Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Looking back 40 years...Cork X-Country 1972

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Looking back 40 years...Cork X-Country 1972

This article was written by John Walshe and appeared in the Evening Echo at the start of 2011. This month is now the 40th anniversary of this particular race and the article is re-produced here with John's kind permission...

John Hartnett, John Buckley and Donie Walsh

By John Walshe (Evening Echo)

On the first Sunday of January 1972, the Cork BLE senior, youths and women’s cross-country championships took place at Grange, outside Fermoy. It was a meeting eagerly awaited by athletics fans as it featured a showdown between three of Cork’s greatest-ever distance runners - John Hartnett, Donie Walsh and John Buckley.

The reason that the championships were held so late in the season was to facilitate the afore-mentioned Hartnett and Walsh who, along with Billy Bolster, were home on holiday from their respective American universities. Hartnett and Walsh attended Villanova and both came with impeccable cross-country pedigrees.

In March 1970, Hartnett had won the International Junior title at Vichy in France while later that year Walsh finished second to the legendry Steve Prefontaine at the NCAA championships. Five months before that Grange fixture, Walsh had also set an Irish 10,000m record of 28:52.6 at the European Championships in Helsinki.

Buckley did not chose the scholarship route, instead remaining at home where he carved out a special niche for himself on the cross-country circuit. At the age of 19 the St Finbarr’s man was already a county senior champion and in March 1969 he had the distinction of beating the then Olympic 5,000m champion, Mohammed Gammoudi, at the International Military Championships held at Ballincollig.

So, in ideal conditions, the scene was set for an epic encounter before a large attendance at the well laid-out course outside Fermoy. But first, two other county championships had to be decided. The youths (under-18) race was over three miles and here victory went to Gene Mealy of Leevale who led home John McSweeney (Blarney) and Denis Hartnett, brother of John, from Grange. In fourth was Tim Goulding (Ovens) and two places behind came a future Olympian, Liam O’Brien from Midleton.

Mealy – now the South-Western Regional Secretary of SIPTU – was backed up by Michael Carey, Pat Duggan and Brian O’Neill and they led Leevale to what would turn out to be a clean sweep of team titles as they defeated Grange by nine points with St Finbarr’s taking third.

Maire Buckley, who had finished second in the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship, added the County Senior title in impressive fashion with Joan Fleming (St Finbarr’s) and Tracy Roche (Grange) taking silver and bronze. In a close team contest, Leevale again packed well to defeat St Finbarr’s by just three points. Buckley was ably backed up by Mary Crowley (4th), Freda Horgan (9th) and Alison O’Keeffe (10th).

As the field of 61 toed the line for the start of the 7½ senior race, all eyes were on local man Hartnett. From the gun, the pace was fast with the 22-year-old Grange athlete at the head of affairs. Already, runners were strung out with only Buckley, Bolster, the St Finbarr’s pair of Ritchie Crowley and Finbarr Long, and Hugh Parnell of Leevale managing to stay in contact. Walsh, who had been out of competitive action with a leg injury for a month before, was dramatically back in 10th place and his chances of retaining the title had vanished. 

Into the second mile, Hartnett had shaken off all except the resolute Buckley who astonishingly was managing to stay in his shadow. For the next four miles they ran shoulder to shoulder with Buckley even applying the pressure on a number of occasions as Hartnett suffered briefly from a stitch. But with a mile to go the Grange star put in a hard surge while negotiating a climb and Buckley’s gallant challenge faded, leaving Hartnett to cross the line with around 100 yards to spare after 36 minutes and 38 seconds of running.

Walsh – as he did so often in a glittering career – finished stronger than everyone else to take the bronze with Crowley fourth and Long (winner of the Youghal Round-the-Houses five-mile race two nights before) in fifth. With Parnell running out of his skin in sixth position, further superb packing by Leevale saw Pat O’Riordan, Jack O’Callaghan and Tony O’Leary take seventh, eight and ninth positions with their final scorer, Dick Hodgins, making a comeback after injury, closing in the team in 11th. It had been one of the great days in the annals of the Leevale club and, as the Evening Echo reported on the following Wednesday, the three cups were duly filled in Pa Johnson’s Pub that Sunday night. 

For the three main protagonists, that Olympic year of 1972 brought varying fortunes. Shortly after returning to America, Hartnett ran indoor times of 8:35 for two miles and 13:29 for three. Later in the year he established an Irish 5,000m record of 13:43.0 when finishing ninth behind Dave Bedford’s European record of 13:17.2 in the AAA Championships at Crystal Palace.

In Munich, suffering from injury, he was eliminated in the heats of the Olympic 5,000m. He would go on break Ronnie Delany’s Irish mile record with a time of 3:54.7 and on a memorable night run a mile in 3:56.3 on the old Mardyke grass track at the Cork City Sports.

Walsh also suffered injury problems on his return to Villanova and just missed out on the Olympic qualifying time for the 10,000. Deciding to go for the marathon instead, he targeted the Irish championships in Athlone which he won in an outstanding 2:15:21. At Munich, despite suffering from ‘flu symptoms, he gamely tried to go with the leaders before drifting back to finish 47th in 2:31.

For Buckley, the fact that he was able to stay with Hartnett for so long showed the form he was in. He duly won the BLE National C-C at Clonmel to add to the Southern Region and Inter-Counties he had already won that season. The International (now World) Championships were held in March at Cambridge and there Buckley finished sixth of the Irish team in 62nd position.

Remarkably, the following day he turned out in another cross-country race organised by the London-Irish club at Parliament Hill Fields and ended up only 11 seconds behind John Bicourt of Belgrave Harriers, one of Britain’s representatives later that year in the Olympic 3000m steeplechase.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article !!!... Wel done John on producing this on the gives people an idea of the talent that was around at that time ...

Anonymous said...

Great article!!who did john buy his shoes from I wonder!

Anonymous said...

great article-the first comment was correct-very talented runners and it's great to see donie and john doing their bit for leevale and st finbarrs. harnett was a clas act and it's to see the ballyhooley man last year cheering his son to victory last year in the harnett challenge