Sport

Con marks ascent into over-80s ranks in style

March 7th, 2023 10:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

Con O'Donovan of Bandon AC has been in terrific form this year.

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BY JOHNNY CAROLAN

CON O’Donovan’s first prize for athletic pursuits came at the age of 13 in 1956 and he’s still going strong at the age of 80.

Already this year, the Newcestown resident – ‘A Ballineen blow-in since 1979!’ he laughs – won gold in the 60m, 200m and shot put in the masters category at the Munster indoor championships in Nenagh and then came first in the 60m and 200m in the national indoors in Athlone.

Then, at the British Masters Championships in Sheffield, Con set new personal bests in the 60m and 200m, breaking the Irish over-80 records in each as he earned bronze and silver respectively.

It’s a far cry from his first victory as a teenager, the obstacle race at Murragh Sports in September 1956.

‘I won a tyre for a man’s bicycle,’ he says, ‘and I sold it the next morning for five bob!

‘I won again the next year and this time the prize was a jam dish and spoon, which I still have.’

After that, he played GAA wherever his teaching career took him, winning medals in Dublin and closer to home with Cobh and Nemo Rangers. His appointment as principal in Newcestown in 1979 saw him don the famous red and gold.

‘I played hurling and football until I was 44,’ he says, ‘and the following year, after I retired, I took up running with Rising Sun AC.

‘Rising Sun folded last December, so I joined Bandon then and this is my first year with them.

‘It was mostly running – the 100, 200 and 400 and I used to do the long jump, too. When I was 55, I won the same five events, those four and the triple jump, in the Cork, Munster and All-Ireland championships.

‘I never had a weight problem, I was always around ten and a half stone, and I always had natural speed.

‘I was hoping to break the ten-second mark for the 60m, but I was slightly over it. I do the shot put two or three times a year, almost just for the sake of it.

‘If you only do three events, you’d be hanging around for a long time. I do the javelin and discus too sometimes.’

Perhaps there’s something in the water in Con’s home townland of Knockaneady in Ballineen, as it’s also where the Healy sisters, Joan and Phil, and Cork camogie star Orla Cronin came from.

Age hasn’t dulled Con’s appetite for competition, nor did a bout of cancer. However, better training facilities and more events would certainly be welcome.

‘This time ten years ago, I was suffering from cancer and it took me two years to get back properly, to build up my muscles.

‘I was lucky to get over it, but I was determined to get back.

‘During the winter months, October to March or so, I go to the gym twice a week and get out for a run as well.

‘From April onwards, it’s all running, on grass or the track, three times a week.

‘Generally I’d do the track work at MTU, but I think they’re digging it up at the moment.

‘I was talking to the fellas at the British indoors when I was over. I’ve only five events in the whole year, whereas they have leagues. As well as that, they have top indoor facilities and I’ve nowhere indoor during the winter.

‘I’d be as good as any of them if there was somewhere indoors I could train. A county the size of Cork should have an indoor track that everybody could use.

‘You wouldn’t even have to be competing, but just to have somewhere that could be enjoyed.’

Later this year, the county championships await, along with the outdoor Munster and national championships. Beyond that, he’ll see.

‘This year might be the last!’ he laughs.

‘A lot of the fellas I used to race with are retired or dead! Years ago, we used to go on minibuses to different outings and it was good old fun. Travelling on my own now isn’t the same at all.

‘I’m very competitive though and I still enjoy that aspect.’

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