THERE was a most noticeable change for the fifth adidas Cork City Marathon as it took place a month later than normal, on Sunday May 25, 1986.
Easter Monday fell on the last day of March and as BLE had fixed the National Marathon for April 13 in Portlaoise, there was no way that Cork could go ahead two weeks before.
On that Saturday afternoon in Portlaoise, just 90 runners turned out for the BLE championship, the smallest number in 10 years.
It was won by London-based Kingston Mills, a member of Civil Service Harriers, in a time of 2:15:58. For the past three months in his position as Head of Immunology at Trinity College, Professor Kingston Mills has become familiar and reassuring presence on our national media in the battle against the Covid-19 virus.
Good packing by St Finbarr’s which saw Ricky Burke finishing third (2:22:09), John Buckley ninth (2:30:22), Eric Crockett 10th (2:31:50) and Derry O’Driscoll 11th (2:34:30) won for the Cork club the team title.
Of the four, only O’Driscoll would turn out in Cork six weeks later. An even smaller field of just 42 runners assembled for the BLE 10-mile championship at Castlelyons on May 4, an event won by Tony O’Leary of Leevale. In contrast, an average of over 400 runners were taking part in each of the five St Finbarr’s four-mile road leagues held that summer.
The course for the Cork event showed a number of changes from previous years, although the start and finish remained on the South Mall. Due to road works, further alternations had to be made the week before.
“Two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon is not the most appropriate time for a marathon around the streets,” said Michael Dooley, County Board Chairman and race organiser, adding “we owe a great debt of gratitude to the Gardai and to the public for their patience.”
Sunday May 25 was also the day of the Sport Aid ‘Race Against Time’, a series of world-wide mass-participation 10km runs thought up by Bob Geldof to help alleviate world hunger. On the morning of the marathon, Cork County Board held a run around the Carrigrohane Road/Lee Road circuit which saw around 3,000 taking part.
Of course this was all before the advent of Sunday trading in the city and so, at 2pm, with the rain starting to fall, something in excess of 300 marathon runners assembled on the Mall to begin their 26.2-mile journey.
Amongst them was a woman from Fair Hill who had already carved out her own special niche in women’s athletics and before the day was out would have further cause for celebration.
The career of Marion Lyons (nee Stanton) had already covered the whole spectrum of athletics. She had recorded track times of 2:11 for 800m and 9:16 for 3000m and had represented Ireland at senior level on a number of occasions at cross-country, the highlights being the World Championships in Chepstow and Düsseldorf.
Back in April 1978, along with Elaine Kelly and Dervla Mellerick, the St Finbarr’s athlete had taken part in the Cork to Cobh 15-mile race, the first time in this country that women had competed with men over such a distance.
After finishing third in the 1985 Cork marathon in 3:06:58, the training over the winter months was geared to breaking the three-hour barrier the following year.
“I used to train a lot with Michael Dunne and Joe Murphy, and they were fantastic to me,” Marion recalled. “Michael Clancy started coaching me and he would come out on a bike and accompany me on my 15-mile run during the week and then we would do our 20 mile runs on a Sunday up into Whitechurch.
“I used to do an awful lot of quality sessions as well and was able to do around 58 minutes for 10 miles. But all my training was geared towards the marathon; I was running about 70 miles a week at the time.”
Taking control of the race from the start, at six miles reached in 38:40 she was already four minutes ahead of Brigid McCabe from Mullingar. At halfway, the margin had grown to six minutes. However, coming up to 18 miles Lyons appeared to be in some difficulty as the experienced McCabe began to close.
By 20 miles the Mullingar athlete had closed the gap to three minutes but then she suffered cramp, leaving Lyons on course for victory. Crossing the finish line looking remarkably fresh, the clock showed 3:01:05 and Marion Lyons had become the third Cork woman in five years to take the coveted local title.
McCabe was second in 3:09:20 and finishing third, in a time of 3:15:01, was Dublin-based Nora Joyce, a native of Rathcormac.
Marion Lyons’ recollections of those early days training shows how much running, especially for women, had changed: “All my brothers and sisters ran and I used to do a lot of my training up Fair Hill. All the lads would be laughing at us, but as I often said after, a lot of those who were laughing at us then are running themselves nowadays.”
She would eventually break the three hours when reducing her personal best to 2:54:57 in Dublin and Marion Lyons also cherishes the sponsorship of running gear she received at the time from Michael O’Connell of Three Stripe International, the distributors of adidas who were also the marathon benefactors.
It was another adidas sponsored athlete, Billy Gallagher, who dominated the men’s race when winning for the second successive year. His time of 2:20:12 was over a minute slower than 12 months before but he never left any doubt about his intentions, running the last 16 miles into the rain on his own.
Tom Brouder, a member of a strong West Limerick team, tried to stay with the Cavan athlete in the early stages and managed to hold on take second in 2:24:29. Michael Carey of Leevale took third for the second year in a row, his time of 2:25:42 exactly a minute faster than in 1985.
Also repeating his fifth spot from the previous year, 48-year-old Derry O’Driscoll easily took the veterans prize when recording another excellent time of 2:34:27.
Just 303 finishers were officially recorded and as the last few wearily made their way to the finish line on the South Mall as 7 o’clock approached, they were unaware that 21 years would elapse before Cork city would again play host to another 26.2-mile marathon race.
MEN: 1 Billy Gallagher 2:20:12 2 Tom Brouder 2:24:39 3 Michael Carey 2:25:42 4 Gerry Mullane 2:29:35 5 Derry O’Driscoll 2:34:27 6 Brendan Domican 2:34:58 7 John O’Driscoll 2:35:40 8 Seamus Cawley 2:35:46 9 John Walshe 2:36:31 10 Thomas Bracken 2:37:34
WOMEN: 1 Marion Lyons 3:01:05 2 Brigid McCabe 3:09:20 3 Nora Joyce 3:15:01 4 Patricia Crangle 3:23:42 5 Marie Morley 3:29:22 Other names amongst the finishers included:
* Flor O’Leary, first M50 in a brilliant time of 2:43:22 which placed the St Finbarr’s man 11th overall * Sean Whelan from Ennis, a regular visitor to Cork races, finished 23rd in 2:52:20.
* George Webb of Rising Sun finished in 2:52:38 with Pat Dempsey (Leevale) close behind on 2:52:46.
* The final runner under three hours was Peter Gaffney from Mallow in 2:59:55.
* The late Barthy O’Sullivan recorded a time 3:23:12 with Donal O’Mahony on 3:28:54 and Joe Hogan from Blackrock on 3:31:02.
* Tony Cooke completed his debut marathon in 3:44:36. “It was my first and I said at the time, my last,” he recalled, a sentiment familiar to all marathon debutants.
* Declan Harrison from Lisgoold had a time of 3:47:46, one place ahead of Tom Houlihan from Midleton who finished in 3:48:17.
* Just behind in 3:49:37 in her first marathon was Bernice Glavin from Wilton, still a regular at the distance throughout the country.
* Cork goalkeeper Billy Morgan recorded 3:51:34; Pat Cadogan from Bishopstown had 4:30:16 and not far behind was Willie Chambers in 4:47:45.