Cork Athletics: Great team of 1968 were honoured for All-Ireland triumph

Cork Athletics: Great team of 1968 were honoured for All-Ireland triumph
Donie Walsh, a member of the 1968 Cork All-Ireland winning cross-country team, receiving his award from Paddy Buckley, Chairman of Cork Athletics Board. Picture: John Walshe

AS is now customary at the Cork Athletics Board International Awards Night, a county cross-country winning team of years gone by are honoured.

The brainchild of Liam Fleming from Ballinascarthy who has written several books on past champions, this year’s special presentation at the Kingsley Hotel was made to the 1968 men’s All-Ireland team who won the inter-counties title at Mallow Racecourse for the fifth time in six years.

Four of the winning team – Donie Walsh, Richie Crowley, Stephen Hennessy and Pat O’Connell – were in attendance and apologies were received from John and Denis Buckley, Pat O’Riordan and Jackie O’Callaghan. Mary-Pat Hodgins accepted the award on behalf of her late husband Dick. Two other members, Matt Murphy and Liam Horgan, have also passed away since that historic day.

Stephen Hennessy of the 1968 Cork All-Ireland winning cross-country team receiving his award from Paddy Buckley, Chairman of Cork Athletics Board. Picture: John Walshe
Stephen Hennessy of the 1968 Cork All-Ireland winning cross-country team receiving his award from Paddy Buckley, Chairman of Cork Athletics Board. Picture: John Walshe

The All-Ireland cross-country championship of 1968 was a significant one in the annals of Irish athletics as it was the first held under the rules of the new body Bord Lúthchleas na hÉireann which had come into existence the year before. 

It took place on Sunday, February 24 at Mallow Racecourse over seven-and-a-half miles and came just a week after the Cork county championship were held at the same venue over the same distance.

Holding two demanding races of such significance just a week apart would be unheard of nowadays. The reason in 1968 was due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the UK over the autumn and winter months which meant that all cross-country fixtures were put on hold.

That Cork decider resulted in a clear victory for Ballymartle farmer Matt Murphy of the Rising Sun club who came home 100 yards clear of John Buckley (St Finbarr’s) with Donie Walsh (Leevale) in third, Stephen Hennessy (Youghal) fourth and Pat O’Connell (Blarney) fifth.

As expected, the team award went to Leevale with Walsh ably backed up by Pat O’Riordan, Jackie O’Callaghan, Dick Hodgins, Liam Horgan and Kieran O’Donovan. The youths' three-mile race saw Ballyhooly’s John Hartnett of the Grange club proving too strong for George O’Callaghan of Leevale with Tim O’Donovan, also Leevale, third.

Seven days later, a field of over 300 assembled for the All-Ireland senior over an excellent course provided by Mallow AC secretary Denis Sheehan and his club committee. Murphy carried the high expectations of the large local attendance with his main opposition expected to come from Kerry-born journalist Tom O’Riordan from Donore Harriers. 

O’Riordan had represented Ireland in the 5,000 meters at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 after a successful collegiate career at Idaho State University. He had won the prestigious Tullamore road race the previous month but the anticipated tussle between himself and Murphy did not materialise mainly due to the Corkman’s failure to get up with the leaders from the start.

Richie Crowley of the 1968 Cork All-Ireland winning cross-country team receiving his award from Paddy Buckley, Chairman of Cork Athletics Board. Picture: John Walshe
Richie Crowley of the 1968 Cork All-Ireland winning cross-country team receiving his award from Paddy Buckley, Chairman of Cork Athletics Board. Picture: John Walshe

O’Riordan went into the lead, followed by Joe O’Keeffe of Civil Service and Walsh with Murphy back in seventh place. As the Donore man continued to impose his dominance, Murphy started to move through to such an extent that at the finish he was just 18 seconds in arrears of O’Riordan’s winning time of 37:41 to gain a worthy silver. O’Keeffe held on for third with marathon man Mick Molloy from Galway taking fourth ahead of Cork’s second finisher, John Buckley.

Pat O'Connell of the 1968 Cork All-Ireland winning cross-country team receiving his award from Paddy Buckley, Chairman of Cork Athletics Board. Picture: John Walshe
Pat O'Connell of the 1968 Cork All-Ireland winning cross-country team receiving his award from Paddy Buckley, Chairman of Cork Athletics Board. Picture: John Walshe

The Cork scoring six were well placed in the leading 15 throughout. With such packing no other county could challenge and even the Dublin outfit with a number of internationals had no chance as the Rebel County totalled just 36 points to give them a 36 to 64 point victory. Galway took third with 82 points ahead of Laois, Limerick, Clare and Donegal.

Along with Murphy and Buckley, the other scoring members on the Cork team were Walsh in fifth, the youngest member - Stephen Hennessy - seventh, Richie Crowley (Blarney) eight and Pat O’Riordan (Leevale) 10th while great back-up support was provided by the other members.

The youths championships over three miles that day went to Eddie Leddy from Leitrim with Cork once again packing well to take that title for the seventh successive year.

After the races at Mallow, the Irish team to compete in the International (now World) Cross-Country Championship at Tunisia was selected. Following the county’s success, Cork was well represented with Matt Murphy, John Buckley and Donie Walsh joining Tom O’Riordan, Joe O’Keeffe, Mick Molloy, PJ Leddy and English-based Denis Quinlan (who also ran for St Finbarr's) on the eight-man squad.

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