BY JOHN WALSHE
THIS coming Sunday sees a new addition to the road racing calendar when Skibbereen Athletic Club promote a 10-mile event starting from O’Donovan Rossa GAA grounds at 11.30am, followed by a five-mile race at 12 noon.
Although a 10km has been held in recent years, this is the first 10-miler in the town since way back in 1984 when this newspaper sponsored the ‘The Southern Star 10’, attracting a fine turnout of over 150 runners on the blustery Sunday of September 9th.
That summer of ’84 had been a good one for races over the 10-mile distance in West Cork. On a Saturday evening in July, Kerryman John Lenihan was first across the line at Bandon, his time of 47:56 giving him victory by 35 seconds over John O’Toole from Tullamore with local star Richard O’Flynn third in 48:36. Carmel Lyons of Leevale won the women’s race in 58:40.
The following month saw American-based Dessie O’Connor take the honours at Dunmanway in a time of 50:39, ahead of Courtmacsherry native Mick Lawton (51:28) and Sean Harte from Clonakilty (52:30).
On that lovely Sunday evening of August 12th, no doubt all those present made their way home to witness a historic feat on the other side of the Atlantic as John Treacy battled his way around the roads of Los Angles to take Olympic marathon silver.
The Southern Star sponsored-race was organised by the local club, the pre-race advertisement stating that entries – at €3, the going rate at the time – should be sent to Donal Hourihan, c/o P.O. Box 15, Skibbereen. The late Liam O’Regan, then editor of the Star, was a former secretary of the Skibbereen club and not alone was he involved in sponsoring the race, he also took part himself.
Held over two laps, the race started at 2.30pm and a strong wind after early-morning rain made conditions difficult for the runners. The winner was Paul Moloney from Limerick in the good time of 50:46. Moloney had just completed a four-year scholarship at Providence College (where Treacy had also attended) and was regarded as one of the rising stars of Irish athletics but unfortunately he was involved in a serious road accident later that year which effectively ended his running career.
Second to Moloney was the legendary Donie Walsh from Leevale who recorded 52:05 with Sean Harte (representing St Finbarr’s) third in 52:39. Jack O’Callaghan (Leevale) finished fourth in 52:53 and was also the first veteran in the over-45 category. Winner of the women’s race was Aine Murphy from UCC in a time of 68:42, second was Anna Kearney (Bandon) in 75:30 with local Skibbereen runner Patricia Dineen third in 79:34.
Paul Moloney described his time as ‘fairly respectable’, considering that the wind never gave up at any stage. He also praised the race organisation, in particular the parts of the course that took in the town.
‘Any 10-mile race that is confined to the country can be very boring,’ he said.
‘If it passes through a town, it’s much better as a crowd can be great for encouragement.’
The comprehensive prize list which covered the first ten men and first seven women, along with categories and teams, also had a number of local awards. The first West Cork man (outside the main prizes) was Stephen Murphy from Drimoleague who finished in an impressive 56:27 with the women’s prize going to Claire White in 82:40.
Leevale easily won the team award ahead of Eagle AC with Skibbereen third. That local team was made up of Tommy Murphy (58:27), long-time Cork County Board officer Pat Walsh (60:17) and the late Stephen O’Mahony from Rosscarbery (61:49). There was even a prize for the first pub team which went to Foley’s Bar, Ballineen, consisting of Billy Coveney (57:30), Ian Harpur (59:55) and Richard O’Brien (62:50).
Other names and times of runners still familiar in athletics today include Joe Murphy (Eagle, 59:11), Denis Carroll (Blarney, 68:32), Neilie O’Leary (Bandon, 72:23) and Liam Fleming, (Ballinascarthy, 74:59).
Each runner who completed the course received a time certificate along with a souvenir candle specially designed by Fasnet Candles for the occasion.
Gerald Murphy, chairman of Skibbereen AC, thanked the runners who travelled long distances to take part. He also paid a special tribute to those who finished at the tail end of the field.
‘If it was left to the winners only, then the crowd would be very small indeed,’ he stated.
Along with Liam O’Regan of The Southern Star, Pierce Hickey of Hickey’s Newsagents was also acknowledged by the chairman for his sponsorship.
‘Both Liam and Pierce have been former secretaries of the club so their involvement was not always confined to finance,’ he said. He also praised the main organiser, Donal Hourihan, describing him as ‘Mr Road Race himself’.
Sadly, the following year of 1985 saw the distance of the Skibbereen race reduced to 10km and so runners have had to wait all of 33 years for another race over what is considered by many to be an iconic distance, that of 10 miles.
Let’s hope that Sunday’s promotion will see the dawn of another new era for West Cork road racing with a fine turnout and performances to match those of over three decades ago.