Marathon in 1985 got an extra boost from the Cork 800 celebrations

Marathon in 1985 got an extra boost from the Cork 800 celebrations
Runners going over Parnell Bridge in the 1985 Cork City Marathon.

BACK in 1985, the Cork 800 celebrations proved to be a blessing for the increasing number of races then taking place. The once-off ‘Cork 800’ logo on the finishers’ plaque attracted participants.

To celebrate Cork City’s 800th birthday, in 1985, a couple of ‘8K’ races were held, one organised by St Finbarr’s and the other by the Togher club.

Another popular event was the half-marathon held by the Friends of the Wheelchair Association on St Patrick’s Day. It was the ideal build-up to the fourth Adidas Cork City Marathon, fixed for April 8 and it attracted 1,100 runners.

Two Kerry athletes, John Linehan and John Griffin, finished first and second, with Tony Ryan, from Dungarvan, third.

Catherine Hourihan, of St Finbarr’s, won the women’s race, but none of those three would figure over the full distance, three weeks later.

After the excitement and controversy of the previous year, the 1985 marathon was much quieter, as the national governing body, Bord Lúthchleas na hÉireann, decided to hold their championship race separately, in Limerick, at the end of June.

However, there was still a good incentive to attract the top athletes to Cork: The first prize was an all-expenses-paid trip to the New York City marathon, the following November.

Almost 1,000 entries were received for the Cork marathon, and speaking at the press conference before the race, Michael O’Connell, of Adidas, said they were pleased with the response, as the bad weather over the previous few months had not been conducive to training.

The organisers wanted the race to be a value-for-money event, with every participant being rewarded with a special Cork 800 T-shirt, while all finishers received the marathon medallion, all for an entry fee of £6.

The course had been changed and now went through Douglas Village, before doubling back through Church Street, onto the main Douglas Road.

It made for a faster route, what with the exclusion of the dreaded Temple Hill.

The pre-race favourites were Paddy Murphy, from Kildare, fourth the previous year and now the world veteran marathon champion, and Roscommon man Billy Gallagher.

The 29-year-old Gallagher, who worked as a Department of Agriculture official in Cavan town, had completed 20 marathons and was considered something of an ‘iron man’.

Gallagher had won the Templemore 80km race just three weeks after finishing third in the national marathon.

Billy Gallagher breaks the tape to win.
Billy Gallagher breaks the tape to win.

Local hopes rested on John Buckley, then coming to the end of his senior career (having won the Irish cross-country title aged 19).

Veteran status would be another hugely successful sphere for him, culminating in world titles six years later.

Profiled before the marathon, the St Finbarr’s man said: “Times have really changed now, with events like the Evening Echo Mini-Marathon and the marathons and half-marathons introducing hundreds of people to running,” sentiments that could be repeated today.

With Lucy O’Donoghue unable to take part due to injury and the non-appearance of British international Sally McDiarmuid, the women’s race was seen as a battle between Shelia Curtin, of north Cork (the Munster 16km champion), and Catherine Speight, of Leevale, who had performed well in the Adidas series of 10km races around the Tramore Road circuit.

Although the weather hadn’t been favourable in the days leading up to Easter Monday, conditions on the morning were ideal: Dry, with very little wind. Shortly after the opening 1.6km (reached in 4:58), a group of six had formed at the front.

The two favourites, Gallagher and Murphy, were there, along with Buckley, Michael Carey, of Leevale, Christy Ryan (Co Tipperary), and regular contender, Willie Hayes, of Reenavanna.

The 4.8km mark came up in 15:38 and shortly afterwards it was down to five runners, as Ryan lost contact.

Coming up to 13km, Carey and Hayes were dropped and, after reaching the 16km checkpoint in 52:43, Buckley also had to let go.

Gallagher and Murphy passed the halfway point in 68:22, with still no sign of hurt on either of their faces.

Back through the city and down the Marina, Gallagher opened a five-metre lead, but on the climb out of Blackrock, Murphy had regained contact, with the clock showing 1:45:05 at 32km.

It stayed that way up to 37km, but then, when the leaders hit the roundabout leading into Douglas, Gallagher made his move. Murphy failed to respond and the younger man slowly pulled away.

Approaching the finish, Gallagher realised he had a chance of breaking 2:19 for the first time and a lunge for the line saw him just getting there, in 2:18:58.

A tiring Murphy finished almost a minute later, in 2:19:51, and then there was a big gap before a delighted Michael Carey arrived to take third, in 2:26:42 and, with it, the Munster title.

Willie Hayes, sixth three years before, had another consistent run to improve to fourth, in 2:29:29, just 27 seconds ahead of a man who had arguably the performance of the day.

For Derry O’Driscoll, from Cobh, running for St Finbarr’s, it was a remarkable personal-best time at the age of 47.

After running 2:33 in the Sea of Galilee Marathon before Christmas, O’Driscoll thought he might have an outside chance of breaking 2:30 and achieve this he did, by four seconds, in 2:29:56.

Two club-mates of Paddy Murphy, from Kildare, Brendan Domican and Stephen O’Toole, took sixth and seventh positions. John Buckley suffered a lot over the final kilometres, but kept going to eventually finish in 2:45:21, for 26th position.

Sheila Curtin, from Newtownshandrum, ran an excellent race to take the women’s title in only her second marathon.

The Fr Liam Kelleher-coached Curtin — whose sister, Maura, had finished second two years before — had to stop at 32km, where she was passed by Catherine Speight.

Regaining her composure, she passed Speight again 5km later to finish in 3:01:23, and but for her bad patch, would surely have broken the three-hour barrier.

Speight was rewarded with a credible 3:04:13, for second, and Marion Lyons, in her first marathon, took third, in 3:06:58.

As in every marathon, there were many tales of courage and inspiration.

One such performance was that of Richard O’Mahony, from the Crusaders club in Dublin.

He finished 15th, in 2:41:02, despite being deaf and dumb.



1 Billy Gallagher 2.18.58; 2 Pat Murphy 2.19.51; 3 Michael Carey 2.26.42; 4 Willie Hayes 2.29.29; 5 Derry O’Driscoll 2.29.56; 6 Brendan Domican 2.31.38; 7 Stephen O’Toole 2.32.06; 8 Roddy Burke 2.32.37; 9 Michael Roche 2.33.20; 10 Christy Crowley 2.34.17


1 Sheila Curtin 3.01.23; 2 Catherine Speight 3.04.13; 3 Marion Lyons 3.06.58; 4 Rose Crockett 3.08.32; 5 Triona Kelly 3.16.39; 6 Mary Sweeney 3.21.07.

Among the 733 recorded finishers were...

George Walsh from Youghal was over eight minutes faster than the previous year when finishing 12th in 2.37.06.

Husband-and-wife Eric and Rose Crockett (St Finbarr’s) recorded respective times of 2.38.16 and 3.08.32.

Under the three hours were Pat Motyer from Ballycotton (2.57.06), Joe Murphy of Eagle (2.57.13) and John O’Connell from Passage West who just made it with 2.59.02.

Just missing a sub-3.00 by 14 seconds was John Brady from Charleville who finished 95th overall.

Athletics historian Liam Fleming from Ballinascarthy ran 3.06.38 with Tim Geary of Leamlara close behind on 3.07.53.

Not far away were Maurice Tobin of the Youghal club — now a member of Grange-Fermoy — who finished in 3.08.58 and Christy O’Driscoll from Dublin Hill who clocked 3.09.23.

Peter Fenlon recorded 3.12.27 with Anthony Prendergast of St Nicholas (Castlelyons) six seconds behind in 3.12.33.

Dan Nagle from the Mallow club finished in 3.21.59 with Anthony Donnachie from Cobh on 3.24.13.

Two Cork BHAA stalwarts, Sean Walsh and Eddie Mullane, both of the Quigley Company, finished a second apart in times of 3.27.30 and 3.27.31.

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