Twenty Years of Memories by John Stokes


A couple of weeks back, after training on the track I had my first chance to see the interior of the new clubhouse. What I saw can only be described as truly impressive. While I’ve watched the steady progress the builders have made over the last number of months and marveled as it slowly took shape, the view of the exterior had not prepared me for the magnificent interior. Its size, its design, and its potential – they were all awe-inspiring. This was something to be really proud of, a testament to the hard work of the present committee and all those that went before them.

As I walked across to the AstroPark to have a shower after the tour I commented to Garry Clarke that we had come a long way since the first thoughts of a clubhouse were mentioned all those years ago. We reminisced for a while and then as I drove home I turned the clock back in my mind over all the intervening years recalling names and faces, arguments I’ve heard and been part of, training sessions and races I’ve taken part in.

It’s hard to believe but this July I will be a member of Tallaght AC (or Oisin AC as it was then) for twenty years. It’s been an extremely enjoyable twenty years and has passed by in a flash.

Back in 1985, Christy Keogh, who was club chairman at the time, had been hounding my father Pat to join them for over a year and he eventually relented, joining them for a run around Newcastle and Peamount on a sunny July Sunday morning. After his initial reluctance to get involved with a club he was converted straight away and never looked back. I’d been running myself for a couple of years at that stage and decided to join him the following night when he met them for an hour on grass. I can still remember trying to blend into the numbers without drawing too much attention to myself. To be honest I was a little bit in awe of the group. I’d seen the likes of the aforementioned Christy Keogh and Terry Swords at the head of local races and found it a little strange to be allowed to train in their company, but that’s the way the club was right from the start – no airs and graces from anyone. There was quite a large group out that night as there generally was on Monday nights. From memory I recall Christy Keogh, Terry Swords, John Noonan, Tom Fitzpatrick, Tony Duff, Peter Donnan, John Roberts, Pat Brown, Matt Murphy, Sean O’Farrell and John Sallinger all being there and to the best of my knowledge we spent the hour chasing Peter Donnan around the park in Fettercairn and Killinarden. Only a few are still involved with Tallaght AC now, the others unfortunately drifting out of the sport.

Back then training was hard but the craic was always there and within weeks I’d really settled in. There were very few juniors then, less than a dozen, and they were all quite young. Being sixteen I did my training with the seniors. Unlike today, the club met every night from Monday to Friday and again on Sunday morning. A typical week would be three laps on the grass around Fettercairn and Killinarden Park on Monday, speed work on Tuesday in Jobstown Park, ten miles on Wednesday around Kiltipper, Firhouse, Templeogue and Tymon, hills on Thursday (three laps of Slade forest in the summer or hill reps on Jobstown Hill in winter), an ‘easy’ seven on Friday around Tymon, Saturday was a rest or a race and Sunday was a ten miler for me with the seniors doing anything up to twenty depending on the time of year. All the sessions started from the shops at Springfield where hardly a night went by when we didn’t complain about the smell from the Chinese Takeaway. For me this wasn’t too difficult as I lived literally 100yards away. For others who drove or ran to the meeting point it was a real sign of dedication, particularly on those cold winter nights.

The first Thursday I was there we drove up to Slade Forest. I got a lift with Christy Keogh and in the back of the car was Garry Clarke, he’d missed the last couple of nights and this was my first time to meet him. I’d seen him several times at races and I found it hard to make out his stories about when he was in ‘the war’. I couldn’t quite figure out which war and it was only in later years that I realised this was a standard line with Garry.

 Even back then AGMs were dominated by issues relating to fund raising and acquiring a clubhouse. There was some opposition with some members feeling the sums of money involved were too large and our membership too small to sustain it and more than once the argument was made to spend the money funding trips away to races. Thankfully common sense prevailed and fund raising continued in earnest over the following years. Part of this was the annual sponsored run, once from Galway to Dublin, on another occasion from Cork to Dublin. I also recall running the first leg of a sponsored relay run around Tallaght at 9am and then standing with a bucket collecting money in the old Tallaght Town Center for another eight hours while other members took it in turn to complete their leg.

Another major fund-raiser was the annual Oisin 10 Road Race, which gained a reputation as one of the top races on the Dublin circuit. It moved from one location to another and was run from The Embankment, The Red Cow, Roadstone Social Club and Belgard Community Center. When the Red Cow was the venue the race started and finished on the Naas Road – can you imagine trying to do that today? How times have changed.

 On the competitive front, the regular training with the group and the improved quality yielded dividends for me quite quickly. Within twelve months I had broken thirty minutes for five miles, something I had been trying to do for over a year, and began to churn out sub thirty-six minute 10Ks on a regular basis. Back then there was a choice of races in Dublin every weekend so there were no excuses for lack of opportunity to lower the PBs. The autumn, winter and spring of 1987/88 were probably my best when I ran 34.24 for the 10K in Balrothery in the September, 27.50 for 5miles in the Telecom BHAA race in Kimmage Manor in November and just dipped under 22 minutes (21.57) for the Jacobs 4 mile in April. To this day these still remain my PBs. Even running those times there were still plenty of other club members ahead of me. Looking back now, the standard was very high back then and there were a glut of athletes who would be within a few seconds of each other every time out over four or five miles.

I recall one occasion in particular, which sums this up. During a summer league race around Fettercairn and Jobstown I battled it out for three miles at the front with Terry Swords only to be caught in the last mile by a stampeding group, which included Garry Clarke, Paddy Dempsey, Pat Stokes, Tony Duff, Derek Quinn, Dave O’Kane and John Nolan. Terry hung on for the win and I think I ended up fourth or fifth but that night the first ten were separated by less than twenty seconds – that was typical of many of those early club races.

 On the Dublin and national scene we competed in the likes of the Dublin Novice Championships on road and cross-country, the Ballycotton 10 and the national marathon was a favourite with many of the seniors. A further indication of the high standard at that time was at the National Marathon in Tralee in 1989 when the team of Garry Clarke, John Nolan, Tony Duff and Pat Stokes all ran PBs of 2.38, 2.42, 2.48 and 2.53 respectively and still failed to win a national medal. Their times would have resulted in a senior silver medal in the national marathon in Nenagh in 2003.

In the early 90s, I had a bit more time on my hands having completed college, and was elected to the committee. Five or six years after I’d first become a club member the focus of the committee was still on getting a clubhouse. We’d a lot more money in the bank but still no site. We attended several meetings with the council looking at various possible sites but as time progressed it became obvious that there were few if any sites available. As such it was no great surprise when we were invited to a meeting with the Parks Department in their offices in Parnell Square in the spring of 1992 to discuss further options and alternatives.

 Myself and John Noonan, who was now chairman of Oisin AC, attended the meeting on behalf of the committee. Also in attendance were committee members of neighbouring Cuchulain AC. From memory I think Kevin O’Reilly, Johnny Fox, Eddie Coyle and Gerry Wallace were there. I knew Johnny and Gerry but had never met Kevin or Eddie before. From the outset the council made their position clear that they felt the best course of action and only realistic option was to amalgamate the two clubs and utilise the cash on hand that Oisin AC had to refurbish the small clubhouse that Cuchulain AC had. The discussion that day was frank and open despite a little bit of suspicion on both sides, which under the circumstances was understandable. One thing that does stand out in my mind was Johnny and Kevin’s assertion throughout the meeting that we owed it to the youth of Tallaght to try make it work.

Driving home from that meeting, myself and John both knew that what had been discussed probably made sense, but we both accepted there was likely to be some opposition to the proposal. In fact there was some heated discussion in the following weeks at committee and club level but within a short time most people had come to the conclusion that it was the only viable solution. In 1993, Cuchulain AC and Oisin AC amalgamated to become Oisin/Cuchulain AC based in the park between Greenhills Road and Balrothery. Despite fears of politics and internal wrangling the two clubs gelled extremely quickly. Sport had won the day – we were now one club.

 In the early 90s I had upped my mileage in order to attempt a marathon. My times over shorter distances had slowed a little but I was still running sub six minute pace over 4, 5 and 6 miles and ran what I think was the final Bray to Donnybrook 10 mile in 1990 in just under 61 minutes, a PB. Later that summer I ran under 1.40 in the Lakeland 15 in Mullingar holding off Jimmy Whelan and John Cullen in the process. John had joined the club a few months after myself and I remember having to wait on him while he walked the last few yards of the hill up Slade Valley the first time he did it. Again that’s something that’s changed dramatically since and we’ve had many good battles in races over the years.

The Lakeland 15 was a particular favourite of mine, in all I think I ran it four times and enjoyed every one of them. The Rahey 5 was also a regular on the calendar and though they were always tough, I always enjoyed the Dublin Novice Championships.

 The club went from strength to strength though the mid nineties. The clubhouse, while small, was a great focal point and a huge step up from changing on those cold damp nights at the side of the road. At the time we had our original track behind where the current track is located. I believe these facilities were the springboard for the huge growth in the number of junior members and with the amalgamation of Tallaght Athletic Club in 1997; the number of junior athletes grew further. We also adopted the name of Tallaght Athletic Club, dropping the reference to the individual clubs.

 In 1995 my father Pat died suddenly. Obviously this had a huge impact on myself and my family at a personal level but I also lost my main training partner as we had matched each other mile for mile over the previous ten years and had many epic battles in races. Both of us worked shift so it was an ideal arrangement to supplement training with the club. His form was frequently up and down as a result of injury but when he got an uninterrupted period of a few months under his belt he was highly competitive and put in some great performances. His favourite run was undoubtedly the circuit of Saggart and Slade Valley and it was unusual for him not to run that at least twice a week. More often than not he usually used it as a speed session, warming up to Saggart then doing 2 minute repetitions all the way back to the Embankment before cooling down from there to home. Invariably three or four of these reps would be on the hill of Slade and he made sure you knew you were in a speed session. Two days before he died we ran what he would have described as a ‘nippy’ fourteen around Slade and Ballinascorney. In reality this meant warming up to Saggart, gradually increasing the pace on Slade, getting a breather at the top to Brittas and then building it up pretty much to race pace over Ballinascorney all the way back to Old Bawn. Before going out that day we’d watched Marco Pantani destroy the field on the ascent of Alp D’Huez in the Tour de France. It must have inspired him as he powered up the hills. I matched him all the way until he put the foot down at Bridget Bourke’s pub after which I didn’t see him again until we were at home.

I miss that type of training though thankfully I’ve never stopped running even though having a sickener in the Dublin Marathon later that year put a dent in my enthusiasm. A new job and moving home meant the regularity of my training sessions with the club dropped in the late 90s though I always stayed in touch in that period and always participated in the summer league races.

 Though the club was settled in the clubhouse and was growing, the ambition was still there at committee level and under the chairmanship of Kevin O’Reilly the club pushed on with an adventurous plan to move to a new base. In 2001 we took a decision to sell the old clubhouse in order to fund the new project. It would have been very easy to stay where we were but the decision was made and we became ‘homeless’ again.

In the meantime we moved to a new track between the old one and the Greenhills Road (our current track) and following endless hours of hard work by the committee agreement was reached to build the new clubhouse and work commenced last year.

 Today it’s pretty much complete and we’re almost ready to move in. It’s a far cry from where we came from twenty years ago. The club has grown in stature and is now one of the top clubs in the Dublin if not the country. I try to train with the club a couple of days each week and there are more and more new faces, which is great to see. There are many old faces that we don’t see anymore which is a pity, but thankfully there are still a few of the ‘lifers’ still knocking around.

 It may have taken a long time to get to where we are now but to be honest it looks like its been worth all the effort and huge thanks must go to all the tireless work of the present committee and all those that have gone before. It will be very interesting to see what the next twenty years has in store for us.