30 July 2020

Tom Kelly, A Personal Tribute

Tom Kelly (RIP), back on the right with his St Brendan's AC veteran's road running team in the 1990s
Front: David Kissane, Patrick O'Riordan and John Doran
Back: George McNamara, Tom Fitzmaurice, Danny Sinnott and Tom Kelly (RIP).
Image may contain: 7 people, including David Kissane, people standing and outdoor

Tom Kelly, A Personal Tribute
By David Kissane
“It was a fair year for primroses, a better one for hay and a woeful year for funerals” John B Keane said in his short story You’re On Next Sunday. This could describe 2020. With Covid added. There have been a fair few funerals in the Ardfert Kilmoyley parish this year. One of these was last Thursday.
The first time I met Tom Kelly was in McCowen’s in Tralee. “What can I do for you?” he asked from behind his counter, a twinkle in his eye. “I’m looking for a shovel” I answered. “A shovel is a dangerous thing!” he responded with a smile before handing over a shiny Spear and Jackson. My first ever shovel and my first encounter with a man who was to become a colleague and friend in St Brendan’s AC, Ardfert Kilmoyley Community Games and St Brendan’s Hurling Club. When I told him the shovel was to be the first step in building a house in Ardfert, he became more interested. Living in Tubrid at the time and married to an O’Riordan was enough to gain the trust of Tom. And that lasted until I walked beside his coffin with a huge crowd to accompany him to his final field of dreams last Thursday.
The Kelly family were well represented on the first St Brendan’s AC committee in 1987 and were central to the graft that is necessary to construct an athletic club. Tom was elected PRO at the inaugural meeting in The Tyne Bar (now Kate Browne’s). He didn’t bother doing the weekly notes for The Kerryman to be handed in to Tadhg Kennedy on a Sunday evening. “You’re a teacher, you can do the notes this week!” he told me in his persuasive way. I ended up doing them every week! But Tom fulfilled the PRO role in the wider sense. Massive networking skills, a way with people, a keen intuitive mind and a positive rogue when he knew it would benefit the club.
The club was fieldless when it was formed. A number of options were being tossed about for a short while.
Then Tom worked his magic and the Community Council had acquired the use of Walnut Grove Field very quickly. I accompanied him as secretary of the Community Council to meet Dick Spring in Tralee and before long St Brendan’s AC had the use of the field. We had a 300m grass track to be marked out with six flags (three for each bend) which the Kelly family provided, a whistle (which Tom used as a wand) and a dream…all you need to get started. Oh, and a hundred eager youngsters whom Tom shepherded at the twice-weekly training sessions. In that field ordinary evenings became extraordinary. The athletes loved his módh díreach! They became dizzy with ambition and self-value. If an athlete wasn’t using the full range of ability, Tom would immediately make it known! You knew where you stood and how you competed. It was clear and positive.
Field evenings were held in the new premises to raise funds. Runs, jumps, throws and walks along with a whole range of novelty events. Wellington throw, three-legged race, balloon race. Peggy Geary and Tom in charge. Electric evenings. The voices of children could be heard at Tubrid Cross. One time there was a long puck competition that Tom organised (his love of hurling was primal) and there was a queue the length of Station road to take part. Another time a soccer match between the juvenile athletes and the coaches…Tom suggested we come on the field with sticks and wellingtons and to pretend we were injured. John Cleary (a relation of the Kelly family who always seemed to know when there was an event about to happen) on the camera…his photo of the massive St Brendan’s AC group in Walnut Grove Field in 1989 is still a club treasure. Tom Kelly organised that.
When I last talked to Tom Kelly in the Palliative Care Unit in UHK he talked of evenings like that with warmth. He recalled the crowded buses we took to sports, championships and Macra Field Evenings. One evening on the way to Moyvane sports we stopped in Listowel for a few minutes to check why the bus floor was rubbing off the ground. It had 95 athletes on board. Plus parents and officials. “Drive a bit slower!” Tom told the driver.
Then there was his ability to multi-task. His hurling nous played a part in being involved in the introduction of rounders to Ardfert Kilmoyley Community Games in 1988. Any athlete who was interested was encouraged to try it out. A new set of expressions were heard in Walnut Grove Field. One good, one bad. You should have run. You have to run. Home base. First base. Denis Horgan sponsored a set of tops and county finals were won. Tom’s love of (correcting) referees was experienced to the full in the Munster championships one year when a number of dubious decisions were made. The ref was a better ref after his reffing that day! Tom Kelly could dart like a scythe through summer grass. I was to discover that he had a cultured temper when it came to getting a fair deal from officialdom no matter what sport was involved. It was part of his psyche and his success.
Resourcefulness was one of his many skills. He could source materials and athletes from diverse quarters. Many athletes joined the club through his connectivity and interpersonal brilliance. He introduced the famous Casey hurling brothers to our road runs in the dark of winter nights and had them competing in St Brendan’s AC singlets before long.
One of the most delightful occasions in Tom Kelly’s career occurred in Listowel in 1987. His love of drama inspired the setting up of a variety team for Community Games. “You will write a show for the young things!” he says to me. He was wonder-working again. Minds were put together. It happened to be the centenary of Australia or something and Mary Sinnott suggested an Australian theme. No Google or internet in those days so a big search for the words of Waltzing Matilda. God there were strange words in the chorus. Somebody found a cassette of the Clancy Brothers singing “For South Australia I am bourne” and bits and pieces. Susan Geary, Tara O’Callaghan, Derek McCarthy, Áine McKenna and a team of other athletes including Tom’s daughter Lorraine turned into stage performers. None of the coaches could sing or dance but that didn’t seem to matter. “We’re flying” Tom assured us. The county final was against Ballydonoghue who were coached by Micheál Carr and had won numerous national honours. People sympathised with us before the final. Thanks for coming anyway. Maybe next year. And the winners are: Ardfert Kilmoyley! Tom Kelly jumped a new high jump record that night! The celebrations in The Tyne Bar were unheralded. Diarmaid Lawlor gave the most magical speech. We were going to Mosney. We did. We didn’t win there but had a whale of a weekend with parents and supporters booking out every accommodation available.
Tom didn’t stop there with the drama. He encouraged this writer (!) to find a play suitable for Scór. We rehearsed every night on the stage in Ardfert Community Centre where showbands had performed in the 1960s in what was then the Hilton Ballroom. We weren’t quite sure what the theme of the play was but that doesn’t matter, Tom said. The big night came. There was a scene in the play where an old woman (Tom dressed up) was to take a hanky out of her bag at a poignant moment before she cried as part of the tragedy. I was to watch her doing this to build up the dramatic quality. But instead of a hanky, Tom pulled out an old knickers from the bag and held it up for the audience to see! I mumbled something that someone who had not chosen his destination would mumble. The judges said afterwards that the play was interesting, but that it lacked direction! Well, if you’re going to lose, lose with humour!
One of Tom’s favourite sayings was “Well, my point is…” and he had an opinion on all things that mattered. All good organisers have. When I told him that I was thinking of letting my name go forward for the role of Munster PRO in the 1990s, he looked me in the eye and said “We need you here!” Unstraight question. Straight answer.
When we both handed over our roles in St Brendan’s AC and Ardfert Kilmoyley Community Games to a younger generation after ten frenzied years, Tom persuaded me to take up the role of physical trainer with St Brendan’s senior hurlers. When I informed him that was a great honour but that I wasn’t from a hurling background, all he said was “You’ll be grand!” His advice (always quietly delivered at an opportune moment after training) was incise and loaded. I saw another aspect of the diamond that was Tom Kelly during the three years we shared with Na Breandánaigh: his reading of the game, “we are not that far away from the top”, his observation of referees, his incredible energy, extraordinary enthusiasm…
There are hosts of memories of Tom Kelly. Selling dance tickets at the far side of Kilmoyley on dark nights on roads I had never before travelled. Immediately recognised he was. “We have to make a few bob for the club”. Standing at church gate collections in all sorts of weather. Walking up Station Road with him in 1988 on a Sunday night after a few pints in Ardfert, listening to his dreams for the clubs he was in. Stopping at Tubrid Cross another twenty minutes under the stars to plan training for the week. Suggesting on a Sunday of the county athletics championships that I go back to Banna and get a few athletes who not turned up because they were vital for points. I did and they were. His praise and encouragement for all the athletes he nurtured. His admiration of athletes like Eamonn Ferris after an athlete performance at Clounalour Open Sports. His telling an athlete who had finished second last that her points made the difference to St Brendan’s that day. Telling an athlete in cross country that if he caught the runner ahead we would win the team race. The athlete did and Tom said in the next lap he would have to catch the next athlete ahead! His interaction with his friend Danny Sinnott over a few drinks. Tom was the first Ardfertman that Mary Sinnott met when she came to live in Liscahane. Mary Kelly with her native Gaeilge and her beautiful blas and her management of the project teams in national finals. Lorraine Kelly acting on stage and her beautiful walking style in races. Catriona Kelly’s loyal involvement in sport and Alan Kelly raising the cup as Kerry minor hurling captain. Damien Kelly in goals and in the forward line for the Brendan’s. Tom’s brothers Bill and John and sisters Mary and Peggy all working for the athletic club and Community Games. Stories tell other stories as long as they are told.
Somewhere on the eternal grass track Tom Kelly stands with his whistle poised to start another race. The evening sun shines and there are birds singing all round. Eternity itself is listening. There is expectation and joy. These are days without end. Cancer can take away all one’s physical abilities, but it cannot take away one’s soul.

20 July 2020

There are Places

There are Places By David Kissane

St Brendan's AC group with colleagues in Tullamore in the 1990s.
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Saturday morning and off to Banna car park where I warm up for the weekly virtual St Brendan’s AC Fit4Life run. It’s a 5K today, the marrieds v the singles and the out-and-back route to Carrahane is selected. The oul legs are heavy after a sturdy 10x400m group session on Thursday last so this flat route should be easier.
Off I go with a blank canvas of the brain. But the persistence of memory takes over as the legs struggle straight away and the past begins to paint colours on the canvas. Places form a key soundtrack to the music of memory. For Ronnie Delaney there was only one place…first! For all mortal athletes there are places they like to run. They know where their feet feel alive and where their spirits are uplifted. Ger Carroll, Pádraig Regan and John Culloty are uplifted by the heights of the Gallán. For Coach Ursula Barrett it’s the 5K loop of Banna Beach and the Cúl Tráigh, especially where you turn onto the beach at Sandy Lane with a ragingly peaceful sun setting. For Cathy Flynn it’s the 5K Causeway loop or the Banna route. Anything that’s not hilly! Irene Butler likes the flat Banna run while David Butler likes Kerryhead where the scenery opens up as you stride on and offsets the hills which are the cost of enjoying the Ballyheigue region. “Sheer heaven” is how Paudie Dineen describes the run from Banna to Ballyheigue via the beach, refuelling with a creamy 99 and back again to Banna via the beach.
But as well as having our special training places, we also have special competition places and one of those is Tullamore Harriers track in Co Offaly. Sunshine and July bring back the annual trips there in the 1990s to generations of Kerry athletes and families. Around this time every July it was the ultimate national honour for St Brendan’s AC athletes to be involved. The occasion was encased in the place. It had a symmetry about it. Open sports over, county championships done, Munster championships savoured and qualification secured. A small but ambitious group Tullamore-bound. Training done in Station Road Field, Ardfert sportsfield and in the Cúl Tráigh. Friday night could mean a sleepover for a number of athletes in our house to ensure a quick departure at 6am on Saturday for the three-hour journey to Tullamore. Ceara Devane had to come from Annascaul early in the afternoon. It would be a long weekend for flyer who had joined the club at an early stage. Car always full as we head into the sunrise in the Rover 214 which knew the way to all athletic tracks. One or more cars would bring more athletes. By the time we got to Listowel, Natalie O’Connor would be asleep (on the floor of the rear of the car) and Paula McCarthy would be also in dreamland. Owen McCarthy would be stretching his legs on the dashboard on the passenger side, cool as a Ballinprior breeze. There was inevitably an orange sky as we passed Adare with its sleeping American tourists and onward to Nenagh where we would turn left as the endless sunny summer day beckoned. Sun was vital for a memorable national championships. Down memory lane all days in Tullamore were sunny. A lot of chat then in the car as lost sleep was retrieved. No mobile phones to interrupt the interpersonal intra-car involuntary intercommunications. Did I put my spikes into my spike bag? Oh, my mother packed them last night. Have you got your St Brendan’s AC singlets? There were always spare ones in the boot anyway. I have a sore ankle, David. We stop to stretch on the side of the road somewhere. Calf stretches in Offaly where calves as big as cows roamed the fields. How long more? This is going to be our day. It’s a bonus to get here. All the other athletes in the club will be waiting for news when we get back. Your performances will inspire them. They will be here next year. No pressure ladies and lads.
Certain journeys to Tullamore stand out. The morning we saw an injured baby rabbit on the side of the road about twenty miles from Tullamore. “Stop” says Owen McCarthy. I did. Out with Owen and talked to the poor rabbit for a few seconds. “We have to take him with us”, says Owen. I couldn’t say no to the top male sprinter in the club. He had already won the Celtic Games 200m in Scotland the year before. Baby rabbit put into the boot of the Rover with a spare St Brendan’s AC singlet around him and a pair of runners to stop him from rolling. Water in a sand shovel (anything could be found in the boot) and a piece of banana beside him. Did rabbits eat bananas? Off then to the track. Rabbit still alive when we got there. Would he survive the day? Let’s run for the rabbit, ladies and lads. If we do that, he will know. Medals won but the rabbit was in the great burrow in the sky at the end of the day.
On another occasion, Liam O’Riordan was driving. Took eyes of the signs which in the 1990s could be turned anyway. Left the map at home. Satnavs wouldn’t be invented for another twenty years. I think this is a shortcut. After some time there is grass growing on the middle of the road. Somebody said he saw a sign for the Aran Islands. Turn around! Stopped to ask a farmer saving hay laughed. He answered with a question. “Where are ye from?” A big discussion then about the Munster football final which was on later that day. Kerry V Clare. The farmer laughed…at the car-full of lost Kerry people or the chance Clare had of beating the Kingdom in a Munster football final. One of those possible reasons was not funny at the end of that Sunday afternoon. “How’s the hay in Kerry?” he called after us as we sped away after all the meaningful negotiations and news that Offaly would be back next year. Oh, and he did mention something about five-in-a row RIP tops that were still being sold in Tullamore!
Tullamore is enclosed by trees. An amphitheatre of athletics. Hot hot hot on a hot day. Pick a cool spot to establish base camp. At the west side beyond the finish line on the grass was ideal then. Check the programme. Listen for the announcements. Decide on a time to meet to warm up for the different events. Have a 7Up and a ham sandwich. Let the games begin.
This week was the 30th anniversary of Radio Kerry. Did my first live commentary on a cell-phone (as big as a sod of turf and as heavy as a brick) from the stand in Tullamore a few years later. Found out about it about an hour before the race from Séamus O’Mahony back in the studio in Tralee. Geraldine McCarthy (Listowel AC) was running in the 800m final and the people around me in the stand thought I was joking as juvenile athletics usually didn’t get live commentaries at the time (or now). May have tried to emulate Micheál Ó Hehir as one of our athletes held the programme up and pointed out the other competitors to me as they made their bid in a fast race. It was the longest 2 mins and 30 secs of my life and of course the gifted Geraldine played her part with a typically uplifting performance in the last 100m. Roared her home. Honour for the Listowel girl and a round of applause for the amateur broadcaster.
Kerry athletic clubs were always well represented in Tullamore with coaches, parents, officials and supporters sharing hope and dreams, chatting about which road they travelled up that morning and what they saw on the way. Damien McLoughlin was usually head time-keeper before electronics and was as good at timing as any machine. History and Con Dennehy will record the St Brendan’s AC athletes’ exploits in national championships in due course but Mark Griffin from England finds a place on the canvas of Tullamore with doubles in the 800m and 1500m with gifted performances. Mark’s father worked for Kerry Group in London and his aunt is Bridie Griffin from Kilmoyley. His cousin is Mike Griffin. Mark later represented GB in European competitions. An magic athlete who lit up a magic place. One of many.
Overnight on the Saturday was usually in bed and breakfasts around Tullamore. Ceara Devane didn’t always like the runny Sunday morning eggs for breakfast. In 1996 I booked accommodation for the athletes and two coaches but when we got to the house on Saturday evening after a good day of competition, the landlady could only accommodate one adult. I left Anne Crowley in charge and went to seek another b and b. No luck and I ended up in Roscrea quite a distance away before I secured a bed for the night. It also happened to be the occasion of the Olympic final in Atlanta of the men’s 100m which was due to be held at around 2am Sunday morning. A must-see. Good TV in the room (not always a given in the 1990s) and all I had to do was wait. The next thing I remember is waking to the news: “And after the drama of last night’s 100m final, Linford Christie explains how he was disqualified after two false starts”. It was 7 am and I had missed one of the most intense finals in Olympic history. Quick breakfast. Back to Tullamore where David Crowley had some super triple jumps. I didn’t miss that.
Road home Sunday evenings. Talk about who won what and who saw whom and who was the fella with the headband in the 200m. One evening we were stuck in traffic approaching Limerick and the road was full of Clare hurling supporters coming from the Munster final. I wound down the window to ask a crepe-hatted Bannerman who won. “We were beaten!” he said mournfully. “How much were you beaten by?” I asked. He looked at me earnestly with a Burren look in his eyes and repeated with emphasis “We were beaten”.
Stop at McDonalds in Limerick. Owen McCarthy loved the Big Mac. Ceara Devane loved curry sauce on her chips. Then westwards into a sun setting of another national championships. Another canvas coloured. Following generations of the club's athletes and mentors would enjoy Tullamore as well. Their storytellers will tell their stories. Stories painted for the future to be remembered after school, college, years-out, summer travel, relationships, changes of direction, rivers crossed, mountains climbed, life’s twists, life’s turns, dances remembered, dances forgot...
I finish my wobbly 5K in Banna carpark and turn on the radio. The Beatles are singing
“There are places I remember
All my life…”

13 July 2020

parkrun makes a difference

Image may contain: 14 people, including David Butler, Irene Butler, Kirstie Nowak, David Kissane and Pat Sheehy, people standing, child, outdoor and nature
parkrun makes a difference to St Brendan's AC athletes
The Small p That Spells Saturday
By David Kissane, St Brendan's AC
“On the Road Again” Willie Nelson sings this Sunday morning as I head out. Yesterday’s glorious blue sky has passed on. Today is overcast. Ideal morning for a run. It’s (not)parkrun morning for me. Why not do a (not)parkrun! It’s the virtual version of the parkrun during these restricted times and there is a hilly 5K ahead. Bob and Shelly-Lynn Florence Glover spoke in their runners’ book of association and dissociation of the mind during runs. I say good morning to my sore knees and dodgy hammers and dissociate immediately. I explosively exhale and wander off laterally in the mind…
Why parkrun? The small p that spells Saturday and Sunday for hordes of runners, walkers and joggers of all ages and abilities each weekend on five continents. I never heard of the parkrun till 2017. Moira Horgan first mentioned it to me in St Brendan’s AC and Coach Artur Nowak advised me to participate. It would help to get back to regular running, he said, after a twenty year lay-off. “It will help you stop living in the past!” he wisely added with his knowing smile.
So off I went to Tralee’s town park and warmed up around the roses and did the stretching. “You’ve come on the wrong day, Dave!” Pat Sheehy told me. I turned up for my first parkrun on a Sunday, which is of course children’s 2K day. Right intention. Wrong day. He added “anyway, you wouldn’t last the pace with some of these guys!” The following Saturday I made my debut in parkrun. “Right day this time, Dave!” Pat Sheehy affirmed. Overwhelming was the first impression as around 300 people assembled from all parts for the welcoming words and presentations and advice. The bunch of volunteers organising the event was impressive and the gender balance would be the envy of any world organisation. This was different. This could make a difference. This has made a difference. We started on a 3-2-1-whistle and then frantic joy and I don’t think I will ever stop.
The parkrun concept has changed the health and fitness of countless numbers of people of all ages since it was launched in 2004. The person who initiated the movement was Paul Sinton Hewitt who was born in 1960 in Zimbabwe. He was educated in South Africa and was a promising marathoner with a pb of 2-36 until injury ended all his developmental hopes. He had lost his job in marketing and needed a new beginning and so he gathered thirteen people for a run in Bushy Park in London in 2004 with the aim of creating a healthier and happier world. Yes, just thirteen people! Now six million people in twenty two countries have taken to the parks every weekend with Paul Sinton Hewitt’s philosophy in mind. It is possibly the most life-changing 5K trip that anyone can undertake.
I have been fortunate to have experienced 63 parkruns to now. The 48 runs done in Tralee have been a staple diet of participation, motivation and satisfaction. Siobhán Kearney worked her magic bringing the parkrun to Tralee originally and her vision has led to golden harvests. Look at any parkrun Saturday or Sunday. People gather to chat before and regather to chat after. Special events are celebrated there. My son and his now wife got engaged after a parkrun in Tralee. She wanted to run in Tralee again the day of their wedding but her mother wouldn’t let her in case the hairdresser’s appointment might run late. The comments and craic at Billy’s Corner is an experience to be savoured. St Brendan’s AC adult athletes are regulars on Saturdays and the juveniles are especially prominent for their Sundays when Caroline Lynch takes charge. It’s a great place to volunteer as photographer as the participants beam at the camera. There is a spirit in Tralee parkrun and the dividend of its initiative can be collected every weekend.
The St Anne’s parkrun in Dublin holds a special affection as it’s the park where I first practised coaching back in 1976 with my St Paul’s College athletics groups. It’s also the place where I ran the morning after our first child was born. And the second. And the third. It’s two lap parkrun with that fantastic long wide road for the finish stretch. There was a special moment there in my first parkrun in 2018 when our little grandson came to support unannounced. St Anne’s also provided my 23-14 pb last year on the morning of the All Ireland replay. That was to be the best part of that sunny day!
I was a parkrun tourist in Wildflower Park in Sydney in 2018 through bush and hills where Bryan Freer was introduced to the parkrun and is hooked since. Poolsbrook near Chesterfield where my brother is buried in the UK was another special experience, three laps around a gorgeous lake off the M1 where the other O65s sorted me out! And of course there is Listowel which is the most testing parkrun of all. That hill in what we used to call “The Cow’s Lawn” was always a killer, even when we ran it as students in St Michael’s College more than half a century ago for cross country. Jimmy Deenihan has a warm welcome for everyone, although he notes that he is the top O65iver in Listowel until this writer appears.
One feature is common to all these parkruns and to all others…the highly structured organisation, efficiency and sense of inclusiveness. No matter where you finish, no matter in what condition you are at the start or the finish, you are made to feel welcome. Part of this goodwill comes from the fact that the volunteers and participants trade places regularly. It’s a hot-desking situation. Many other sporting organisations are hierarchical and a chasm sometimes develops between participant and officials, leading to an “us and them” scenario. Not so with parkrun. This is why parkrun is spelled with a small p to highlight the egalitarianism or the equality that is central to it. No fees, no medals, no podiums, no numbers. Register once and run, jog or walk. You have the choice to go for a pb every week or slow down and chat all the way through. You can help other runners around or push your baby in the go-car. The parkrun can put the jigsaw of your journey together.
And the efficiency of the parkrun is awesome. You get your result a few hours after the event: time, position, age-graded performance and then a day later photographs on Facebook to relive the moments. And the get-together and the cuppa for all at the end of each parkrun with its filled minutes is fundamental.
For competitive club athletes the parkrun has meant a weekly opportunity to flex the muscles and check progress. Not so long ago a runner would get only the rare championship race or fun run to experience competition. And the parkrun has attracted new athletes into clubs over the years and will continue to do so.
The part played by other supporting bodies is creditable in supporting parkrun. Town councils have risen to the challenge of providing the parks and some have upgraded the parks as a result of the success of the phenomenon.
So now, as I come near the end of the (not)parkrun for this July morning, I eagerly await the announcement of the return of parkrun proper when the time is right. It will be a Saturday morning soon. Where’s my barcode? Don’t tell me I left my runners out in the rain last night? Is that my 50 parkrun top still on the line? Off to town listening to CountryWide on radio. Park the van. Jog slowly to the town park past Castlecountess. Lap of the park to warm up. Stretch. Note how close to the start that Pádraig and Ger will arrive. An irresistible uprising of expectation. A rolling eloquence. The liberation of one foot in front of the other. A new narrative for Saturdays. Beethoven’s third. 3-2-1-whistle, and we will never stop.
Oh what a beautiful day.
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29 June 2020

Down Relay Road

Down Relay Road
By David Kissane, St Brendan’s AC
I am plodding up Station Road. It’s another Saturday morning virtual run. We have been commanded by Coach Ursula to do a 3K run on Strava this week. I woke up last night thinking about it. It was the cramps in my left hamstring that woke me…a reminder that we did fourteen speed runs last Thursday and now it’s the notorious 48 hour lactic low. I am doing the run early so that it will be over before I fully wake up. My mind drifts back thirty years…
Ole, olé, olé! The whole of the Irish world was enthralled with Italia 90 and another big game was coming up in an hour. What were some members of a St Brendan’s AC 4 x 100m relay team doing? Searching for a Munster medal won some hours earlier and lost in the long grass at the entrance to Kerry General Hospital.
On the way back from the Munsters in Waterford the team and the manager had to pay a quick visit to a mother in the hospital. The athletes decided to play hunts as a cool-down in the hospital lawn and the medal was lost. There were temporary tears, as most tears are. Serious searching took place. Time was of the essence but the team manager was the hero as he found the medal quite a distance away and represented it to the owner. Celebrations for the second time that day and into the car and home to watch another Ireland game. Orla Fitzgerald, do you still have that relay medal?
The week after, the same girls were to watch Ireland beat Romania on penalties – the nation held its breath – before going to play Community Games rounders in Oakpark in a friendly with Sandy Erb’s excellent team. Another week later, this weekend thirty years ago, that St Brendan’s team were to come 4th in the All Irelands in The Morton Stadium in Santry where snowballs as big as marbles fell on the tartan during the action. Of course I had transported all the team in my Cortina to Dublin. Then we watched the Ireland v Italy world cup quarter final in a pub in Monasterevin on the way home. We had Taytos and Cidona. Ireland beaten but heroic, the relay team with no medals…what time was training on Tuesday!
Two years previously, that same relay team were the first St Brendan’s AC team to win Munster gold relay medals in Templemore shortly after the club was formed. They were to medal in the Munsters every year till they completed their juvenile odyssey at U18 level. The stories that surround that string of victories are many, as are the stories that surround all the other club relay successes over the years…other athletes, other stories. It’s not just the race, it’s the befores and afters. It’s the thing around the thing that is the thing.
The 4 x 100m relays have been central to athletics since the Olympic Games introduced the event in 1912 in Stockholm for men, where no bronze medals were awarded and in 1928 for women in Amsterdam, where full sets of medals were presented. The US dominated the Olympic 4 x 100 until recent times while the women’s honours were more disparate. The Penn Relays and the Drake Relays in the US were huge occasions. Relays are still rare enough events internationally, which is to the detriment of athletics. In a relay race you can run but you can’t hide.
I was lucky as an athletics coach to have been fully exposed to the relay bug in Tarbert Comprehensive School from 1984 when I joined the staff there and became athletics coach with John O’Connor. For four consecutive incredible years our relay teams medalled in the All Ireland schools, harvesting two gold and two bronze.
When we founded St Brendan’s AC in 1987, relays were fundamental to building a strong club. In fact, the club foundation may have been partially inspired by the holding of an intra-parish fun relay for a field evening in the summer of 1987. Relay teams from a few areas in the parish were organised and such was the response that training was done and seeds were sown. When the club was born, Tom Kelly and others would say “ If we had another runner we could have a relay team there!” or even “If we had another three runners we could build a relay team around that sprinter!” And it was true. A club can be built around relays. A shot-putter would run if needed in a relay team; a speedy footballer would be summoned if a team lacked one; a runner who has no other event may be taught how to walk or throw the javelin to pass away the time before the relay comes around at the end of the day; one relay team of juveniles will generate another one as friends want to be involved; a team of boys may attract along a team of girls or vice versa and so suddenly the club has a buzz going. And the techniques were easily taught: the fastest runner goes last, the second fastest goes first, discover a bend runner for third and put in someone else, and go right hand to left hand and see what happens!
Getting relay batons were not easy in the 1980s. John Kelly and Bill Kelly were always proficient in improvising in an emergency. Timmy McCarthy would always have an idea or two as he and Delia brought their three children to training from Ballinprior. The whitethorn branches of the trees in Walnut Grove field were accessible as long as the thorns were removed before the relay. Wood from McCowen’s in Tralee was sweet. One evening a mother was heard complaining that her yard brush handle had got much shorter! One ambitious athlete arrived on an April evening with the handle of a wheelbarrow. Wavin piping was very handy (Séamus McCarthy of Clounalour AC made lovely ones), although they were a bit light. A length of nettle was even introduced by one of our boys on a memorable occasion. But the Thursday evening we brought a packet of shining new aluminium batons, red, yellow, blue and gold, to a training session, the relays took on a new aura. After all these were the same type of baton used in the Olympics. I can still see the light in the eyes of the athletes. It was the one evening Miriam O’Hara didn’t say “David, do I have to run!”
Training for the relays took many forms, but from the earliest indoor sessions in Ardfert Community Centre and outdoor in Banna car park (where there were always over 100 athletes twice a week), the out-and-back relay was the highlight. This was usually all the boys in a line behind each other versus all the girls, arranged in the various age-groups by Mary Sinnott, Mary Kelly, Peggy O’Sullivan, Ann Marie McCarthy, Terry Higgins and more. The whistle went and there was atomic-volume support until everyone had run. Sometimes there was a second and third round. Luckily we still have videos of a few of these sessions. When training moved to Walnut Grove, we introduced a rugby ball on some occasions instead of a baton and the athletes loved it. Balloons were used on other occasions, as were wellies and a host of other simple equipment. The joy of those sessions was boundless, and the cheering could be heard a mile away. Neighbours were saying “you have those children driven mad!” Parents often confirmed to us that their children always slept soundly after the bi-weekly sessions. Even when the technicalities were perfected in other sessions coming up to championships, we would still bring each session to a finale with the old out-and-back relay. The relay is a team effort and the end-of-session relays brought the whole club together. Relays were the full stops in our athletic sentences.
When one generation of coaches and officials passed on the metaphorical baton to the next group in the club and Community Games in the late 1990s, Ger O’Mahony, Ann Crowley and others kept the tradition going and passed on to yet another team later. And so the relay went on. Each generation will have their own tales to tell of relay fun and success.
Of course there are other relays beside the 4 x 100m. The 4 x 400m was important on championship days for points and was central to St Brendan’s AC coming in as runner-up for the men’s Quill Cup at the county senior championships in the 1990s and ultimately winning it some years later. The relays were key to the club’s ladies winning the senior cup for the first time in the 1990s. There were medley relays in Tralee in the 1990s and cross country relays are now a big day out in the winter. Community Games had a massive part in promoting cross country relays in the 1990s with the inter counties relays in Mosney in May. John Bunyan and Eamon Whelan were excellent managers of some of the Kerry teams that shone there and many Ardfert Kilmoyley athletes were part of that excitement. Indeed one can say that football and hurling and all ball games are relays in their own way. The running of organisations is indeed a relay process also, with some participants expertly passing the baton on time and others holding on too long! The late Dermot Morgan as Fr Trendy would no doubt have said all of life is a relay, with all of us dropping the baton at some stage.
There are multitudes of relay memories to traverse. Some are history and some will be forever legend. The winning of the first ever club Munster title, the first ever (and still only) gold medal win in the national Community Games in Mosney by the Ardfert Kilmoyley mixed relay team and many other events will be recorded in history but the anecdotes are the ones that bring a smile. Tina O’Sullivan walked into a lamp-post in Mosney the evening before a national finals (but recovered to run to a podium finish); Caroline Wallace remembers a dropped baton which grows in the re-telling; a 3rd runner on a St Brendan’s relay team was advised to “keep going” during a relay at Knockanure sports when the fourth runner was not visible, thereby running two legs unknown to the judges; Cathal O’Riordan broke his hand the week before a national finals but the sub played his part in the final; Shaz Malik running in a tight jeans in the masters’ county championships a few years ago; family relays at the St Brendan’s AC open sports where someone looked around while twenty yards in the lead and waved to the crowd only to be overtaken ten metres from the line; the presence of no fewer than three St Brendan’s AC masters’ men’s relay teams in the 2019 county championships with John Clifford making a return to the big time; the Born to Run relays in Tralee where a team celebrated on the podium only to be told that they had lost; and a similar celebration in the Munster championships when a team celebrated an assumed win only to discover that they had run in a heat and not a final!
There was a particular county masters championships held in Ardfert sportsfield in the 1990s and the relay would decide the destination of the best club award. A member of the strongest opposing team was seen to remove a plaster-cast so that he could compete in the relay. I always admired his bravery but the St Brendan’s AC team won that evening after a titanic battle. The sub for the home team that evening was Fr Johnny Healy and he proudly took his county relay medal back to the US where he still serves his parish.
There is one particular relay that is remembered by my left hamstring. A form of muscle memory that still pulls me back! Christy Murray is on his marks in the Munster masters’ intercounty 4 x 100m in Cork IT track. I await in zone one to take the baton. I have pulled my upper hamstring in the 100m an hour earlier but there only four runners and I can’t let down the county! Bang goes the gun and bang goes Christy and I watch him power up the track towards me like a bullet. I hear “hand” and I feel the baton drop in my palm. Off I go and bang goes the upper hamstring. Pain barrier here we come as I roar in anguish till I hand over to Patrick O’Riordan who rounds the bend and passes on to Donal Crowley who powers home to win the Munster title. I couldn’t run again for a month but I was reminded by a colleague that sure I couldn’t run very well anyway! I thought of that relay as Christy was laid to rest some time ago.
Relays ensure that an athletics meet is brought to a proper conclusion. The crowd will stay on till the last relay is over. A meet without relays is a day without an evening.
I would like to think that just before days’ end I would number among the treasured memories of life a hot summer’s day of open sports or championships. The end of the meet would be graced by the relays. The runners would be standing with hungry hands poised and eager for action at their starting points around the track. The commentator would ask for hush. Parents, grandparents, relations, supporters, coaches, athletes would focus on the shiny batons flashing at the start line. A charged silence would follow: zone one, white flag; zone two, white flag; zone three, white flag. Over to you Mr Starter. On your marks… set…
There are a thousand stories down relay road.
Think deeply. You have a relay story too.
The St Brendan's AC relay team who won honours in the Munster relay championships every year from the late 1980s th the mid 1990s
Ceara Devane, Sinéad Kissane, Paula McCarthy and Natalie O'Connor.

15 June 2020

"The battle of the Villages" - Virtual Run

"The battle of the Villages"
Results are in, with some great times and Pb's.
Fastest male age graded was John Culloty (Kilmoyley) 16:57. Fastest age graded female Margaret Carlin 18:33. Overall village winners Kilmoyley (69.96%), second Tralee and third Ardfert. We had 4 competitors from Ardfert and Kilmoyley, 2 from Ballyheigue and Causeway and one from Tralee. 
Top 3 men John, Moises, David K. 
Top 3 women Margaret, Ursula, Áine. 
Well done everyone great community efforts. 👏👏
No photo description available.
For the next few weeks the Fit4Life group will meet at Banna Boat House/Banna Sea Rescue on Thursdays at 8pm, members only.

27 May 2020

Club notes - 27 May 2020

St.Brendan's AC Committee under the guidelines from Athletics Ireland, are in the process of planning to return to restricted training as part of the Phase 1 of the Government Roadmap.
In accordance to the very strict guidelines that we must adhere to at the moment, this restricted training can only apply to children 13 years and over and to adults under 70 years of age. All athletes who classify must live within the 5km radius of the club. As the plans progress, we will update you on further details. We as a club are looking forward to slowly return to training with you all, but keeping within the guidelines now and the safety of all our members is our priority.
Latest recommendations from AAI HERE.