They came, they ran, they won!

Published in Other News on 26th October 2015

One of the highlights of the 50th Hollymount Road Races celebrations on November 15th will be the unveiling of a plaque containing the names of all winners (men and women) since 1966. The plaque will go on permanent display in the village. The list of names contains an awesome array of athletes who have won in Hollymount, and certainly surpasses the dreams that Seán and Tom Reilly had when they established the race in their local village almost a half century ago.

The dream began in November 1966 when PJ Leddy from Ballinamore AC crossed the finish line to win the first "Hollymount". The first race attracted runners from around the West and further afield. The famous Mick Molloy from Oughterard, holder of numerous national titles, took the tape just a few weeks after running the marathon for Ireland in the 1968 Mexico Olympics. The following year Eddie Leddy, brother of PJ, and a Irish international many times, continued the success of West of Ireland runners in the race. However this changed in the early seventies as the Tullamore Harriers duo Mick Hayden (1971) and Tommy McCormack (1972) brought the title to the Midlands.

In 1976 the race became an international event with the arrival of a bus load from the Liverpool, a tradition that has continued every year since.

John Woods (Liverpool Harriers) won the first of  four Hollymount races -  1977, 84,'85,and '87. He qualified to represent Ireland at International level through his mother, a native of Killala. He ran 2:11.30 on his marathon debut, and for Ireland many times including eleven times in the World Cross-Country Championships and in the marathon at 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Nineteen eighty-one was the last year the original out-and-back course was used, and there was great excitement and pride when John Treacy came down the hill from Roundfort to take the tape in a record time.

Having won consecutive world cross-country championships in 1978 and '79 the Waterford man took silver in the marathon in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles in 2:09.56. Treacy, now Chief Executive of Sports Ireland (formerly the Irish Sports Council), will be guest of honour at the pre race function on November14. Since 1982, three laps of the 'Kilrush loop' make up the Hollymount course.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a host of top British Internationals came to the race, including Malcolm Prince and Gerry Helme, who were victorious in 1978/'79 and 1982/'83 respectively.

Another Olympian, Londoner Hugh Jones won in 1990 and 1993. He was one of the top distance runners of his day and first British man to win the London Marathon in 1982 in 2:09.24, and that by a three-minute margin - still a record. In between Michael Casey (Sligo AC) and Noel Richardson (Limerick AC) were popular winners in 1988 and 1989 respectively.

In 1990, a major celebration was held for the 25th anniversary races, with the publication of a book on the history of the event which remains a sporting and social treasure trove. The 1990s also saw a drop off in numbers taking part, and many long-established events fell by the wayside. It marked the end of the first 'running boom'.

However, Seán and Tom Reilly persisted with their race. Noel Berkeley (DSD AC) won four  times in that decade - 1994/'96/'97/'99. He had run the 10,000 metres in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

A new century and new millennium arrived in 2000 and Pat Nugent from St Mary's AC in Co.Clare took the title. By 2004 Gerry Ryan, a man who seems to get better with age, was winning it for the third time in the colours of Galway City Harriers. His club-mate and Irish International Gary Thornton took the title on a sunny afternoon in 2005 winning the 10k on the day the Hollymount races celebrated 40 years.He won again in 2009 in 29:57.

In 2007 the winner was Mayo resident Robert Malseed, who was running with Clonliffe Harriers at that time. Since then Rob has gone to achieve numerous successes including a bronze team medal with the Irish team at the 2010 World Masters Mountain Running Championships.

The present decade has seen wins for Sean Connolly (Tallaght AC) in 2010, Matt Bidwell (GCH) 2011, and that great man Gerry Ryan again for the fourth time in 2012 in the colours of Craughwell AC.

In 2013 John Byrne, surely one of Mayo's greatest ever athletes, achieved one of his many running ambitions, when he won in Hollymount.

It was the first time in the history of this great event that a Mayo-born runner representing a Mayo club had won the men's race. Liam Feely (North Leitrim AC) won last year's race, so that leaves just one more name to join a unique and outstanding list of runners on the race winners' plaque. All will be revealed shortly after 1.30pm on Sunday November 15.

A full review of the many outstanding women winners will be published before the 50th Hollymount Road Races.