The Original Connemara Marathoner

From The Irish Runner 2008

One of Ireland’s greatest ever marathon runners, Mick Molloy, recalls the days when his determination and talent took him to the multiple National Championships, the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968 and a world record on the track.

Mick Molloy’s older brother has a lot to answer for. It was John Molloy who laid the early foundations for his sibling’s stellar running career, which would eventually span 20 years of competition and championship victories at home and abroad. While studying for the priesthood during the early 1950’s, John would return each summer to spend his holidays at the family home on the shores of Lough Corrib. During his visits home he would set out a grass track in the fields near their home and would organise races for his brothers Christy, Murt, Mick and anyone else who could be roped in. A process was set in motion during those sunny summer Sundays that would lead Mick on to great success in athletics and a place on the Irish Team for the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968.

Mick’s first recollection of running in an organised race was at a local sports day in the nearby town of Ross. “I decided I’d run the mile. Tommy Madden from Athenry had come back to run and I finished a good bit behind him – but I was the best of the locals. Afterwards we talked and he asked me would I run cross-country for Derrydonnell AC.” Shortly afterwards, Mick cycled forty five miles on a Sunday morning to run the Co. Galway novice cross country race in Dunmore. “It wasn’t a great start, I only finished eighth”. Despite going on to win the Galway senior title in 1960 and the National Senior Cross Country title in 1966, Mick doesn’t believe that he was ever a ‘good’ cross country runner. He remembers, “If I ran against someone on a cross-country course, they might finish ahead of me, or I might just beat them, but, if I ran against them for the same distance on the road I could be way ahead. I was definitely better on the road.
Mick continued to enjoy plenty of success individually with Derrydonnell AC and on Co. Galway cross-country teams. In 1961 he claimed his first National Senior title on the track when he pipped the famous Harry Gorman over 10 miles in Belfield. It was perhaps in 1966 that Mick made his greatest mark at national level. when he won Irish championships over 5 miles, 6 miles, 10 miles, 15 miles and the marathon distance, in addition to that National Senior Cross Country title. His achievements were recognised that year by the NACA, when they awarded him their Cuchulainn Trophy for Athlete of the Year.
Mick particularly remembers winning the 15 mile title on the roads around Lanesborough. He fell on the road near the ten mile mark, following an accidental collision amongst the lead pack. “I went flat out on the road and I was kind of annoyed with myself. I got back up and decided to make my move there and then. I ended up winning the race by three minutes and twenty-two seconds. That was something I’d never experienced before. I thought I ran those five miles faster than I ever ran before.”
By the mid 1960s Mick had returned to his local athletics club in Oughterard from Derrydonnell AC. Always proud of his Connemara heritage, Mick was happy to be able to represent his homeplace as he prepared for the greatest challenge of his athletic life to date. Mick remembers back to that time, “Well, to tell you the exact truth. I wanted to run the Olympics. I would never tell anyone. Nobody would know. only myself. I remember when Ronnie Delany won the Olympics we just heard it on the radio. I wasn’t running at that time, but I thought to myself, ‘Isn’t that mighty!” When the NACA and the AAU combined to form BLE in 1967, International competition became available to a host of former NACA athletes, In order to make his secret ambition to represent Ireland at the Olympics a reality, Mick had to challenge for the National Marathon Championships, which were held in Galway on the 18th of August.
The race was run from Wood Quay out the Headford Road for 13 miles and back once more to where they had started. In the early miles, Mick was concerned that the pace was too conservative. “I said to myself, “Are we aiming for the Olympics or what?” The Connemara man, who was an instinctive front runner, made a break as early as the third mile and only allowed the chasing pack to return to his shoulder at the urging of his brother Christy, who was following the race on his bicycle. “Jim McNamara, Matt Murphy, Dick Hodgins from Cork and Fr. Paddy Coyle were all in the chasing group. Jim had a faster time than me before the race. We ran in the unity race in Gormanstown the year before and he beat me not by a lot though. I suppose on paper it looked like it would be between the two of us. Jim moved ahead just after the turn, at halfway, and I just stayed on his shoulder until about 20 miles.” With only six miles remaining. Mick knew he could delay his final effort no longer and ran all-out for the line. He won the race by almost two minutes in a time of 2:22:52. Jim McNamara eventually faded back into 4th place and Fr. Paddy Coyle came through into 2nd.
Article Credit: Mick Rice
Many thanks to the Molloy family for allowing us access to Mick’s collection of newspaper and magazine articles.
This page was added on 12/02/2024.

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