile Cork to Cobh and the Ballycotton ‘10’.

Of his many victories over all surfaces, that Quinlan Cup victory still stands out as the most memorable. Winners at Tullamore over the years include the likes of Eamonn Coghlan, John Treacy, Ray Treacy and John Hartnett, and Crowley’s turn came in 1971.

“The first year I went to Tullamore, I finished 56th. I was 21st the following year, followed by a fifth in 1970, and then I won it. After that, I finished second, third and so on until I got out of the top half-dozen.”

Crowley never had a coach - “we learned as we went along” - and despite a busy working life as a commercial traveller he still managed to train 10 times a week.

“We trained as a group but I feel we didn’t do enough of speed work. I had a lot of trouble with my Achilles tendon so it was a case of run lively and be happy with it or else do speed work and get injured.”

For the record, the other winners at Clonakily that day four decades ago were Fionnuala Morrish of Leevale who led from the start to take the women’s 5km ahead of Valerie O’Mahony (Togher) with Catherine Hourihan in third leading St Finbarr’s to team honours.

Richard O’Flynn of the Bandon club, winner of the county novice the previous month, passed early leader Kieran Stack (St Finbarr’s) with a mile to go to add the junior 7.5km title with Leonard O’Regan (Leevale) in third.

It what was a good day all-round for the St Finbarr’s club, they also took the team honours to add to the women’s victory and to Crowley’s one and only historic senior crown. 

Other Guest Articles by John Walshe


Cork Marathon Magic in 1986 as Marion Lyons Wins - Guest Article by John Walshe

The 1985 Cork 800 Marathon - Guest Article by John Walshe

Tullamore Man Won First Cork Marathon - Guest Article by John Walshe

Pioneering Women of Cross-Country - Guest Article by John Walshe


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


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Munster Cross-Country of 1989


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Cork to Cobh 40 Years Ago


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Dick Hooper Speaks at St Finbarrs AC Function



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