Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Guest Post...An Irish One-Two Over The Country - by John Walshe

Friday, December 08, 2017

Guest Post...An Irish One-Two Over The Country - by John Walshe


With the European championships dominating the weekend’s activities, this might be an opportune moment to recall a memorable Irish cross-country one-two that took place exactly 39 years ago, on Saturday December 9th, 1978.

Before the arrival of the Euro Cross, a number of invitational cross-country events highlighted the pre-Christmas period. Two of the most prestigious took place in England, at Gateshead in November and the IAC (International Athletes’ Club) promotion at Crystal Palace in December.

Although the fields were mainly of a domestic nature apart from a sprinkling of Europeans, such was the dominance of British runners at the time that the standard was always of the highest. For the 1978 event, the IAC had secured the appearance of the reigning World Champion, Ireland’s John Treacy who was somewhat of a surprise winner of the title the previous March at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow. But on that fine December afternoon Treacy had to settle for second best, not alone to a fellow Irishman but to one from his very own county of Waterford.

Gerry Deegan’s athletics career was somewhat understandably overshadowed by his more famous Deise colleague but it too was of the highest quality. In 1977, at the age of 20, he won the first of his five Irish C-C titles and he followed the route of Treacy by taking up an athletics scholarship at Providence College, although he only spent two years in the US.

While there, he had a number of outstanding performances including a third place finish at the 1977 NCAA C-C in Spokane. On that day, Treacy took the silver medal behind multi-world-record holder Henry Rono from Kenya. Deegan also won the NCAA indoor two-mile title the following spring before claiming a credible 14th place finish at Glasgow in the wake of Treacy’s victory.

Six twisting laps made up the 8580m of firm going around the Crystal Palace venue on that December Saturday and a large group were in contention for the early circuits. It wasn’t until the fourth lap that the first decisive move was made when Deegan, Treacy and Steve Jones opened up a 15m gap on the chasing pack which included Mike McLeod, Tony Simmons, Dave Black, Steve Kenyon and the Belgium Grillaert.

A tremendous scrap ensued among the three leaders before Jones seized the initiative at the start of the final circuit. The Irish pair passed Jones on an uphill stretch but the Welshman wasn’t finished yet and retook the lead. With Deegan losing a few metres, the race looked to be between Jones and Treacy with the latter judging it to perfection by taking Jones at the last turn prior to the run-in.

But he reckoned without Deegan who produced a storming finish to cross the line, arms aloft in delight, ten metres to the good. The closeness of the finish can be seen from the times: Deegan 26:16, Treacy 26:17, Jones 26:18 while Simmons made up considerable ground to take fourth in 26:20.

The significance of that victory can be seen from the pedigree of those left in Deegan’s wake. Steve Jones was already a formidable competitor on all surfaces but his greatest days lay ahead. Six years later he set a world marathon best of 2:08:05 in Chicago, won London the following spring and then reduced his time to 2:07:13 in Chicago which, 32 years later, still remains the British record.

Tony Simmons was after finishing fourth two years before in the 1976 Olympic 10,000m, had a best of 27:43.59 for the distance and that year of 1978 could also claim a marathon time of 2:12:33.

Dave Black was ranked sixth in the world in the 10,000m for 1978 with a time of 27:36.3 while Mike McLeod – who had won the Gateshead cross-country – would go on to be a medallist at the 1984 Olympics in the same event.

Rounding off the top dozen that day at Crystal Palace was another Irishman, one Eamonn Coghlan. Showing that cross-country is no detriment to track success, two months later Coghlan set a world indoor mile record of 3:52.6 at San Diego (which he would later improve to 3:49.78) along with winning the European indoor 1500m title.

Of course that spring of 1979 will forever be associated with John Treacy’s second World C-C victory at a rain soaked Limerick Racecourse before an ecstatic home following. But, while Gerry Deegan had been a second ahead of Treacy at Crystal Palace, this time he was all of a minute-and-a-half in arrears. However, he did have the consolation of being the third scorer on the Irish team who memorably took the silver medals behind England.

For the record, the following are the Irish placings on that never-to-be-forgotten March day in Limerick: John Treacy, 1st; Danny McDaid, 11th; Gerry Deegan, 43rd; Mick O’Shea, 46th; Donie Walsh, 47th; Tony O’Brien, 50th.

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