Michael McGrath bows out after long run

Michael McGrath

Michael McGrath

When I took over as chairman of Mayo AC in early 2006, I set about to build on the work of my predecessor Brendan Conwell. The running scene was a little different in those years, with fewer races on the fixture list. Most of the major races in the county were included in the Mayo AC Road League. A new sponsor Vodafone/C&C Cellular came on board, and has remained with the club ever since. At that time the league provided a shop window for the club to discover new members, while also providing competition and recognition for those who sought to progress their athletic careers.

I also targeted Mayo AC success at both senior and masters level at the three Athletics Ireland National Road race Championships – 10k, half marathon and the national marathon which is incorporated in the Dublin City Marathon. I was particularly delighted when in 2007 the Mayo AC men’s team led by John Byrne took National Marathon senior team silver.  Mayo AC senior women’s teams had numerous successes earlier in the decade and in 2008 saw the emergence of a new team led by people like Mary Gleeson and Catherine Conway. They formed part of the team who won national senior team medals at 10k, half marathon and marathon that year. They certainly put down a marker to rival clubs around Ireland on what was to follow.

Fit4life was being promoted by Athletics Ireland around the country at that time to get more people into clubs, and in addition to improve their fitness and enable them to compete for the first time at whatever level they aspired to. When Charlie Lambert and Ann Ronayne in Mayo Sports Partnership first suggested the idea of a Mayo AC Fit4Life group I was a little sceptical, but was glad to be proved wrong. Mayo AC involvement with Fit4Life began in February 2009 and has been a resounding success. The club’s annual  5k Summer Series was launched six years ago as a response to the numbers coming into the sport and is now a firm fixture on five Tuesday evenings in June/July.

The running scene certainly keeps changing and many new races have been established in the past decade. Two of the more successful have been the Kilmovee 10k and the Women’s Mini Marathon in Castlebar. Social media now plays a major part in the promotion of the sport nationally and locally. The club website www.mayoac.com and facebook pages are among the most popular in athletic circles in the West.

There was one sad occasion for me in the ten years – the death in 2010 of the then Mayo AC Secretary Padraic Cullina, following a short illness. He made an enormous contribution to athletics and was also a great family friend for the previous thirty years or so. I also remember members Tom Waldron and John Beston, who both passed away in 2015 – they, like Padraic will always be remembered.

Like every club chairman or team trainer we must have plans and also dreams. My dream was if  Mayo AC won the National Senior Half Marathon championship this would qualify them to represent Ireland in the European Clubs Cup. They achieved this in 2010 and 2011. So I was there in Portugal in 2011 along with PJ Hall, when Mary Gleeson Colette Tuohy, Kathy Connolly and Sarah Syron won bronze team medals. It was without doubt the highlight of my tenure as chairman.There were many other landmark events in the past decade – when Mayo AC celebrated its 25th anniversary, John Byrne won his 100th race or Christy O’Malley ran his1000th, or when some new member to the sport including my wife Una, ran or jogged their very first race.

 I’ve been involved in athletics in one way or another since 1973, so in 2016 I’m looking forward to a break from administration and event organisation. I  hope to compete in a few more events than in recent years. I wish the new committee well, including new chairman PJ Hall. We now have a substantially increased club membership and it’s appropriate that there is a large and strong committee to spread the workload and make it enjoyable for all. Finally, I’d like to congratulate club members Sinéad Diver and Margaret Glavey who will be presented with awards at the upcoming Western People 2015 Mayo Sports Stars Awards. And also our friend Seán Reilly who will be receiving the Hall of Fame Award at the same function for his sporting achievements, which include organising the Hollymount Road Race for 50 years.

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