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Many notable athletes have come from County Longford over the years such as Granard-born Brendan O’Reilly. Long before Nelvin was hitting the heights internationally, Brendan was Longford’s first star high jumper. Indeed, during the 1950s, he excelled for his club Donore Harriers and won the 1954 British AAA title before taking up a scholarship at the University of Michigan. Brendan qualified for Ireland for both the 1954 European Championships and 1956 Olympics but unfortunately he was unable to compete at either. An injury days before the championships denied him in 1954 and, two years later, funding issues would prevent him from travelling to Melbourne.

His 2.01 metres national record, set in 1956, stood for many years and he also held the national javelin record for a time. Multi-talented Brendan would go on to become a well-regarded journalist, actor, singer-songwriter and broadcaster and was best known as the presenter of the RTE show Sports Stadium. His passing in 2001 was widely mourned such was the high esteem that Brendan was held in different walks of life.

Irish mile record holder Ray Flynn enjoyed success as a junior, representing Longford AC and St Mel’s College, which earned him a scholarship in 1974 when he joined the “Irish Brigade” of runners at East Tennessee State University. He went on to become an NCAA All-American, a highly regarded achievement in US collegiate sport, in both track and cross country and ran his first sub-4 minute mile at aged just 20. On July 7th 1982, Ray set the Irish mile record of 3:49.77 in Oslo and his 1500m ‘split’ from the same race of 3:33.50 is also still an Irish record. In total, he ran 89 sub-4 miles and represented Ireland at both the 1980 and 1984 Olympics. He ran the anchor leg in the Irish team’s 4 x 1 mile relay world record of 15:49 in 1985, a record that still stands. US-based Ray regularly returns to his homeplace and was a very welcome guest at our Ray Flynn Mile event in September 2019 (an event we hope to stage again in the future).

Ray’s brother, Martin, was also a very good runner whose national medal-winning performances for St. Mel’s and Longford earned him a scholarship in 1983 to Clemson University, South Carolina. There, he was ACC champion in 1986 and he later went on to record impressive personal bests of 4:00.80 for the mile and 13:43 for 5000m. Another notable achievement from this period was the 1977 Community Games ‘marathon’ win for Willie Farrell from Lanesborough/Lough Ree AC. He, along with his sister Mary, would represent Ireland at schools’ cross country as well.

The Molloy sisters achieved middle-distance schools’ success whilst at the Mercy Convent Ballymahon. Aisling Molloy, Lough Ree AC and later Dundrum South Dublin, competed primarily in the 800 meters. Having produced many strong performances as a juvenile, Aisling went on scholarship in 1982 to Brigham Young University in Utah going on to become a 2-time NCAA All-American indoors. She later represented Ireland at a total of seven major championships from 1989 to 1995 and is a 6-time national senior 800m champion outdoors. Her 800m personal bests, both set in 1990, of 2:01.14 ranks Aisling as the 6th fastest Irish ever outdoors and 2:02.87 places her 4th for indoors.

Emer Molloy also enjoyed national success for her school and for her club Mullingar Harriers. She set an All Ireland schools intermediate 800m record of 2:11.55 in 1988, a record which stood for 22 years. Having won the schools senior 1500m title in 1990, Emer travelled on scholarship to Villanova University in Pennsylvania (joining Sonia O’Sullivan) where she would be a part of two NCAA cross country title-winning teams. In 1993, Emer won bronze at the National Senior 800m.

Another south Longford running connection was that of the late Noel Henry of Clonliffe Harriers, the 1963 NACA Marathon champion, who was a bank manager in Lanesborough for many years. He was a staunch supporter of women’s athletics in the country and, in order to raise funds for aspiring Irish female athletes ahead of the 1968 Olympics, ran the 82 miles from the GPO to Ballyleague in just 12 hours.

One of Ireland’s top middle-distance athletes during the 1980s and 90s was Enda Fitzpatrick who had great success representing Longford AC and later Dublin City Harriers. As a juvenile, Enda won national titles at schools, clubs and Community Games as well as at the British AAA’s. In 1984, he finished 15th in the World Junior Cross Country. Enda’s career bests make for impressive reading including a mile PB of 3:56 and 1000m in 2:17.87, the latter places him second fastest ever on the Irish rankings. He regularly medalled at the national senior championships including gold in the 3000m steeplechase. In March 1990, Enda ran for Ireland at both the European Indoors and World Cross Country championships. He’s now a highly regarded coach and has guided many top Irish athletes such as Olympians Fionnuala McCormack and Linda Byrne.

Granard’s Jim McGlynn was a very formidable distance runner for Donore Harriers during the same period. A sub-50 minutes runner for 10 miles, he twice won the now defunct National 15-mile road championship. His marathon best of 2:18 is the fastest by a Longford man and ranks him in the top 60 Irish ever. Among his other successes was victory at the National Masters cross country in 1993. During the 1970s and 80s, Longford AC regularly enjoyed underage success at the high jump with Enda’s sister Sinead Fitzpatrick, Noreen Glennon and the Kilemeade siblings winning national gold medals. National titles followed in the 1980s for local juvenile sprinters Padraig Connerton and Fergal Clancy achieving gold at 100m and 400m respectively.

Representing Longford AC and St. Mel’s College, multi-talented John Fitzpatrick won national titles in the high jump, shot put, discus, pole vault and Combined Events at the All Ireland clubs, schools and Community Games. He represented Ireland many times including the 1995 Schools International in Wales where he captained the Irish team and won bronze in the high jump. John is now one of our club coaches, passing on his knowledge of the technical events to our juveniles, and is playing a pivotal role in the club’s planned indoor athletics facility.

Longford AC and St Mel’s enjoyed some cross country success in the 90s with the highlight coming when winning team bronze in the 1998 All Ireland school’s senior boys race. Among the group was John Campbell who ran for the Irish junior team at the 1998 World Mountain Running championships before commencing a scholarship, along with clubmate Ciarán Brewster, at Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania. Lough Ree AC’s Amanda Hanly, Sheila Farrell and Deirdre Hopkins also represented Ireland at the World Mountain Running between 1998-2001. Lanesborough Community College enjoyed All Ireland school’s cross country success winning team gold in the 1995 junior girls race. Elsewhere, the dominant Mullingar Harriers men’s cross country team of the late-90s included the late David Casey from Kenagh and he was part of the team which ran in the 1999 European club XC.

Dromard’s Michelle McGee was the star of the Irish 2013-14 cross country season when, running for her club Brothers Pearse, she won both the National Novice and Intermediate titles as well as finishing second in the National Seniors. Michelle would back up that brilliant spell of racing with many strong runs on the road and is a 3-time winner of the Longford Half Marathon. She also represented Ireland at the 2014 European Mountain Running championships.

Adrianna Mulligan won a silver medal at the 2015 National Novice cross country and in 2018 became the first ever local winner of the Longford Marathon. Donal Mulligan won an age-category silver at the 2019 National Marathon and, 3 weeks later, was part of the Irish team that came second at the 5-nations British & Irish Masters cross country. Longford AC’s senior membership has grown year-on-year over the past decade with members taking in races both home and abroad. Notably, the Longford Marathon has grown considerably since its inception in 2002, largely down to the hard work of the organising committee including the Fenelon family, and has been a great fundraiser for St. Christopher’s Services. Liam Fenelon, who helped revive Longford AC in the mid-2000s, has ran over 325 marathons to date.

There have been some superb recent successes by juvenile athletes from County Longford. Cian McPhillips has produced many brilliant performances with national titles and records aplenty. In 2019, and early 2020, his talent continued to shine setting an 800m PB of 1:50.71 before breaking the Irish junior indoor 1500m record with 3:44.85. This time had qualified Cian for the now-cancelled World Junior Championships in Kenya. In February, however, he did get to announce himself internationally in style when winning the High School Mile Invitational at the world-renowned Millrose Games in New York.

The Talabi sisters, Yemi and Funmi, have won an impressive array of national medals in recent years. In 2018, Yemi’s national titles included gold in the Community Games 100m. The following year, 4 national medals followed in the sprints, long jump and the Combined Events. She was later selected in the Irish relay squad for the European Under 20 Championships when aged just 16. Yemi began 2020 winning national gold in the junior indoor 60m. Funmi won All Ireland schools 100m gold in 2019, for Ardscoil Phadraig, and the following month won 100m gold in the Longford AC singlet at the national clubs. This followed on from many previous successes at national level including 5 gold medals won at the Community Games in the sprints from 2013-2019.

Nelvin Appiah won 7 national medals in 2019 including high jump gold, in the colours of Moyne CS, at the All Ireland schools with a PB jump of 2.10 metres. This earned him selection onto the Irish senior team for the European Games in Belarus. Later in 2019, he won Longford’s first medal in many years at the National Senior Track & Field championships when finishing second in the high jump. Talented Nelvin has also medalled nationally at 60m hurdles, 100m and 400m. He is set to take up a scholarship later this year at McNeese State University in Louisiana.

The Community Games, over the past couple of decades, has seen many other Longford successes with Tom Madden’s triple gold in the sprints from 1999-2003 the highlight. Elsewhere, Robert Yorke achieved success, for both St. Mel’s College and Mullingar Harriers, including winning gold at the 2010 under-18 outdoor 1500m and the 2011 junior indoor 800m.

Tremendous success has been achieved by the athletes we’ve highlighted over the past week, as well as many more local athletes who won medals at provincial and national level, and all the more remarkable given the lack of an athletics track or proper facilities in the county. This is something we are striving to change with our proposed Longford Athletics Centre

2019 marked 50 years since the founding of Longford Athletics Club. We acknowledge the many coaches who gave up their time and passed on advice, parents who gave lifts, committee members who ‘kept the show on the road’, volunteers who lent a hand and sponsors who gave their support. Although 2020 may not produce the scale of competitions we had initially hoped for, we can still look forward and hopefully Longford athletes will continue to prosper and succeed in the next 50 years.

Volens et Valens.

BS, May 2020