Cork City Sports flashback: Sean Kelly was a class apart in the Mardyke

Cork City Sports flashback: Sean Kelly was a class apart in the Mardyke
As a 19-year-old Sean Kelly was the star of the Cork City Sports in 1975

THE month of July has been synonymous with the Cork City Sports down the years but unfortunately, the 69th international meet scheduled for tonight is once again another victim of the many sporting cancellations of 2020 due to Covid-19.

So therefore over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look back at some of the many highlights from Ireland’s best-loved athletics meetings over the past four decades.

Big attraction at the Cork City Sports of July 1, 1975, at the Mardyke, was to be the duel between the country’s two leading milers, John Hartnett and Eamonn Coghlan.

But instead, it was a Belgian high jumper and a 19-year-old cyclist who stole the show.

In the most exciting exhibition of high jumping ever seen in the country, Bruno Brookham set an Irish all-comers and Belgian national record with his clearance of 7’ 2” (2.18cm).

This was the 23-year-old’s second visit to Cork, having established a meeting record of 6’ 11” (2.10cm) the year before.

Entering the competition at 6’ 4” (1.93cm) after the other four competitors had been eliminated, Brookham, using the old straddle style, quickly moved the bar up to 7’ 2” (2.18cm) which he cleared on his first attempt.

He then attempted 7’ 4” (2.23cm) and believed he had succeeded at his second attempt but expert measurement showed that there was a sag in the middle of the bar and the officials decided that 7’ 2” (2.18cm) would go forward for ratification.

The cycling events were always guaranteed to provide plenty of excitement on the Mardyke grass track.

In what was one of the last occasions that cycling would form part of the programme, they certainly didn’t disappoint on this occasion the estimated 5,000 attendance.

Sean Kelly from Carrick-on-Suir had made a major breakthrough that summer in the Tour of Britain and had added to his growing reputation the week before the City Sports with another two wins across the water.

After triumphing over 75 miles at Harrogate on the Saturday, he arrived home to win the 95 miles Tour of Wexford on Sunday. Two nights later, on the very fast Mardyke track, Kelly was a class apart.

The feature event was the Irish One Mile championship and here Kelly waited until the last half-lap before making his move to hold off Eddie Dunne of Round Towers in a pulsating finish.

He followed that up with another win over three miles and added a close second behind Peter Hegarty of Fermoy in the half-mile.

Third in both the mile and three-mile behind Kelly was Pat McQuaid of the Emerald club and before the year was out both would make the headlines for a very different reason.

After going to South Africa to ride under false names (because of an international ban at the time due to the apartheid situation), both were suspended for six months which resulted in them missing out on the following year’s Montreal Olympics.

On a never-to-be forgotten evening at the Mardyke in 1974, John Hartnett had become the first Irishman to break four minutes for the mile on a grass track with his 3:56.3 and therefore his clash with Eamonn Coghlan over the four laps was eagerly awaited.

In May, Coghlan ran his first sub-four-minute mile when clocking 3:56.2 at Pittsburgh and one week later broke the long-standing European record of Michel Jazy with a time of 3:53.3 in Kingston, Jamaica.

Disappointingly, Hartnett had to pull out with injury and in a slow run race — halfway was reached in 2:02.5 – Coghlan was never troubled as he powered away to cross the line in 4:02.9. Niall O’Shaughnessy (Limerick) took second in 4:04.5 with Paul Lawther, 19, of Annadale Striders third in 4:04.7.

The one mile may have been a disappointment but an epic 5000m made up for it for sheer excitement as another of the visiting Belgium’s, Henri Schoofs, took the honours.

A huge field of nearly 30 were soon whittled down to a group of eight, all tightly bunched.

Three laps from home, much to the delight of the crowd, Ritchie Crowley (St Finbarr’s) made a break and quickly opened a 10 metre gap. John Treacy, just a month after his 18th birthday, led the chase and had moved into the lead at the bell.

Donie Walsh, showing his usual fighting qualities, slowly pulled Treacy back and took over rounding the last bend. However, Schoofs had run a canny race and came with a late rush to deprive the Leevale man of what would have been a hugely popular victory.

The times for the first three show how close it was: Schoofs was credited with 14:11.1, Walsh with 14:11.5 while Treacy’s 14:12.1 was over a half-minute inside the European Junior Championship qualifying standard.

Only five events for women were on the programme and the most successful athlete was Mary Doyle of St Finbarr’s. She won the long jump with a leap of 17’ 4” (5.28cm), three inches ahead of Joy Good from Bandon, before finishing second in the 100m to Anne Jeffers (Leevale) as both were credited with the same time of 12.2.

Tim Crowe (Limerick), the fastest Irishman that season over 200m and 400m, defended his 400m hurdles title narrowly over Limerick All-Star hurler Paddy Kelly in a time of 55.2.

Crowe also took second in the 200m and third in the 100m behind British international Tony Hadley who won both sprints.

Mick O’Flynn won the long jump with his 22’ 6” (6.85cm) ahead of Leevale team-mate Colm Cronin’s 21’ 8” (6.60cm) but conceded victory in the triple jump as Cronin easily won with a leap of 48’ 3/4” (14.73cm).

Another well-received local performance came in the 800m as Liam O’Brien – nowadays one of the key personnel on the City Sports committee as Technical Director – came with his customary fast finish to win in a time of 1:55.8 ahead of Brian Murphy from Civil Service (1:56.3) and James Collins of Ballymore-Cobh (1:56.4).

The BAM Cork City Sports for 2020 is cancelled due to Covid 19
The BAM Cork City Sports for 2020 is cancelled due to Covid 19

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