BY JOHN WALSHE
JOHN Motherway is a Barryroe native, now domiciled in East Cork, who has given a lifetime of service to the GAA, both at club and county level.
A former county board PRO, he also refereed at the highest level for over 30 years. What a lot of people may be unaware of is that John was also an accomplished marathon runner and was indeed winning category prizes in the over-70 category over the shorter distances up until recently. But it is his exploits at the Boston Marathon all of 40 years ago that we recall here.
On Monday last, that famous marathon took place for the 127th time. Nowadays, travel to overseas marathons is commonplace but it was all so different back in the early 1980s. However, that certainly didn’t deter John and his fellow Aghada GAA man Barry Moran from setting out on what was the experience of a lifetime. John was born in Butlerstown, Barryroe, in 1943 and moved with his late wife Anne to Aghada in the early 1960s where he worked for Kosangas in nearby Whitegate.
‘One day, a fella I knew came in to me and said he was running the Dublin Marathon,’ recalls John. ‘So I said I’d have a go myself, although I had never run on the road but I was fairly fit from refereeing. As I was friends with Barry, I started off with him, even though he nearly killed me.’
The hard training paid off as both crossed the line at that 1981 Dublin City Marathon a second apart, 3:35:27 and 3:35:28. The following year, John had improved to 3:10 but it was a chance remark on a training run that provided the spark which led to Boston.
‘We were out in the middle of nowhere when Barry said he was after reading that the Boston Marathon was the oldest in the world. I said we should do that sometime and he agreed, as we both had relations in Boston,’ John explains.
‘When I got home, I mentioned it to Anne and she said “the sooner ye do that the better, because God only knows if you’ll be running this year or next year”. So the following morning I rang my cousin in Boston and that’s where it all started.’
With the marathon scheduled for April 18th, 1983, Barry and John traveled out a week before. The hype was already in full swing when they arrived and the duo were soon part of it with an interview on the ‘Sound of Erin’ radio show. One of the presenters, John Varian, was from Cork and they were also asked back the Saturday after the marathon when John obliged with a rendition of ‘The Banks.’
‘On the morning of the marathon, we were bussed out to Hopkinton where it begins,’ says John. ‘We were there in a big high school when a fella came along and asked “where are you guys from?” I said we’re from Ireland and he said we were the only fellas with a bit of common sense as we had our ‘street clothes’ on. It was freezing at that time but we were lucky enough with the conditions later on.
‘The crowds were unbelievable,’ he remembers. ‘I suppose the only thing you’d be conscious of is getting carried away and not finishing after going all the way out there.’
Despite a mishap after 20 miles, Barry finished in a time of 3:10:14. John wasn’t too far behind, crossing the line in an official 3:28:10. He had an extra incentive over the final few yards, as he explains: ‘I was coming down and could see the line when there was an announcement that there were two minutes left for official finishers, you’d get no medal if you didn’t break 3:30.’
As he looks forward to his 80th birthday in June, John is still an integral part of his adopted club, looking after the three pitches they now possess while his weekly live lotto draw on Facebook has gained legendary status.
With a recall that’s as clear as if it was yesterday, it’s with a mixture of nostalgia and gratitude that he looks back to that eventful trip four decades ago.
‘I suppose the great thing is that we stayed together over there with my cousin, it was like home from home. And it all happened totally by accident; I didn’t even know there was a marathon in Boston.’
However, as his friend Barry states, all the credit must go to John’s late wife, Anne.
‘We wouldn’t have gone only for her. She said “if ye want to go, go now’.” And be mindful, she had four small kids at that stage and to tell her husband to go away and run the Boston Marathon was a fair thing to say,’ adds Barry.