1982 – FIRST CORK CITY MARATHON...By John Walshe (Originally published in the Evening Echo)
In a few weeks’ time, thousands of runners will take to the streets of Cork for what will be the sixth year of the present Cork City Marathon. The ‘marathon’ aspect of the day, as regards numbers participating, may now take second billing to the accompanying half-marathon and relay, but such was not the case 30 years ago when around 700 runners took part in what was the first ‘peoples’ marathon in the city on Easter Monday, April 12, 1982.
In October 1980 the inaugural Dublin City Marathon was held, followed in March 1981 by the London event. Cork did have a marathon that year of 1981, but it was nothing like what today’s runners are accustomed to. On a wet Sunday in June, the BLE National Marathon was held on the western side of the city. Starting near the County Hall, the 180 or so runners headed out the Carrigrohane Straight, through Ballincollig and on to Farnanes. Here, the competitors simply turned around a petrol pump before retracing their steps. The last two miles, with the County Hall like a mirage in the distance, weren’t the most appealing. However, it didn’t bother Dick Hooper from winning his third national marathon in a time if 2:15:37 while Carey May recorded a fine 2:42:39 to take the women’s title.
Six months later, a headline in the then-Cork Examiner read: “Cork marathon fever begins. Close on 10,000 runners could throng the streets of Cork next Easter Monday for the inaugural running of the adidas Cork City Marathon,” it continued. Reg Hayes, Chairman of the Cork BLE Board, said it would be the first of a series of such events in the city. He stated it would be a people’s marathon for the people of Cork and would depend largely on voluntary effort which money could not buy. Michael O’Connell, Manager of Three Stripe International, the sponsors, said invitations would go out to many countries though their various outlets. He also said that the thousands of runners rejected for the second London Marathon would receive an invitation. The Examiner and Evening Echo, along with RTE Cork Local Radio, were to promote the marathon. The Lord Mayor, Councillor Paud Black, said the event would be of tremendous benefit to the City of Cork.
Approx course of the 1982 Cork City Marathon
A number of possible courses were submitted to the Gardai for consideration. Jack O’Leary from St Finbarr’s AC, one of the country’s leading marathon runners of the 1960s and 70s and an engineer with Cork Co Council, measured the selected route. It started on the old Mallow Road and then came through Blackpool, MacCurtain Street, Penrose Quay, North Gate Bridge and down the Mardyke to the five mile mark. Out the Carrigrohane Straight, on to Rossa Avenue and Wilton before returning to the city centre and Patrick Street at 11 miles. The halfway mark was on the Marina, the route then went through Blackrock and Ballinlough and out the Douglas Road, returning to the Tramore Road and 20 miles in Togher. Another two miles brought the runners through Glasheen and then down Barrack Street to the finish on South Mall.
Easter Monday of April 12 finally arrived and in ideal conditions at 11am around 700 runners started out for what was for many a step into the unknown. The thousands originally hoped for hadn’t materialised, but it was still a good entry. Before a mile was covered, eight runners had already broken away. They included Michael Walsh (Leevale), John O’Toole (Tullamore), Willie Fitzgerald (Millstreet), Willie Hayes (Reenavanna), Seamus Cregan (Croom), Tom Jordan (Waterford) and John McNiff. The latter, visiting Cork on holiday from New York, set the early pace. At the eight mile mark near the Regional College (now CIT), Hayes and Fitzgerald were in front. But shortly after, Walsh and O’Toole started to take control and they went through ten miles together in 52:53.
Going into Blackrock and the 15-mile mark, the 23-year-old O’Toole made the move that mattered. He was now in unknown territory, never having raced beyond this distance before. But he kept his composure and running the final 11 miles on his own crossed the finish line outside the Imperial Hotel to a tumultuous reception.
His time was 2:20:40, while Walsh - brother of Donie who had ran the 1972 Olympic marathon – was closing again on the Tullamore man towards the finish but had to settle for the runner-up spot 2:21:03. He was well pleased, considering it was only his second marathon. The late Tom Jordan finished strongly to take third in 2:24:16. Willie Hayes, the early leader and now a regular masters prize-winner with St Finbarr’s, held on to sixth in 2:27:47.
The women’s race also saw a change of fortune over the final ten miles. Marie Buckley was better known as a cross-country runner and was making her marathon debut. She passed Dublin-based Cork native Catherine Sutton around 15 miles to win decisively in 3:08:17. “I do have some memories about that marathon,” recalled the now Marie Geary a few years ago. “It was a perfect day for such a race. I was a bit nervous setting out but when the gun went I really enjoyed every stride, chatting away with other runners and getting loads of support at every turn. It didn’t knock a thing out of me and I went back to work as usual the next day.”
An extraordinary feat from that first marathon was the accomplishment of Donal Burke from Whitechurch. A seasoned campaigner on the road, Donal had decided to run the inaugural Galway Marathon on Easter Sunday, followed by Cork next day. He also wanted to break the three hours in both. With a sub-2:35 best to his credit, he held back in Galway on the Sunday to finish in 2:52:16. After travelling to Tuam for physiotherapy that evening, he journeyed back to Cork. Monday morning saw him lining up on the Mallow road and despite some early stiffness he ran another consistent race to clock a remarkable 2:49:18 for 37th position overall.
The Cork City Marathon had arrived and there would be many more exciting and dramatic stories over the next four years before its demise in 1986, to be followed by a 21-year hiatus before returning once again in 2007.
1982 CORK CITY MARATHON RESULTS
1 John O’Toole 2:20:40, 2 Michael Walsh 2:21:03, 3 Thomas Jordan 2:22:41, 4 Seamus Cregan 2:24:16, 5 John McNiff 2:26:15, 6 Willie Hayes 2:27:47, 7 Roddy Burke 2:29:43, 8 Michael Culligan 2:32:17, 9 Pat Kerrigan 2:32:30, 10 Willie Fitzgerald 2:33:37
1 Marie Buckley 3:08:17, 2 Catherine Sutton 3:19:08, 3 Teresa Dwane 3:31:27, 4 Noreen O’Brien 3:38:53, 5 Lucia O’Sullivan 3:43:25, 6 Carmel Lyons 3:45:24
Full results HERE
SOME OTHER WELL-KNOWN FINISHERS:
* Liam O’Leary of the Cork Fire Brigade (18th, 2:41:51) – “That was my fastest marathon. I ran the first mile, which passed Blackpool Fire Station, in 5:10 as all my colleagues were out cheering!”
* One place behind was Michael Joyce (St Finbarr’s) in 2:41:59, while Jack O’Leary finished first veteran in 2:45:32
* Army-man Willie O’Riordan, still a regular prize-winner in Cork BHAA races, ran 2:48:44
* The ever-consistent Batt Kearney (Leevale) finished just outside three hours (3:00:34)
* Two well-known East Cork GAA personalities with good times were John Motherway (3:12:42) and Charlie McAllister (3:15:10)
* John Holland from Mallow, another regular marathoner nowadays, had a time of 3:17:20
* Popular BHAA official John Mohally finished in 3:16:35 while his good friend Alex Crowley recorded 3:20:34
* Eamonn McEvoy, now one of the leading masters’ runners in the country. finished three second behind James Veale (Dungarvan) in 3:25:15