Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Guest post : MUNSTER MARATHON OF 1979... by John Walshe

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Guest post : MUNSTER MARATHON OF 1979... by John Walshe

MUNSTER MARATHON OF 1979... By John Walshe (The Echo, 11/05/2019)

There is no doubt only a tiny percentage of runners experience the elation of crossing the line first in a marathon. To win on your birthday then is a much rarer occurrence but one such man who did so 40 years ago this weekend is Jerry Murphy from Douglas.

The occasion was the Munster championship which took place from the town of Rathkeale in Co Limerick on Sunday May 13, 1979. Four decades ago marathons, indeed road races in general, were a long way from what we know today.

A field of 30 to 40 runners was considered a good turnout and in all probability you could have entered that championship on the day for an entry fee of maybe 50 pence – a long way from the €65-€75 that would be asked of nowadays.  

A Munster marathon had been held intermittently during the 1970s and Murphy had already one victory under his belt, along with a best time of 2:24:33 achieved when finishing sixth in the Irish (BLE) National Marathon at Galway four years before.

Promoted by the Southern Region Council and held in glorious sunshine, the course in Rathkeale was typical of the day in that it was simply 13 miles out and back. The outward journey was into a fresh headwind and amongst the leading group were two Limerick men, Neil Cusack (Boston Marathon winner of 1974) and Robert Costelloe. However, both were using the race as a training run and would make their exit at halfway.

A more recent photo of Jerry Murphy with his haul of medals and trophies
The early leader was Paul Mulholland from Midleton who reached five miles in 28:35, just ahead of Davie Browne from Waterford. Mulholland had run 2:33:59 two years before at the BLE Marathon in Loughrea and was the pioneer of marathon running in the east Cork region.

At 11 miles, Mulholland began to drop back and this left Murphy and his Leevale team-mate Liam Horgan in control. In any race there comes a moment where the contest is won or lost and, 40 years on, Murphy still recalls where the decisive point came that day: “At 17 miles, Liam started really pushing the pace. At around the 19 mile mark, I turned to him to say I wasn’t feeling great and to go ahead. When I turned, he looked straight at me and said ‘Jerry, continue on and I’ll try and follow’.”

At the finish, Murphy’s winning margin was almost three minutes as he not alone celebrated victory but his 29th birthday in style, crossing the line in a time of 2:28:47. Horgan – who sadly passed away in 2013 after a lifetime of Leevale service - survived an attack of cramp to hold on for second in 2:31:44 with Mayo-man Michael Joyce taking third in 2:39:16 in front of his St Finbarr’s colleague Flor O’Leary (2:40:17).

Willie Hayes, then of Reenavanna Harriers but a ‘Barr’s man now for many years, finished fifth in 2:40:23 ahead  of Gerry Walsh from the Doheny club in Dunmanway (2:44:27).

The following year, Murphy, Joyce and Hayes travelled to New York for one of the first marathons to take place around the five boroughs of the Big Apple. With all three wearing Discover Ireland singlets, Murphy finished in a time of 2:31:44 with Hayes close behind on 2:31:58 and Joyce – a well-known Cork solicitor these days - recording a personal best of 2:38:05.

“It was after that New York Marathon I feel my problems began,” Murphy recalls. “I didn’t realise at the time but I had diabetes and it wasn’t discovered until 20 years later. I was also unaware at the time that I was celiac as well.”

A mainstay of many a winning Leevale cross-country team, he also has the unique distinction of having competed in over 30 Cork senior championships over the country.

With both Leevale and St Finbarr’s having two runners in the top four, the Munster team race came down to the third scorer and although Donal Burke’s 13th place gave the ‘Barr’s 20 points, John O’Leary in 15th spot gave Leevale the title by a margin of just two points.

Although no veterans (or masters nowadays) were acknowledged, O’Leary would have qualified at the time as he had turned 40 the previous December. Remarkably, then, that four decades later the near-neighbour of Jerry Murphy is still competing - 10 days ago he returned a time of just over 42 minutes for five miles at Midleton.

He too vividly recalls that warm Sunday around the roads of Rathkeale in what was his second marathon: “I knocked around 35 minutes off of my first. I remember it was a boiling hot day and I was wearing a cap from the sun and it blew of after a few miles. There were two or three of us together and I wouldn’t stop but didn’t one of them go back and pick it up, a lovely fellow whoever he was.” 

Just 22 runners, all men, finished that day. Although there was speculation that Jean Folan - one of the pioneering Irishwomen at the marathon distance and who would win the Ballycotton ’10’ the following March – was going to run, it was not to be.

Of course that year of 1980 all things utterly changed with the first running of the Dublin City Marathon and long distance running would no longer be a solitary male pursuit carried out on the lonely Irish roads.        

Munster Marathon 1979 results
1 J Murphy (Leevale) 2:28:47; 2 L Horgan (Leevale) 2:31:44; 3 M Joyce (St Finbarrs) 2:39:16; 4 F O’Leary (St Finbarrs) 2:40:17; 5 W Hayes (Reenavanna) 2:40:23; 6 G Walsh (Doheny) 2:44:27; 7 G Ryan (Premier) 2:48:11; 8 J Carroll (Tipperary Town) 2:49:58; 9 P O’Regan (Limerick) 2:50:55; 10 S O’Toole (Premier) 2:55:55; 11 P Carmody (St Johns) 2:56:08; 12 J Walshe (Midleton) 2:57:45; 13 D Burke (St Finbarrs) 2:58:35; 14 M Minogue (Tulla) 3:01:12; 15 J O’Leary (Leevale) 3:02:15.


Nollaigh O Neill said...

Fabulous story John and well done Jerry Murphy.

Unknown said...

No pacers in those days! It didn't seem to do them any harm either...