When members, former members, their families, friends , supporters and guests of Mayo AC met 0n Saturday night Dec 1st 2012 in the Welcome Inn Hotel. Castlebar at the club’s 25th Anniversary function, they had a momentous quarter of a century to reflect on.
It all began in early 1988, when the senior sections of a number of clubs in the County amalgamated to form Mayo Athletic Club. This new club’s aims included ”the greater promotion and awareness of senior athletics within Co Mayo which could eventually lead to the club challenging the larger and longer established clubs for national honours”.
Soon members wearing the club’s first vest – green one with red hoop, very similar to the Mayo football version of the time – were competing all over the West in road and cross country races and beginning to reap success. A club team was entered in the national track and field league in those early years.
The early nineties saw an increase in activity and success. Distance runners like Paddy Murray and Dominic Regan were leading the way in races all over the West and further afield, and the club won the Connacht Senior Clubs Cross Country team title for the first time .
1991 was a landmark year for the club which had been all male up to that point.
A women’s section was set up and as the minutes of a club meeting at the time stated it was hoped that “this would lead to more success for the club in the years to come”. Ballina woman, Brenda Murphy who had just won that year’s womens section of the Belfast Marathon, had the distinction of being the first female to be registered with the club. Many more were to follow as we now know .
Soon Brenda was joined by Josephine Macken, Noreen McManamon, Niamh Murphy, Breege Blehein and others. They began to bring National Senior team and individual medals in cross country road and track to the county for the first time ever . Around this time also Mayo AC men began to win medals in the National Indoors Championships and expanding Masters competitions .
The arrival of Ann Lennon in the latter part of the nineties bolstered the club and meant that a Mayo AC womens team at full strength were always feared and admired at National championships.
Over the years, the club was aware of the importance of supporting local established events, such as Hollymount Road Races organised by Sean Reilly, and Balla 10k organised by Brendan Conwell . In 1999, when running fixtures were quite scarce on the calendar, it was decided to set up a Mayo AC Road Race League mainly to provide competition for the club’s athletes and those other clubs in the West of Ireland .Many of these races had a strong fund raising/charity aspect in aid of worthy causes in the area.
Mayo AC moved into the new century full of optimism. Membership was increasing, the women’s team were winning National events. They broke new ground when as National Half Marathon champions they represented Ireland in the European Clubs Cup in Italy 2002 and Russia 2003. The club also continued to win National medals at masters level. Soon the emphasis moved to building a strong Senior mens team around John Byrne, whose success in winning races all over the place was an inspiration to all. Mayo AC also hosted the 2004 AAI National Half Marathon in Breaffy, near Castlebar.
Around the middle of the decade a number of changes were mooted. Having sought the co-operation of other clubs and race organisers, the Road League was expanded to include all the major races in Mayo with an increased prize fund.
In order to recognise performance and encourage improvement, ” Irish Runner” trophies for the most improved Male and Female in the League were awarded. A club website was launched. A policy of targeting the major National road races – 10k, half marathon, and marathon – was put in place, with the objective of winning national individual and team medals at Senior level and across the various masters categories
The Road League continued to discover many new talented members. They included Mary Gleeson, Catherine Conway and others who supported the existing experienced members, ensuring that Mayo AC women continued to challenge for and win National senior team medals at 10k, half marathon and marathon. John Byrne’s success continued to inspire all around him and one of his proudest moments was when he won his first AAI National Senior medal leading, TJ McHugh Anto Devaney and Dave Huane to National Marathon Silver Team medals in 2007.
Early 2009 saw another new chapter in the clubs history when in co operation with the Mayo Sports Partnership the club launched its Fit4Life programme in the southern part of the county in Castlebar Ballinrobe and Ballyhaunis. This Fit4Life programme was first launched in Claremorris and later expanded to 3 other venues. Many people took their first opportunity to get involved in the sport for health benefit and wellbeing. It also set individuals goals which many have since achieved, whether that be to complete a marathon or their first 5k.
Many newcomers to Fit4Life have gone on to taste National success with Mayo AC. Tom Waldron, a sportsman all his life won his first AAI National medal in his age category 3 days after his 70th birthday in 2009.
Recent years have been a roller coaster for the club. You have only to look over the reports and results on the club’s excellent website www.mayoac.com to see the many reports of success at local, National and International level. Some people took on new challenges like Robert Malseed, who was part of +35 Team that took bronze team medals in the WMRA World Masters Mountain Running Championships Poland in 2010. The Senior women’s team won bronze in the European Clubs Cup Race in Portugal in 2011. John Byrne achieved his lifetime ambition of wearing the green vest of Ireland in recent years in ultra and trail running. He recently finished 5th in the IAU World Trophy 50k in Italy. The club has regularly featured in the Annual British and Irish Masters Cross Country. In the recent 2012 event in Belfast, Mayo AC had three representatives in action – Colette Tuohy, Angela O’Connor and Pauline Moran – another great day for the club.
Speaking of unique achievements, one has to mention Christy O’Malley who has represented Mayo AC in competition more times than anybody. He is nearing his 50th marathon also his 1000th race – the vast majority in the club colours.
In 2011 again working with Mayo Sports Partnership, the club established its 5k Summer Series. Open to all, but targeted at the Fit4Life members and fun runner/jogger, this venture has proven very popular and will certainly be expanded in the coming years.
Down the years the achievements of Mayo AC top athletes has not gone unnoticed. A number have been awarded the prestigious Mayo Sports Star of the Year Awards and other athletic recognition awards in the sport.
Today at the end of its first 25 years, Mayo AC is a very vibrant club with about 150 members. It does not have an underage section but caters for people from 18 years with no upper age limit . It does not own any facilities of its own, but is lucky to be able to avail of existing facilities in the area that it covers .
Current chairman, Michael McGrath has been involved in athletics since the mid seventies. He is full of enthusiasm about the club and its achievements to date. He says, “despite the fact that our members are spread all over Co Mayo and many outside it and also that many members follow their own training programmes, there is always a wonderful team spirit when we meet up at competition also we have a wonderful club committee. In the past all the work was left to a few but now there a large number of people willing to take on various tasks for the good of the club”.
Michael was also full of praise for all the club’s officers down the years. He also reflected on the enormous contribution of the late Padraic Cullina, one of the founding members, as an athlete coach, official and event organiser. Padraic sadly passed away two years ago following a short illness but will always be remembered.
It is great to see that the iconic green and red vest of Mayo AC, launched in 2001, is now as recognisable on National days as that of Clonliffe Harriers and Donore Harriers and others who were established many years before. The club are always seeking new members and as Michael says, “we are not forcing people to do anything; instead we outline to them the opportunities that are there and assist them in every way we can to achieve their dream whatever that may be. Sometimes it’s about the medals won but it’s always about the friendships gained”