Willie O'Mahony has clocked the miles building East Cork Athletics

Gortroe native hasn't lost his love for the sport 50 years on
Willie O'Mahony has clocked the miles building East Cork Athletics

Willie O'Mahony with the East Cork championship medal he was instrumental in designing. Picture: John Walshe

THE East Cork Athletics Board was formed in 1967, the year that the national governing body of BLE came into being.

Now known as the East Cork Athletics Division, it was the first of its kind in the country.

For all but four of those years, one man has held the key position of treasurer, and that man is Willie O’Mahony from Gortroe near Youghal.

Back in January, Willie marked the 50th anniversary of when he was first elected when he took over from Jerry Russell, father of jockey Davy.

He explains how it all came about: “I was interested in athletics when going to school in Youghal and joined the athletics and cycling club (as it was at the time).

“They used to meet at Paddy Maher’s Bar in Tallow Street; one of the people involved at the time was Paddy Coleman who passed away recently, along with his father.

“I was then representing the club going to East Cork meetings with Jerry Russell and when Jerry stepped down I got the position of treasurer and I’m there ever since.

“The job of treasurer wasn’t a big task as we were working in small amounts of money at the time. Our aim was to keep competition going within the division; I was just one part of a great team, everybody involved had one thing in mind — to progress athletics and keep the competitions going,” a vision that’s still very much alive today.

Willie was instrumental in acquiring a new perpetual cup for the board from Muckleys Jewellers, Youghal, and was also involved in the board’s fundraising events of the late 1970s and 30 years later in the resurgence of the now AAI Awards Night.

But, perhaps, his greatest achievement was the research he carried out into the present championship medal which has the amalgam of the BLE and Fitzgerald Family coat of arms.

This work began with a proposal at a meeting in March of 1987, and came into being at the cross-country championship the following year.

“The medal came about as it was felt we needed a better identity, the medals in the early days were just bought ones with a general centre.

We spoke about it at several meetings and came up with various ideas, but we thought we needed a crest of our own rather then putting a crest of one town over another.

“There was a man in Killeagh, Joe Barry, who was very much into history. Myself and my wife Bridie met Joe one day and said to him we needed some kind of identity for the division to have a centre for the medal.

“Straight away he mentioned the Fitzgerald family crest, they lived in the castle in the Castlemartyr estate and their burial place was in the grounds. So we drove there and after getting rid of briars and everything we found the crest on the stone.”

HISTORIC

It’s a medal that has how now hung around the necks of many athletes of all age-groups, including that of Sonia O’Sullivan who picked up her first senior award at last August’s road championships.

Willie O’Mahony the life-long administrator is one thing, but there is also Willie O’Mahony the athlete.

He was won numerous Masters track and field championship medals at county, provincial, and national level, many in the long jump and sprinting events.

At the other end of the scale, he also ran seven marathons with a best of 3:17 and completed 39 of the 40 Ballycotton ’10’ races, sadly injury in 2015 deprived him of a clean sweep.

Just as remarkable is his sequence of 155 of the 156 Ballycotton 5-Mile Summer Series of races held.

During his career, Willie competed with Youghal AC (his current club), Eastside AC and Midleton AC.

Over the past 50 years he has negotiated with many of the sponsors who are essential to success of the division and also single-handily provided the board’s amplification since he took over from the late Jack Keniry back in the 1980s.

Along with Bridie, Willie also organised the very popular Gortroe Mile Series for many years which was then a major fundraiser for the local school, plus a number of five-mile, 10km and 10-mile races — and even a half-marathon — in Killeagh.

And, after 50 years as treasurer, did he ever feel it was time to get out? “Well, there was no one else after it,” he says with a smile.

“No, I didn’t. I love East Cork athletics and you could say it’s part of my life.

“I like to think we’re doing good for the youth and we’re keeping it together. I have some great memories and great friends, they’re friends for life.”

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