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Frank on Friday – Heroes can INSPIRE!

Frank on Friday

A new weekly column for Irish Runner Facebook and website by Frank Greally.  

I don’t remember what I was doing on December 1st, the historic day when Ronnie Delany won the Olympic 1,500m Gold Medal at the Melbourne Olympics.

I do remember however, with great clarity, being at home in Devlis, Ballyhaunis, listening to the radio on a summer evening two years later.

On that day Herb Elliott smashed the World Mile Record in Santry Stadium with a brilliant 3:54.5  performance. Ronnie Delany placed third in 3:57.5 – a time that was also inside the existing world best for the distance and my father, God rest him, loudly proclaimed that Delany had one the one that mattered most – the Olympic God Medal.

My late father, Tom Greally, was a passionate Ronnie Delany fan. He was a big GAA fan too – especially when Mayo were in the frame.

That evening in August 1958 is the first time I remember him sharing his love of sport with me. I was seven years old and I loved the passion and animation my father showed when he told me that Ronnie Delany was the best runner ever to come out of Ireland and that he brought great honour to his country.

A little later in the evening when my father asked me to go to the local shop for cigarettes, I could hardly contain my excitement at the race that had unfolded on the radio. 

When he said he would time how long it took me to fetch the packet of Woodbine from Murray’s shop – about half a mile from our house – I sprinted away at full tilt.

I can still see the look on Johnny Murray’s face as I burst in breathless and excited with an urgent request for ten Woodbine.

I tired a little on the return journey, which was slightly uphill, but my father assured me that if I were to keep running I could one day become a champion; someone people would look up to and admire.

Only many years later would I fully discover the complete joy of running and I little thought back in those times that running in one form or another would become a lifetime’s pursuit.

My job with Athletics Ireland includes many visits to Primary Schools around the country promoting The Daily Mile, the 15 minutes a day Walk or Run program that is now a part of the school day in over 1,300 primary schools nationwide.

I find today’s kids are every bit as eager to get out there and run as I was. Keeping them active and interested in the sport is now, however, a much bigger challenge.

Ronnie Delany is still a sporting icon, a man much admired for his achievements in sport and in life. 

And yet for Ronnie as for all our sports stars, all that later success began with some quiet encouragement in his family home and later from such great mentors as the late coach Jack Sweeney.

And of course, Ronnie Delany had his own heroes back then; especially Roger Bannister, who captured the imagination of the entire world when on May 6th, 1954 he became the first man to break four minutes for the mile.

Our heroes help us to find the good in ourselves. Today, another one of my especial heroes, Neil Cusack, will, with his wife Imelda, board an Aer Lingus flight to Boston where on Monday next, April 15th, he will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of his famous Boston Marathon win in 1974.

Neil will be a Special Guest at this year’s Boston Marathon and the Official Starter for the event, which has 45,000 runners entered.

I ran with Neil and the Irish Brigade Cross Country Team at East Tennessee State University back in the mid 1970s. I have composed a ballad and dedicated it to him; I will sign off this first Frank On Friday Column with a few verses from the ballad.

When The Shamrock Bloomed In Boston 

by Frank Greally

Just before the starting gun/A friend said- say that once again/ How you think you’ll run today/ Said Neil- I’m going to win/

He thought of all the miles he’d logged/ Around Cratloe Hills of Clare/And the woods and trails in East Tennessee/ With Irish comrades there/

He felt it was his destiny/ The win this Boston prize/ To give his folks back Limerick way/ Price and great surprise/

I’ve been lucky in life that many of my running heroes have become dear friends. Here’s to Ronnie Delany, Neil Cusack and a host of other runners who continue to inspire me. Keep in touch with this column. You can catch me at frankgreally@gmail.com.

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