June 12-13 1976 were historic days in Irish Athletics, marking as they did, the first
appearance of an Irish club track and field team in the European Cup for Clubs’
National Champions in Rieti, Italy.
Ireland’s standard bearers were Leevale Athletic Club, Cork, current holders of the
Omega National track and field League, a title they have won every year since its
inception in 1974.
From a financial point of view, the invitation came at a bad time for Leevale as it
coincided with the Club’s investment of £17,000 in a new premises. No money was
available from the Club funds for the trip, but the challenge was accepted by the
athletes themselves, who were given the go-ahead to investigate ways and means of
raising the necessary £90 per man travel fares. Spearheaded by Bernard Walley, Dick
Hodgins, Liam Horgan and Mick Quinlan, an appeal was launched which was given a
great start by a grant of £200 from Omega through BLE. Members travelling
undertook to pay £45 each and the balance was made up by donations from local
firms and club members.
On June 11th, the team of 13 Athletes and one Official checked in at Cork Airport for
their scheduled flight to Rome via London. Unfortunately, heavy rain and fog
stranded the Airport and travel arrangements, so carefully planned by Ml. Doorley of
Shannon Travel, which would have got us to Rome at 6pm., went awry. The Airport
was closed, and the outcome was a bus trip to Shannon from where we flew to
London, missed our connection to Rome and eventually left at 7.35pm. on a Sudanese
flight, arriving in Rome at 10.50pm.
There we were met by an interpreter – hostess, Miriam, assigned to us by the
organising committee, whose courtesy and help was to prove invaluable to us for the
duration of our stay. Spirits were high and the crack, led by Mick O’Flynn was good
as we boarded our coach and drove through the Eternal City en route for Rieti, some
50 miles inland ‘in the Geometrical Centre of Italy’ as the brochures put it. The
streets of Rieti were empty as we drove through at 1.30am and headed for our hotel in
Poggio Bustone, a little village some 3,000 feet high in the mountains, made famous
by the fact that it was one of St. Francis of Assisi’s favourite places.
Hotel Villa Tiggi, our home for the next three days, welcomed us at 2.30am and we
wearily bedded down two to a room, in the most comfortable and pleasant
Bernard Walley, Team Captain, and myself attended a technical meeting at
Terminillo, a ski village at 6,000 feet on Saturday morning. Here, at the magnificent
Albergo, we met the Rieti organising committee and the representatives of the other
eleven clubs taking part. They were as follows;-
Austria – Turnerschaft Innsbruck.
Belgium – Royal Club Football Liegi.
France – Racing Club de France.
Gt. Britain – Wolverhampton and Bilston AC.
Italy – S.S. Athletica Rieti.
Luxembourg – C.A. Spora A.S.B.L.
Netherlands – Amsterdamsche Athletiek Club.
Poland – Azetes Warszawa.
Portugal – Sporting Club de Portugal.
Spain – Football Club Barcelona.
Yugoslavia – A.K. Crvena Zvezda Beograd.
Details of competitions etc. were distributed in handouts in Italian, English and
French. At a meeting that lasted almost three hours, the future of this competition
was discussed and a motion was put by the French delegate that the competition be
recognised by the European Athletic Body and be included in the European Athletic
Calendar. This was passed unanimously and has already been assured of the support
of the Italian, French and Belgian national bodies. Mr. Jack Walters, who represented
the British League at the meeting, will recommend the backing of his national body.
A meeting on this matter is likely to be held in Paris in the Autumn and future
competition will probably be in two divisions A and B.
A high degree of co-operation and flexibility was displayed by all club representatives
at this meeting and happily this enabled us to have Mick O’Flynn included as a guest
in the Triple Jump – his No. 1 event. We became aware of the strength of the
opposition from lists of teams and performances handed out, and were amazed to
learn that a town the size of Rieti (35,000 population) could have a team with names
such as Mennea, Frascomaro, Cindola, and to have relay teams capable of 40.5 and
3:09 in the 4x100m and 4x400m.
Back in our hotel and after a briefing session we headed for the stadium in Rieti in
high spirits and eagerly looking forward to competition, which for many of our team,
would be a complete new experience. The six lane track of red tartan-like surface set
in a picturesque little stadium, looked and felt good, as our team jogged a few circuits
and prepared for action. At 5.30pm the opening ceremonies commenced and nine of
us stood waving the Tricolour, as Colm Cronin in his green Irish tracksuit lead
Bernard Walley, Tony Egar, Paddy Moore, and Pat O’Riordan past the stand to a
great reception from the 5,000 crowd.
John Hunter was first into competition in the 400m hurdles and finished 3rd in his
series in 57.06 which placed him 9th overall in an event, won by the Pole,
Lankiewicz, in 51.89. It should be explained here that all events run in lanes were
decided by running two series with the final overall placings being decided on times.
Bernard Walley followed with 10th placing in the 100m in 11.3, won in 10.5 by a
Belgian, Lambert. In the 400m Brendan Mooney was fractionally outside his personal
best when finishing joint 7th in 49.8 while James Collins 3:59.6 in the 1,500m earned
him 9th place. Mick O’Flynn with 6.86 placed Long Jump and as a sudden
thunderstorm hit the arena Brendan Cronin jumped 1.90 in semi-darkness and heavy
rain. The rain had brought a welcome drop in temperature as Dick Hodgins ran the
10,000m courageously finishing 9th in 31:48. The event was won brilliantly in 28:43
by Karel Lismont. the day’s competition ended with an exciting 4x100m relay when
our team of Bernard Walley, Mick O’Flynn, Finbarr Jeffords and Colm Cronin
finished 9th overall in 43.2. the event was won brilliantly by the local team in 40.1
who gave a faultless exhibition of baton changing.
The team placings at the end of the first day set the pattern for the remainder of the
competition with Rieti leading on 102 points, followed by Racing Club Paris on 92
and Crvena Beograd third on 86. We were involved at the other end of the table with
Amsterdam and Luxembourgo fighting for the final three places.
Back in our hotel after yet another lovely Italian dinner, we sipped wine and cogitated
on the day and our prospects for Sunday. Far from being despondent, a great sense of
determination to perform to the best of our ability and already there were thoughts of
returning home, determined to retain the Omega League and then prepare for Europe
Sunday morning breakfast was enjoyable in a relaxed atmosphere on the veranda
overlooking the beautiful mountain ringed valley of Rieti. A ten minute stroll down
the mountain brought us to Mass in the tiny local church, after which we joined in the
gathering of locals discussing the forthcoming elections.
Back in the stadium at 5pm, where Seamus Power was involved in the opening event
– the 110m hurdles, finishing 9th in 16.2. Finbarr Jeffords placed a creditable 7th in
the 200m and Pat O’Riordan achieved our highest placing to date with 6th place in
the 3,000m steeplechase. Paddy Moore threw the javelin 60.38 to finish 7th when an
extra 30 cm would have given him a great 5th placing. Both dick Hodgins and James
Collins felt the effects of the previous day when they lined out in the 5,000m and
800m respectively. Both events were high class and Dick ran courageously to finish
9th to Lopez, International Cross Country Champion, who won easily in 13:51, while
James’ 1:55 in the 800m saw him tailed off behind Fiasconasos, 1:48.7 who was the
most popular winner of the day.
The folly of having competitors doubling in this type of competition was again
emphasised when the Discus and Triple Jump clashed, giving Colm Cronin little
chance but to concentrate on the Triple Jump. Colm and Mick both felt good before
the event and were soon opening with 15.01 and 14.56 respectively. Colm’s next
jump of 15.46 smashed the Irish record and brought him into second place in the
competition. Mick’s second attempt yielded a personal best of 15.12 and the morale
of the whole team was lifted by these magnificent efforts. Both felt in the groove for
even bigger ones but Mick fouled his 3rd and final attempt, while an extraordinary
decision by the foul judge deprived Colm of an effort of at least 15.70 in his 5th jump.
the jump looked good, was given the white flag and was being measured when the
Italian competitor in the event became involved in a discussion with the judge and
after a long delay reversed his decision and raised the red flag to our consternation
and dismay. Not surprisingly, Colm’s last effort fell short of his best and he had t be
satisfied with 3rd place. Mick’s effort would have placed him an excellent 5th.
With no entry in the Hammer and Pole Vault, the final event for us was the 4×400
relay and here our team of Mick O’Flynn, John hunter, Brendan Mooney and Colm
Cronin with splits of 51, 50, 48 and 51 finished 8th in 3:20 setting yet another Club
The final result was a popular victory for Rieti with 191 points, which was celebrated
by throwing the immaculately clad Club President into the water jump along with
local idol Pietro Mennea.
One might be tempted to dismiss our placing of 11th as utter failure, but when matters
are put in perspective, it can be seen as a fine achievement. Apart from being short
several of our top club performers such as Ray Treacy, Donal Walsh and Brendan
Coughlan, our team was too small, with four competitors doubling in events where
this is not advisable, and we were not represented in hammer and Pole Vault. with a
little extra luck we could have beaten the Dutch Team Amsterdam and with more
preparation and a full team we would be challenging for 8th place. The quality of the
opposition can be assessed from the 7th placing of the powerful English Champion
Club Wolverhampton and Bilston, who have such stars as Mike Bull, Glenn Cohen
and Peter Tancred.
Rieti celebrated their victory in style with a six course banquet, which had
representatives from all participating clubs in the e250 attendance. Gifts and
mementoes were exchanged and many useful contacts were made, especially with the
travel orientated Belgian Club Liege, Wolverhampton, Luxembourg and Paris.
Breakfast was at 7.30am on Monday morning and at 8am we waved goodbye to our
hospitable hosts in Rieti and accompanied by a dour looking Polish team, headed for
a coach tour of Rome, which was the final flourish in the great generosity of the host
club. The magnificence of Rome left us with a lasting memory of a historic and
magnificent occasion in which the whole team were exemplary ambassadors of their
Club, County and Country.
Finbarr O’Brien, Team Manager.