Phil Healy is the pin-up of Irish athletics right now but her home club, Bandon AC, also deserves to make the headlines as it continues to produce top-class athletes, as KIERAN McCARTHY explains
PHIL Healy might be Ireland’s fastest-ever woman but she has some way to go before matching the achievements of Bandon Athletic Club legend Tadhg Twomey.
He was the club’s first national record holder long before Healy was born.
‘Tadhg held records for the 56lbs throw over-the-bar and distance,’ Bandon AC President Billy Good explains.
‘He didn’t hold those records at the same time but his career spanned 20 years, and he was a member of the club from 1966 until he finished competing in 1982.
‘He won 34 national titles in total.’
But Twomey still wasn’t Bandon AC’s first national champion, Good adds. That was Michael Keane in the 60-yard dash, the first of two titles arriving in 1964, the year the club was founded. Keane was an agricultural student at Darrara College and left his mark on the athletics field too.
Distance runner Breda Dennehy was the club’s first and only Olympian at Sydney 2000, and Richard O’Flynn from Courtmacsherry was a regular at the world senior cross-country championships.
This is a club that has produced numerous international calibre athletes, with Ballineen sisters Phil and Joan Healy the latest. They’re competing at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin this week but they learned their trade with Bandon AC.
‘It motivates the younger kids when they see what they’ve achieved,’ Good says, ‘They aspire to do what they do.’
These days Phil Healy holds the Irish senior women’s 100m and 200m national records but she wasn’t a superstar in her younger days.
‘She didn’t blossom until she was 16 or 17, which was the right way,’ he says.
‘We saw she had potential and we put her down as a 400m runner and that’s what’s happening now. We’re delighted to see her blossom.
‘We can only bring them so far.’
It was Bandon AC coach Liz Coomey that set Phil on the path to success, and the coaches are one of the reasons that this club is the eighth biggest in the country with a steady stream of medals arriving in the West Cork town.
As well as Phil (gold in 200m) and Joan (silver in 100m) at the national track and field championships in Dublin lately, Laura McSweeney won bronze in the 28lb weight for distance, Shane Howard won bronze in the long jump and Roisin Howard won bronze in the shot putt – that’s five national medals for five Bandon athletes.
Diarmuid O’Connor (400m hurdles) and Scott Gibson (200m) also competed for the club.
Looking at the recent national juvenile championships held in Tullamore last month, Nicola Tuthill won gold in the U16 hammer, Jack Cullen finished first in the U15 javelin, Lauren McCourt brought home silver in the U17 400m, Gavin Kenny won gold in the 200m steeplechase and Fionn Harrington won bronze here, while Laura Nicholson was victorious in the U19 girls’ 3000m.
Aoife Tuthill, Tristan Chambers, Dylan Chambers and Naoise Ó Flaitheartaigh all competed too.
This is a club going places.
‘Overall, at the end of July we have 564 members,’ club president Good points out.
‘We had over 600 members last year and we’re on course to better that figure this year.
‘We’re the eighth biggest athletics club in Ireland.
‘We are the third biggest juvenile club in the country with 439 members registered, just behind Craughwell AC in Galway (477) and Tir Chonaill AC in Donegal (441).’
There is even a waiting list to join the club’s juvenile section. The entrance age is seven years old and when some kids are three or four years old, their parents put their names on the waiting list. They can see the benefits of being involved with Bandon AC.
To run a club of this size, good coaches are key, and Bandon have been lucky in that sense. Liz Coomey, Ann Kelly-Crowley, Susan McCourt, Darren Crowley, John Donovan, Ronnie Barry, Leo O’Flynn and Cosmas de Burca are just some of the coaches who are helping Bandon AC more forward.
‘We put a coaching structure in place years ago by sending coaches who want to learn to all different coaching courses. We have coaches of all levels,’ Good explains.
‘Unfortunately, we lost our head coach last year, Catherine Duggan, who passed away, and there is a huge void since her passing. She was a great influence on the young members.’
Good also feels it’s important that well-known former athletes get involved in coaching too, to give something back to the club which gives great service to the locality.
‘One of our strong points is that we have always had a good relationship with the community because we are a community club,’ Good says, pointing out that they draw athletes from a good radius around Bandon – including Newcestown, Ballineen-Enniskeane, Ahiohill, Kilbrittain, Timoleague, Clonakilty, Innishannon and Crossbarry.
Thousands of kids have come through the ranks at Bandon AC over the years, a lot going on to the town’s GAA, rugby, soccer and hockey teams.
‘With volunteering, we are at the stage where it is difficult to attract volunteers, and that’s not just athletics, that’s all sports,’ Good adds.
‘I’m not sure the next generation will take on volunteering with the same passion and enjoyment as my generation did. It’s a different society we live in now.’
That’s one of Good’s concerns, as is the lack of an Athletics Ireland development officer just for the county of Cork. A regional development officer does look after Cork along with Kerry and Limerick, but Good feels, given its large numbers, Cork needs extra attention.
‘Cork, as a county, will be approaching 8,000 members at the end of the year,’ he points out.
‘There are 56 clubs in Cork, a lot are social and fun runners, but we have no development officer and we are relying on the regional development officer as appointed by Athletics Ireland. That development officer must cover a couple of counties.
‘Cork needs its own development officer. You have two very vibrant divisions in the county, West Cork and East Cork. This is where the youngsters are nurtured. It’s important we get it right at that age.’