In this article, we will take a look back at a golden era in Cross Country running in Waterford, when our athletes won five National Senior Inter County team titles in a row and six in all between 1975 and 1983 and from the same era supplied the individual winner on all nine occasions.
The individual winners were John Treacy 1976, 77, 78, 79, 82 and Gerry Deegan 1976 (second Championship held in December of that year), 1980, 1983. Brendan Quinn won in 1987 and John Treacy in 1993. The team victories were in 1976 (January), 76 (December), 77,78,79 and 82 and Waterford finished second on the other three occasions
In 1975 Waterford finished fourth in the Senior Championship and it was felt the following year they would make a brave attempt to take the title. In the autumn it was suggested that with a full team they could do it and this would mean having John Treacy, who was then in Providence College USA, on the team. In December 1975 sponsorship was secured to have him home thanks to Irish Nationwide Building Society.
Just a month before at the National Intermediate Championships Ray Treacy took the individual title and Roger Barron and Tony Ryan were fifth and sixth, so the omens were good.
St Flannan’s College Grounds in Ennis was the venue on January 12th 1976 and a young Waterford team with two exceptions was selected, but which included some top young athletes who had great success at under age level such as John Treacy, Gerry Deegan Tony Ryan, Tom Jordan as well as a few a couple of years little older such as Ray Treacy and Roger Barron.
Quite a good number of spectators from Waterford travelled in anticipation of a good performance and they were not disappointed. Ray Treacy set the pace early on closely followed by his brother John running the distance for the first time and close behind came Neil Cusack Limerick and Ger Deegan.
Having moved to Cusack’s shoulder approaching half-way Deegan looked strong and went on to open a clear gap which he maintained and took first place for his own piece of history.
Cusack was second and John Treacy third with his brother Ray fourth, Tony Ryan finished sixth.
Roger Barron was 14th and with five in the first 14 home, all eyes were on our sixth man Mick Cullen who was under pressure for some time but stuck to the task and was the final scorer in 37th place.
Waterford had won their first ever team title and a massive 37 points clear of holders Cork with Dublin third.
The other members of the famous first team from Waterford to win the title were; Davy Browne, Richie Wallace, Joe Kelly (now Cllr Joe Kelly), Jimmy Flynn, Robbie Walsh, Paddy Fitzgerald. The manager was Martin Halley That week a Mayoral Reception was held for the team and officials by Mayor Eddie Collins TD and the following week they were invited to Harney’s in Dunhill as in the years before Dunhill were the Kingpins of Cross Country running in Waterford
Home soil for defence of title
Sunday December 19th 1976 was the date for the first defence of the team and individual titles the date for the Championships now fixed for December each year so it was two in the one year.
It was held here in Kilbarry on the outskirts of the city on the lands of Mr Lar Halley in front of a bumper crowd with Waterford Glass the main sponsors.
From the gun Tony Ryan set a very fast pace and when they went out into the country first time Waterford runners were in the leading bunch. These included Ryan, John Treacy, Gerry Deegan as well as Eamonn Coghlan, Dublin who earlier in 1976 was fourth in the Olympic Games 1,500 metres final in Montreal.
Neil Cusack, Limerick and Jerry Kiernan Kerry were also up there. Going into the second lap John Treacy and Deegan, who were shoulder to shoulder, opened up a gap and at the start of the third lap Treacy cut loose and went clear, Deegan as always gave it his all and easily held on to second place, with Coghlan third and Jerry Kiernan fourth, two places in front of Ray Treacy. Tony Ryan was seventh, Roger Barron 19th and Tom Jordan 29th.
These placings for Waterford ensured the team title was retained, Dublin were second and Cork third. When these results were given over PA they were greeted with thunderous applause by the big local contingent. Among the attendance was Mayor of Waterford Cllr William Kenneally T.D. and Dr Russell, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Life Patron of County Athletics Board.
Kilbarry again hoping to make it three in a row
It was Kilbarry again on December 18th 1977. The event was sponsored by Waterford Glass and Snowcream had sponsored the trip from the USA of athletes based there. After a week of heavy rain and going for three-in-a-row, the crowd that came along was immense. Waterford decided to pick Brendan Quinn on their senior team despite he still being a junior and it was to be a wise move.
Just after a few hundred yards John Treacy, who arrived home two days before the race, went on with Gerry Deegan second. Neil Cusack and Eamonn Coghlan were not far behind but Treacy increased the pace followed by Deegan with Cusack third. At the finish it was another Treacy victory with Deegan second, Cusack third and the ever-reliable Ray Treacy up to fourth with Coghlan back in fifth place. The other Waterford scorers were Tony Ryan (eighth), Roger Barron (17th) and Brendan Quinn (26th) as Waterford took a third successive team title. Mr. Tom Healy, Personnel Manager, Waterford Glass, presented team captain Tony Ryan with the O’ Duffy Cup and also present was Cllr Tim Galvin. Mayor of Waterford, Bishop Russell and Cllr Sean Whelan, Vice-Chair Waterford County Council.
Could they make it four in a row?
On December 17th, 1978 the race was held in Kilbarry for the third successive year and a huge crowd, probably the biggest ever at a National Championship, once again came along, many to get a glimpse of the now World Cross Country Champion John Treacy in his own county and he didn’t disappoint them.
The Treacy’s and Brendan Quinn’s trip from the USA was sponsored by Snowcream Ltd and Waterford Glass were the race sponsors again. The previous week, prior to the championships, Gerry Deegan had beaten John Treacy in the Philip’s Crystal Palace International Cross Country in London. The race was only gone a few hundred yards when John Treacy took off and showed he meant business and went further away as the race progressed and behind him was Gerry Deegan in second spot and he too was pulling clear of the remainder.
Unlike the three previous years Waterford were surrounded by Dublin athletes. After these two were Eamonn Coghlan, Jerry Kiernan, now running with Dublin and Padraig Keane, Danny McDaid, Donegal and Donie Walsh, Cork
It now looked as if Waterford in the team section had a serious challenge from Dublin. Going into the final lap it transpired that there was nothing between Waterford and Dublin. In that last lap it was clear every position mattered and it fell to Ray Treacy to put in a mighty effort to overhaul Donie Walsh and this he did to secure fourth place and help Waterford to a point victory over Dublin to make it four in a row with Cork in third.
The other Waterford scoring members were: Tony Ryan (21st), Brendan Quinn (24th) and Roger Barron (26th).
Present were Cllr Pat Power Mayor of Waterford and Cllr Sean Whelan.
Fermoy next for the drive for five
The race to make it five in a row took place in Fermoy on Sunday December 16th 1979 over the course where the Fermoy International Cross Country was run.
Waterford Glass sponsored again and the week before it was very wet and the day itself was also wet and extremely windy.
Tom Aspel was back again from the USA as was Brendan Quinn, who had his appendix removed two months prior to the race. As usual from the start John Treacy and Gerry Deegan were very prominent up front and Ray Treacy was not far behind.
Soon the now twice World Cross Country Champion John Treacy went on and moved away from Deegan who in turn opened a gap between himself and the pack.
Brendan Quinn, with three miles to go, lost one shoe in the muddy conditions and had to stop to remove a stocking but got going again.
Into the last half mile or so it looked like it would be a Waterford first three as John Treacy, Deegan and Ray Treacy held the front three positions but in the final stages John Hartnett from Cork passed Ray to take the third spot behind John Treacy and Deegan. Brendan Quinn finished 11th, Derek Grant, with a great effort, was 21st and Tom Aspel, who preferred the road rather than the country, ran a fine 25th place and their total easily secured the team title for the fifth year in a row with Limerick and Cork second and third.
Back to Kilbarry to attempt six
On December 21st 1980 it was back to Kilbarry again for another Waterford Glass sponsored event, but this time minus the services of John Treacy and it was going to be an uphill battle to make it six in a row.
In fairness the team gave it their all. Not entirely unexpected Gerry Deegan showed his class early on and gradually opened up a considerable lead which he never relinquished and after completing the first half of the race Waterford and Dublin were level in the team competition with the old reliables Ray Treacy, Brendan Quinn and Tony Ryan very prominent.
Heading into the final lap Deegan had a comfortable lead followed by David Taylor, Dublin and 38-years old Danny Mc Daid from Donegal third and that was how they finished. Ray Treacy was fourth, Brendan Quinn seventh and Tony Ryan ninth, four great placings.
Derek Grant finished 40th and Jimmy Mulligan 46th but Dublin had their final two in a better position than Waterford’s last two scorers and in the end they won the team with 92 points to Waterford’s 107 so the dream of six in a row was ended.
Kilbarry again for another try
It was back to Kilbarry again on Sunday January 17th 1982 and this time it was minus Ray Treacy and with his previous top placings each year it was going to be a difficult task but still a possibility.
The fixture once again was sponsored by Waterford Glass. Giving one of his best ever displays in these Championships, Treacy spreadeagled the field while Gerry Deegan, who despite the powerful running of Treacy once again gave it his all, also went clear.
As the race progressed Treacy went further ahead and Deegan did likewise. Entering the final lap Cork had three in the first nine and three others were in the top 22 whereas Waterford had three in the first 11 two in the twenties but their final scorer was in the mid-thirties so it looked like Cork and so it transpired. They had 13 points to spare in the team section, 80 to 93.
The Waterford scorers were John Treacy (1st), Gerry Deegan (2nd), Tony Ryan (11th), Derek Grant (20th), Derek Tebay (23rd) and Sean Foley (36th).
Ardee County Louth in 1982 with six on their minds
On Sunday December 19th 1982, Ardee in County Louth was the venue for the National Inter Counties and Waterford had a very strong team competing with all in good form leading up to the day and there was a confidence behind the scenes with mentors.
The day however was even worse than the day of the Fermoy race in 1979 with gale force winds and knee-deep mud in places.
Starting off Brendan Quinn took up the running setting a very brisk pace and leading for over a mile or so but then who do you think came to his shoulder, it was of course John Treacy who then took it up with Gerry Deegan not too far behind.
Treacy then opened the gap quickly with Deegan taking second spot and Quinn battling bravely in third spot closely followed by John Lenihan from Kerry with Tony Ryan and Ray Treacy well in touch.
As the race entered its final stages Waterford, with five in the first eight, looked home and dry as Derek Tebay was having a blinder behind in the mid-twenties.
Treacy duly won decisively and Deegan readily went away from Lenihan, who had overtaken Quinn for third spot, but Quinn with his best run ever held on to fourth place with Ray Treacy seventh. Tony Ryan finished eighth and the final scorer was Derek Tebay in 25th place.
With a final total of just 47 points Waterford had easily regained the title, making it six team wins in all.
Castlelyons signals the end of a great era
The last race in this great team’s era came in Castlelyons Co Cork on December 18th 1983 and the weather was absolutely desperate with driving wind and rain.
Again, minus the services of John Treacy and also Brendan Quinn, it was a tough ask but the team gave it their best shot. For a long way Gerry Deegan, at the head of affairs, had a great duel with John Lenihan from Kerry and Tony O’Leary from Cork in third spot not too far behind with Ray Treacy and Tony Ryan not far off the pace Entering the final lap Deegan upped the pace and went away from Lenihan with O’Leary third and that’s how they finished. Ray Treacy was seventh and Tony Ryan ninth, Jimmy Mulligan was 17th, Derek Grant 22nd and Tom Murray 44th.
Waterford finished second behind Cork who won with 60 points, forty in front of Waterford. Other athletes who ran with the county on senior teams at these championships over the years outside of those mentioned above include John Barry, Dominick Rooney, Pat Byrne. Tim Foley, Alfie Burns, Liam Nolan, Dan Power, Eddie Connolly, Mick Roche, Pat Halley, Liam O’ Dwyer and Peter Kavanagh.
Golden era for cross country running in Waterford where a wealth of emerging young talent arrived on the scene at that time, complimented and supplemented by a few older experienced athletes. Huge success both collectively and individually. Amazing times for Waterford Athletics. Truly great days.
Without douth the golden era of Irish athletics