On the lush green grassy sward of the Phoenix Park, the athletes of Liffey Valley were preparing and warming up for the Sunday morning ten miler. Stretching, striding, some short sprinting, shaking out, loosening muscles, all the indications of an anticipated hard run. Nick Davis read the signs well. "Listen lads" he said "this is a training run not a race, so lets keep it cool, ok?" Too late. Predatory eyes were already assessing the conditions and terrain, planning moves and weighing up the opposition. The hard men were ready.
"OK let's move it out." John Wayne fashion, Club Captain John O'Reilly waved his arms and the blue and yellow clad bunch, New Kids on the Block in B.L.E., headed toward the army pavillion, an impressive sight in the new gear, looking good, feeling good. The polo grounds came into view, confusion flowed, some friendly slagging. This was the warm up, we all knew it and enjoyed it. "Good morning gentlemen" Jim Jing of Donore joined us as the bunch ran parallel to Aras an Uachtaran. In the thirty or so runners, Jim would always find an audience as he quoted Joyce or Keatsor reviewed the best offerings in Dublin Theatre.
Myles Cullen shook his head in disbelief, showering sweat on everyone in his vicinity. "D'ya not think the ten mile run is hard enough without Shakespeare?" As we passed the Eagle Monument the conversation ceased as the pace accelerated. We all felt the tension. The race was about to start.
Without warning, the first break came. Martin Wright with the Hole in the Wall in sight, was in home territory. Pony tailed and technicoloured, fancy pants sprinted across the flat land putting on a show for the locals. The bunch strung out. Not to be outdone, Tom McCormack, the other great club stylist moved up to join Marty. Feet hardly touching the ground they danced along in unison. Jean Butler and Michael Flatley had nothing on them. Back in the bunch Gerry Kavanagh cautioned "we're a long way out now. Just keep it steady." Domo Kellet thought differently. Honed to the bone, as we hit the Castleknock gates he zoomed away, opening a large gap. It was too much for Eddie Gaffney and John O'Reilly.
They had been eyeing each other up all through the run. Now they would test each other over the next seven miles. As Johnno would say "a handy 40 minute run". The group struggled to regroup. The pace steadied, breathing eased, wiser heads prevailed.
Emily Dowling came from nowhere. "I was just doing some far trek when i saw the gang. What's going on, is it a race?" All smiles, she knew the score. First lady of Liffey Valley, she would later become the 1981 Dublin City Marathon Woman's Champion, accompanied for most of the run by Liffey Valley stalwarts Mick Kane and Paddy Murray. Now we were approaching the most difficult and testing part of the course, The Furry Glen Valley, with trails criss-crossed by tree roots, and hills that would seperate the men from the boys.
On towards the Cheshire Home, Jimmy Douglas took the pace. We breathed a collective sigh of relief. The most experienced athlete in the Club, Irish international and great runner, the bunch were in safe hands. Slowly pressurising us into a faster pace he led us single file around to the Magazine Fort. Spread out below was the valley leading up to the Pope's Cross.
The wild men were all in sight. Tom Brennan joined Jimmy Douglas at the front. "Right lads, time for some serious running. They're not away yet, let's reel them in." Easy for Tom, even at that time he could run the ten miler in 53 minutes any day. Tom was to become Irish Cross Country Champion in 1975 and was an exemplary Club athlete and inspiration to all of us until his most regrettable and untimely death at 29 years of age.
Now the race was on in earnest. Leading the bunch, Tommy, Jimmy and Jim Gaughan, and with the adrenalin pumping we began picking up the boys ahead. One by one the leaders were drawn back into the bunch until, as we rounded the side of the Gard grounds the bunch was again intact. The pace slackened and Liffey Valley re-grouped. No grandstand finish. The group finished as it had started. A bunch of guys in blue and yellow. No mention of times achieved, no remarks about the race. It was all part of The Liffey Valley Sunday morning ten miler.
I leave the last word to a younger and blonde Dermot Ryan -"See that run? You might really love it or you might really hate it but God you'd never miss it!"
Thanks Dermot, couldn't have said it better myself.