Skibbereen man Donal Murnane is PRO of the popular Cork City Sports
BY MARTIN WALSH
NEXT Wednesday evening’s 68th running of the BAM Cork City Sports at the Cork IT Stadium is another exciting chapter of an event that has rekindled its status as a premier meet on the domestic and international athletics calendar.
Replicating the atmosphere from its halcyon days at the Mardyke hasn’t been an overnight transition however, but because of its amenities and location, CIT has become a true centre of athletics and home for this popular annual meet.
On his annual fortnight of relaxation in Baltimore, Skibbereen native Donal Murnane, PRO of the Cork City Sports, spoke about how his role developed and looks at aspects of a sport that is on an upward trajectory once more.
‘I was involved in athletics for a number of years in Cork with Leevale Athletic Club and they had a strong tradition with the Cork City Sports over the years and I got roped in on that basis,’ Murnane explained.
‘Initially, it was to help the committee in organising the event but then I took on the technical aspect of the promotion of the event, particularly the televising of it and getting it streamed and getting it out to the world.’
So what was the baseline?
‘For a long time Cork City Sports wasn’t on TV and wasn’t visible anywhere to anybody that didn’t come to the meet. We changed that around about seven years ago and it’s made a big difference,’ he explained.
From the peace and solitude of his retreat in Baltimore, Murnane explained the transition.
‘Athletics gets very poor coverage in Ireland so we decided the best thing to do was bypass it (TV) and stream it. We had an external outside broadcasting (OB) company come in and capture it for us and we streamed it on YouTube and we were surprised with the amount of people that watched it and the hits it was getting from all over the world.’
Ironically, discussions followed that subsequently led to a deal with TG4 to cover the meet, even though the live streaming remains an integral part.
‘It’s an international event as well as being a domestic event, we have athletes coming from all over the world and it’s important that their friends, families and clubs can watch it.’
Yet, in typical Cork fashion, the ‘one of our own’ syndrome is important.
‘Yes, everybody wants to see the home athletes and I think we have been very fortunate over the last few years to have home athletes that have performed at very high levels like Phil Healy (who set a new national 200m record at the venue last year) and she was able to do that because she was running in a strong international field,’ Murnane added.
The Mardyke Arena has a very long history with sports – athletics and GAA but the UCC campus expansion changed that dynamic. Atmosphere is key to athletic events and Murnane assesses the move from the Mardyke.
‘It’s taken a bit of time to develop the atmosphere in CIT because it is a different type of venue completely,’ he said.
‘CIT has put a big investment into facilities, they upgraded the track and stand. Access to CIT is fantastic as is the organisation, everything we ask for they are more than happy to oblige.
‘The other thing that works really well for us is the student accommodation (Eden Hall) that we use for the athletes and it becomes our base for the week. The athletes can walk up and down to the track while Leisure World has opened up their facilities to the athletes as well and we are very appreciative of that.’
Readers of The Southern Star are only too aware of the sporting volcano that has erupted in West Cork in the last decade or so. There are so many high-performance athletes – footballers, rugby players, golfers, hockey stars, rowers and of course track and field athletes. Murnane pinpoints why.
‘It’s structures and coaching,’ he said. ‘The athletes were always there, they just didn’t come across the right person to coach them and bring them through. Somebody once said that some of our best athletes are playing GAA, they just never had the opportunity to develop as athletes outside of that as there were no structures.’
He emphasis the importance of regional performance centres where athletes can come together and be coached. He also acknowledges the role of the Irish Sports Council and while juvenile and junior categories in athletics are in a good place, he feels more work should be done on the senior levels as there is not enough competition for the senior athletes.
Meanwhile, and with a budget of some €100,000, Murnane explains how they prepare for the BAM Cork City Sports.
‘We get to the track about three days in advance and we start working on the technical aspects. We get all the electronic equipment in place – timing, wind gauges and field terminals, big screens, sound systems and the networking of everything.’
He added: ‘The OB company tend to come in the day beforehand and they need to get everything set up like cabling, power and satellite.’
Murnane also spoke about Rob Heffernan’s inclusion as part of the organising team.
‘He is coming from the aspect of the athletes and what the athletes need and want,’ he said.
‘Just having the name Rob Heffernan associated with the event is great. He is able to go to the athletes and encourage them and his personality is infectious. He gets everybody going and as result we have a 3km walk back on the programme this year, purely because of him. While Rob is retired another local Alex Wright has taken up the baton.’
The international programme will have athletes from Ireland, USA, Australia, Ethiopia, the Bahamas, Jamaica, South Africa, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Sweden, Spain, Japan, Canada, Kenya, England, Poland, France, Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany and Slovenia.
The Cork City Sports Committee wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Irish Sports Council, Sport Ireland, Cork City Council, Cork County Council, Cork ETB, Cork County Board AAI and Leevale Athletic Club. The BAM Cork City Sports starts at 5pm on Wednesday.