Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Guest Article...Memorable Victory 40 Years Ago Today

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Guest Article...Memorable Victory 40 Years Ago Today

This article by John Walshe appeared in the Evening Echo on Monday the 19th of January 2015 and is republished here with his kind permission. 

(Evening Echo, January 19th, 2015)

John Hartnett from Ballyhooly in north Cork is unquestionably regarded as one of Ireland’s greatest and most versatile of runners.

On the track he held Irish records for 1500m (3:38.1) and one mile (3:54.7), excelled on the competitive American indoor circuit, and first came to prominence when winning the International (now World) Junior Cross-Country title.

Although races on the road during his glory years of the 1970s were no way as prevalent as nowadays, 40 years ago today the tall fair-haired man in the Grange singlet won what was unquestionably the most prestigious road race in the country.

The Quinlan Cup at Tullamore had started off as a cross-country promotion but because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 1967 it had to move to the road. Usually held a couple of weeks after Christmas, it soon became the unofficial national championship on that surface.

Road races today may revolve around accurate courses and personal bests for various distances, but Tullamore was all about the competition.

Part of the allure was the vast array of prizes on offer. The senior men’s race, for example, boasted awards – merchandise in the form of electrical goods, household items and sportswear – for the first 20 individuals, the first 10 teams in Grade ‘A’ and the first three teams in both Grade ‘B’ and ‘C’. With six to score, that meant a total of 116 prizes.

The men’s race was advertised as 11,000m in length with three 3,000m races catering for women, veteran men and youths (U18). Richie Crowley of St Finbarr’s had won the main event in 1971, followed three years later by Donie Walsh who led Leevale to the coveted Quinlan Cup.

John Hartnett’s form during the summer of 1974 had seen him break four minutes for the mile on the old grass track at the Mardyke, recording an exceptional time of 3:56.3. The previous winter, the Ballyhooly man had run the fifth fastest time ever of 8:26.6 for two miles indoors, followed by the first sub-four-minute indoor mile witnessed in Canada.

These performances made him one of the most sought after on the indoor circuit and he had already lined up two races in New York over three miles, plus a return to the Maple Leaf Games in Toronto, for that February of 1975.

Tullamore, therefore, would be a good indicator of his well-being before traveling to North America. But, as always, it wasn’t going to be an easy race to win. Virtually all of the country’s top exponents were amongst the 400 or so entries, which included 38 complete teams of six.

Sunday January 19 was a day of incessant rain and when the main showpiece got underway after 3.30pm (following a short delay due to a broken-down lorry near the start), darkness was already encroaching on the Midland town.

With a hump-backed bridge and a sharp turn to negotiate just after the gun, the start was akin to a charge of the light brigade. But almost before the runners had sorted themselves out, Hartnett was already in command. At the end of the first of the two laps he had opened up a clear lead and the interest had already switched to the battle for the minor places.

Reaching the finish outside Tullamore Harriers new pavilion in a time of 31:39, Hartnett had around 150 yards to spare over Joe Scanlon from Galway who snatched second from Ray Treacy (Leevale), 32:04 to 32:06.

John McLaughlin from Achilles in Belfast took fourth in 32:09 with Danny McDaid (32:11) and the late Tom Brennan (who would win the BLE Inter-Clubs the following month) making up the top half-dozen.

Donie Walsh took ninth spot but Leevale had to relinquish the Quinlan Cup to Donore Harriers who won it for the sixth time in eight years.

Although the stated distance of 11,000m was probably a little short, Hartnett’s time of 31:39 would surely be worth well under 30 minutes for a 10km today – he had, after all, run 29:02.4 for 10,000m on the Banteer track two summers before.

But what makes the race noteworthy all of 40 years later, was the incredible high standard. Times were only taken for 116 of the 337 finishers, but the time of 35:42 for 100th meant that just over four minutes covered the top 100. As a contrast, last year’s Great Ireland Run (which also doubled as the national 10km championship) saw the difference between the first and 100th man at over seven minutes.

Just a week later, John Hartnett was again back on the winning trail, this time easily taking the BLE national inter-counties at Roscrea. A gruelling seven-and-a-half miles in near quagmire conditions mightn’t be the ideal preparation for the indoor boards, but for the 24-year-old Ballyhooly man, it made no difference.

After the drama of a false start which saw the competitors recalled for not obeying the starter, Hartnett shot to the front and was 50 seconds clear at halfway. At the finish, his margin was one minute and 37 seconds over Gerry Deegan from Waterford with Des McCann (Meath) in third.

It was a great day all-round for Cork as, along with Hartnett’s victory, the Rebel County took all three team titles (men, women and youths) on offer. The men totalled 80 points which gave them a clear margin over Dublin on 95 with Galway third on 183 and Waterford fourth with 215.

For the record, the Cork scoring members behind John Hartnett’s majestic winning performance on that memorable day four decades ago were as follows: Donie Walsh (7th), Richie Crowley (10th), Finny Long (17th), Denis Manning (18th) and Eddie Hartnett (brother of the winner, 27th).

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