When Cork beat the Dubs: Women's running team ended bid for 16 in a row

Cross-country glory for women's team in 1990
When Cork beat the Dubs: Women's running team ended bid for 16 in a row

Joan Hough, now with the Midleton club, seen here in the St Finbarr's colours.

LIKE their football counterparts of today, Dublin’s women runners dominated the Inter-Counties Cross-Country championships of the 70s and 80s.

From 1975 to 1989, the Dubs won an unprecedented 15 titles in a row.

But an inspired performance by a Cork team on a December day 30 years ago finally brought an end to their reign.

The 1990 BLE Inter-Counties took place around the hills of Killenaule in Tipperary and winner of the individual women’s title that day was 21-year-old Catherina McKiernan. Three months later, in the snow at Boston, the Cavan woman won the first of her four World C-C silver medals before going on to marathon greatness.

Silver and bronze medals at Killenaule went Cork’s way as Anita Philpott — also aged 21 — of North Cork and Blarney-Inniscarra’s Valerie Vaughan excelled themselves, both performances all the more noteworthy as both had returned from America the previous Thursday.

Midleton's John Hennessy and Joan Hough who both won gold medals at the National Masters Track & Field Championships in Santry this year.
Midleton's John Hennessy and Joan Hough who both won gold medals at the National Masters Track & Field Championships in Santry this year.

Joan Hough (St Finbarr’s) finished 10th with Susan Jenkins in 13th giving Cork a total of 28 points and a 15-point winning margin over Dublin with Donegal a long way back in third on 71 points. The other members of the Cork team that day were Niamh O’Sullivan (20th) and Eileen Prunty (30th).

Thirty years on from that famous day, Joan Hough’s involvement and commitment to the sport of athletics is as great as ever. After spending her teaching career at St Aidan’s Community College in the city, Joan moved to Midleton in retirement where she now devotes all of her time to the local juvenile club.

“It’s nice for the members of the Cork team from that day to get the recognition,” she says. 

“I well remember the great team spirit and comradeship after the race when we all got together and realised what we had achieved, we all have been very good friends over the years and still are.

“I finished eighth the following year in the Inter-Counties but felt my 10th that year was as good a performance as I’d be more of a team person.”

However, Joan’s individual successes are also of the highest order. Winner of the Cork senior cross-country at Skibbereen in 1982, she has also three second and three third-place finishes to her credit.

A month after Killenaule, she represented Ireland at senior level at the Grand Prix International in Limerick and after reaching the masters category further honours came her way, including victory in the F40 category at the British & Irish Masters C-C.

Originally from Ardagh in Limerick, her athletics career started when she moved to UCC. “We had a very good team at the time with the likes of Elaine Kelly, Mary Doyle and Catherine Hourihan. After that I joined St Finbarr’s and I had my first-ever cross-country race at the 1975 Cork senior championship which took place here in Midleton where I remember we changed in the pens of the local cattle mart,” she recalls.

Four-and-a-half decades later, you could say Joan Hough has come full circle as she now imparts her excellent knowledge and enthusiasm for the sport she loves to the young athletes of the east Cork town.

For the record, the winner of the men’s race at Killenaule was John Downes from Limerick as Donnacha O’Mahony in 18th place led Cork to the bronze medals.

It was a great day for the Murray brothers from Dromina with John easily taking the junior title and George finishing third. With Ken Nason fourth and Ken Feen 10th, it ensured another Cork victory as they finished well clear of Limerick and Donegal.

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