Skibbereen native is chairman of Leevale AC
DONAL Murnane was back home in Skibbereen over the Easter bank holiday weekend.
He might have moved away in the early 1980s when he started college in Cork IT, but whenever he can, he spends time at his home in Baltimore, this past weekend a perfect example.
In between catching up with family and relaxing, he also took time out to reflect on the great progress being made at Leevale Athletic Club.
He’s chairman of the famous Cork athletics club, working his way up from initially helping out with coaching when his kids got involved 18 years ago, to his current role.
Last week, Leevale AC held a launch for its new book – Leevale, Home of Champions, Celebrating Fifty Years, 1967-2017 – written by Dr Alicia St Leger at the club’s High Performance Centre on Farranlea Road, Cork.
‘If the book wasn’t done now, it would never be done,’ Murnane said.
‘There is still enough of the founding members around to get their recollections and the stories and it was important to mark 50 years.
‘To put the stories in print and remember the characters who have made the club what it is, that’s very important.’
The book was one of the big projects this progressive club has undertaken in recent times, and before that, the opening of its state-of-the-art high performance centre took up much of Murnane and the club’s time.
The training centre was officially opened last year, armed with a main hall that is climate controlled, has a special rubber covering, and can accommodate sprints, hurdles, pole vault, high jump, long jump and it also has throw cages.
‘If you think about athletics, athletes will always train outside, they’ll do their running, their sprinting, their middle distance on the track, in the field or on the road – but there’s also the technical aspect of the training, when you want to practice starting from your blocks, your hurdle training, your high jump, pole vault, even your strength and conditioninig training, you can’t be doing that outside on a cold winter’s night,’ Murnane said.
‘That’s why having an indoor facility where we can help the athletes hone their skills is making a phenomenal difference – and you can see that with the results that the club is getting right now.
‘It means athletes can train here do rather than somewhere else. They don’t have to go to the States, they can do it here. Our last Olympians are Cork-based whereas before, Marcus O’Sullivan and Mark Carroll, they would all have gone to the States.’
Leevale AC has moulded and shaped top athletes since it opened its doors in 1967, and it has produced nine Olympians, Derval O’Rourke among them, and there were five involved at the Olympics in Rio two years ago, including Lizzie Lee, Michelle Finn, Alex Wright, Bryan Keane and Paralympian Orla Barry.
‘The great thing is that the young athletes in the club are training with the elite athletes and learning from them. Everyone trains together and it all rubs off on everyone else,’ expained Murnane who was involved with Skibbereen Athletics Club in his youth, as well as playing rugby, football and golf.
He admits he fell away from sport for a while after college – but when his kids came along, all that changed.
‘When my own kids started showing an interest in sport, I took them along to Leevale. For a while I was standing outside the fence and then I was hauled in to give a hand,’ he explains, before he joined the committee, then secretary for ten years before taking the chair.
‘Chris, our oldest, started off as a sprinter and a hurdler, did quite well and has a few internationals under his belt,’ Murnane explains.
‘Caroline is a sprinter and a long jumper and has a few national medals while Patrick, the youngest, is a middle distance runner, he is in UCD now and is training with Jerry Kiernan these days, still actively involved.’
The coaching structure in Leevale is stronger than it has ever been – and the outlook is bright, insists Murnane.
‘We’re the top juvenile club in the country for two years running, we’re the top junior club in the country for the last three years running, our women are the national title holders of the senior cross-country, and we have athletes competing all over Europe on the international stage,’ he explains, and now that history is captured in black and white, with a Skibbereen man playing an important role.