The final production phase for the first issue of Irish Runner in June of 1981 was so hectic I forgot to include a cover price on the front cover, which featured an image of Brian Keeney and Paddy Murphy competing in the Clonliffe 20 Mile Road Race. This classic photo was taken by Brian Tansey, who went on to shoot other memorable covers for the magazine in the early years.
Out of the blocks
The first issue of Irish Runner was born out of a passion to give something back to a sport that had been especially good to me. I had studied journalism during my four years on a running scholarship at East Tennessee State University, where I was a member of a cross-country team known as The Irish Brigade, and I had always aspired to bring a Runner’s World-type publication to the Irish market.
Many close friends questioned my sanity. Those with business and media experience reminded me that established publishers had concluded that the Irish running market couldn’t sustain a quality publication. But I was young and fired with far more enthusiasm than business acumen. A couple of work colleagues, Len Williams and Declan O’Donoghue, urged me to follow my dream and my old school pal from Ballyhaunis, Michael Joyce, was also a big supporter.
The final impetus to take the plunge came from two unexpected sources. One day I was running up Knockmaroon Hill near the Phoenix Park with another great friend, the late Eddie Spillane, talking incessantly as I ran about my publishing idea. I can still see Eddie stopping in the middle of the hill and telling me that he would back me with £500 that he had saved if I needed it. Although I never called on Eddie for the loan, his confidence in my idea and in me was a real fillip.
The late Con Houlihan, the doyen of Irish sportswriters for many years, also played a part in making up my mind. I first met Con when I was covering the World Cross Country Championships in Limerick on a wet and foggy day in 1979, and the gentle giant from Castle Island also ignited the spark in me.
It was in Len William’s house in Blackrock that we cobbled together the early layouts for the pages of Irish Runner. I will never forget the morning Len, Declan O’Donoghue and myself put the pages of the first magazine on the train to the Kilkenny People for printing and then adjourned to the early morning White House Pub on Burgh Quay to celebrate our long night of toil with creamy pints. I had somehow managed to persuade the Kilkenny People to give me a line of credit for the first issue and that company went on to print the magazine for many years.
A star is born
From day one, Irish Runner received terrific support from readers, advertisers and media. Mike Murphy gave the first issue a great boost when he interviewed me on his evening show on RTE Radio and sports journalists like Tom O’Riordan, Peter Byrne, Jimmy Meagan, John O’Shea and Brendan Mooney were also very generous with their column inches.
Michael O’Connell was the Adidas distributor in Ireland at that time and he was every bit as passionate as I was about running. It was Michael who forced me to go full-colour with my second issue when he booked a double-page spread of advertising. Once I went to full colour, there was no turning back.
I was blessed too with the quality of contributors I was able to persuade to write for the magazine. The late Jim Dowling, Lindie Naughton, John Walshe and Mary Butler played lead roles in the early days. Later on, it was contributor and sub-editor Richard Gallagher and design guru Peadar Staunton and Conor O’Hagan who brought the magazine through the next exciting phase.
The Sportsfile team, led by Ray McManus, provided the very best in quality images. Ray has been a special friend to Irish Runner over the years and his help and advice have been invaluable.
My publishing partner Martin Joyce (another Mayo man), helped me develop Irish Runner to become the best-selling specialist sports magazine in Ireland before I went back to running it solo again. It was always a delicate balancing act to keep Irish Runner afloat and it’s the loyal advertisers, readers, subscribers and contributors who I need to thank most.
Then, in 2007, I joined forces with Athletics Ireland in a move that gave me more job security at a time when I needed it most. I continued to edit Irish Runner for Athletics Ireland up to three years ago and when I stepped off the bridge, I had never missed sending an issue of the magazine to print in all of 37 years.
Over the years, I have been truly blessed to have covered six Olympic Games and outstanding athletes like Ronnie Delany, Eamonn Coghlan, John Treacy, Ray Flynn, Marcus O’Sullivan, Frank O’Mara, Mark Carroll, David Gillick, Ciara Mageean, Robert Heffernan, Sonia O’Sullivan, Catherina McKiernan and Derval O’Rourke who have all featured on the front cover of Irish Runner have also become dear friends.
I look back now on the first issue of Irish Runner magazine as a time of lovely innocence. I little thought back then that I would, 40 years down the track, be welcoming in a new era for Irish Runner in partnerships with Record Media.
It would take an entire magazine for me to recount all the great performances by Irish athletes that I have been privileged to cover over the past 40 years, but here are a few that stand out big for me.
- Eamonn Coghlan’s 5,000m gold at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki. This was sweet success for Eamonn after three successive fourth placings in the Olympic Games.
- John Treacy’s 1984 Olympic Marathon silver medal. This was the best Olympic result by an Irish athlete since Ronnie Delany’s gold in the Melbourne Olympics of 1956. Treacy’s brilliant and gutsy performance in Los Angeles was secured by sprinting away from England’s Charlie Spedding in the final lap of the stadium.
- Eamonn Coghlan’s World Indoor Mile record. Eamonn’s time of 3:49.77 on the boards in the Meadowlands Arena in the USA was the first time anyone had broken 3:50 for the mile indoors. It was such an outstanding record that 14 years passed before Hicham El Guerrouj managed to break it.
- Sonia O’Sullivan’s 5,000m silver medal in the Sydney Olympics. It was a joy to be trackside in Sydney that night reporting for Irish Runner. A year after giving birth to her first child, Sonia finally won an Olympic medal after a few bitter disappointments.
- Catherina McKiernan’s four World Cross Country silver medals; 1992, 1993, 1994 & 1995. This was a remarkable series of consistent gutsy performances by the Cavan athlete, who also won gold in the Women’s race at the inaugural European Cross Country Championships in the Northumberland town of Alnwick. Catherina later went on to win three big international marathons: Berlin, London and Amsterdam – all in top-class times.
- Marcus O’Sullivan’s World Indoor 1500m victories; 1987, 1989 and 1993. Marcus O’Sullivan was always a fearless competitor and his hat-trick of three gold medals at successive World Indoor Championships will always be special memories for me.
- Frank O’Mara’s World Indoor 3,000m victories; 1987 and 1991. Another indoor specialist, there was much to cherish in O’Mara’s world title double. The first was notable because of an Irish 1- 2 with Galway’s Paul Donovan coming through for silver. The second saw O’Mara set a championship record when he took six seconds off The great Said Aouits’s record.
- The Women’s team bronze (long course) at World Cross Country Championships in Turin. Neither Catherina McKiernan or Sonia O’Sullivan were at their best, but their seventh and ninth places paid the foundation for the result. Valerie Vaughan and Una English with terrific runs in 23rd and 25th closed the deal for his historic success.
- Derval O’Rourke’s 2006 World Indoor gold. This was a brilliant year for Derval O’Rourke as she defeated the powerful Glory Alozie and Susanna Kallur in the 60m hurdles. Derval also won silver in the European Championships that same year.
- Women’s team bronze (short course) in the 2002 World Cross Country Championships. Just to prove the medals from five years before had been no fluke, Ireland came in after Kenya and Ethiopia as Sonia O’Sullivan led the way home in seventh. But the real story was the performance of veteran Anne Keenan Buckley in finishing three places further back. Rosemary Ryan’s 19th place was crucial and Maria McCambridge’s 62nd was sufficient for the Irish women’s team to get a podium spot.
- Fionnuala McCormack’s gold medal performances at the 2011 and 2012 European Cross Country Championships. Those were two brilliant performances by the Wicklow woman who became the first woman to win back-to-back European Cross Country titles. She also led the Irish women’s team for a first-ever team gold in Hungary in 2012.
- David Gillick’s European Indoor Championships 400m golds; 2005 and 2007. Hardly anyone had heard of the Ballinteer runner when he stunned the home crowd by defeating the Spanish favourite – posting 46.30 seconds to win the gold. His victory two years later in Birmingham in a personal best of 45.52 announced his ascension to world class.