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  • 17-10-2016 8:36pm
    Registered Users Posts: 4,272 ✭✭✭


    (He's also extremely hard to pin down so now we have him in the hot seat, make the most of it :) )

    Hi all,

    Next in line in the Legends Throne is Fr Liam Kelleher; the sometimes eccentric but always essential backbone of Irish athletics for nearly five decades.

    For Steve Ovett, Fr Liam was the only man. Ovett frequently took himself off the radar to run low-key races and one of the race organisers he couldn't say no to was Fr Liam Kelleher.
    Fr Liam, in true 'Field of Dreams' style, 'built it and they came': a running track in his then parish of Tullylease, to quote Eamonn Coghlan 'an asshole backfield in a little tiny village in Cork'.

    Coghlan went on to say:
    'Fr Liam Kelleher had this ability to force himself on runners...through his persuasive personality, we got to love the guy. Steve [Ovett] was hooked in...more than anybody else.'

    Indeed, Ray Flynn has attested to his 'almost cult following' which had the power to attract superstar athletes such as John Walker, Eamonn Coghlan, Thomas Wessinghage and Steve Scott to this backwater?

    Ovett himself speaks highly of Fr Liam:
    "There are a few people I would definitely take money off, but I don't think I'd take it off Liam."

    You can read more here about Ovett's relationship with our Legend but the book is well worth buying:

    Ovett vividly remembered the curious blend of the sacred and the superstar when visiting Fr Liam in his study:
    "He's got a picture of the Pope, then he's got a picture of me, and a picture of John Walker, and he's got John Treacy's vest next to that and a crucifix underneath. It's a mixture of the Bible and a 'Who's Who' of world athletes."

    So how did the parish priest of Tullylease come to be a magnet for international athletes like Steve Ovett and John Walker?

    Liam Kelleher was born on 29 December 1944, a native of Donoughmore, Co Cork. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1968 and served first in Pontypridd, Wales. From there, he moved to Midleton, Tullylease, Dromina, Inch Killeagh, Whitechurch, Grenagh and is currently curate in the parish of Cobh.

    Fr Liam wears a dizzying array of hats. He has been involved in publishing much of his life and was the editor of 'Marathon' magazine for over 20 years.
    He also:
    - Founded a Regional Newspaper for East Cork in 1988 the “Imokilly People” which had a circulation of 8,000 copies a week
    - Edited and produced a National Magazine for Ladies Gaelic football “Peil' for 2 years
    - Produced a weekly newsletter in most parishes he has ministered in.
    - Established Cobh News in January 2014.

    Wherever Fr Liam has ministered you will find that, as well as news print, he has also left a footprint of international quality road and track races. The parish of Tullylease even had their own running track built and paid for by Fr Liam's ingenuity.

    Alongside constant publishing and his vocational duties, he was National Track and Field coach for 25 years. Fr Liam has also clocked up an enviable 8 personal attendances at Olympic Games, including a stint as press officer at the '96 Atlanta games as well as attending 10 World T&F championships.

    And there's more. As an athletics coach Fr Liam has:
    - Coached 30 athletes who received Track and Field full scholarships to Universities in the USA.
    - Coached athletes to win about 1,000 National Track and field medals over a 35 year period.
    - Coached over 40 teams to win All-Ireland Cross-country titles in Club and Schools including getting 1st and 2nd team in Ireland in the same race, the same year in the same age group
    - and the icing on the cake - the man has coached four athletes who will always be able to call themselves Olympians.

    Enough? Nope...there are more strings to this bow:

    ATHLETICS/admin etc
    Fr Liam has been
    - manager of numerous Irish Track and Field teams at
    World and European Championship, Including manager in Stuttgart in 1993 "when Sonia O’Sullivan was robbed of 2 golds by the Chinese".
    - National Press officer for Athletics for over 10 years.
    - National Press officer for women's Gaelic football for 3 years

    Athletics hasn't been the only beneficiary of his unending energy. Fr Liam also

    - is involved with managing and training CORK teams for women's Gaelic football who have won numerous Sciath na Scoil titles. He has also organised a training program and NUTRITION for teams that won 15 All-Ireland Championships in various age groups in the space of 10 years. Never lost a National Final.
    - Started camogie for girls at St Mary's in Charleville and won the All-Ireland schools Junior A final the following year in Croke Park in the last Junior final to be played at headquarters, school have won over 30 National titles since

    Nope, not done yet:

    Fr Liam is involved in many fundraising activities including running 3 marathons on same day in Cork Ireland, New York and Los Angeles to raise money for famine in Ethiopia.

    As mentioned above, he was responsible for the building of the first all-weather running track outside of Dublin in 1978 at Tullylease in North Cork; the smallest village in Ireland with just 39 pupils in the local primary school. To pay for it, he ran a sponsored 150 laps - 37 miles - without stopping.
    He invited - like you do - Olympic Champions Steve Ovett, John Walker; World Champions Eamonn Coghlan, John Treacy Frank O'Mara etc. And they came, no questions asked.... :cool:
    In the same vein - ultra golf anyone? - he played 14 rounds of golf/252 holes on the same day on a championship course of over 6,000 yards for charity, all walking, no cart. It's still an Irish best for the most holes of golf played in one day.
    Fr Liam has a passion for fitness training and the role that nutrition plays in sport and in people's general health and completed a course in sports nutrition in 2011.

    He took a year out in 2012 but you will have guessed by now, it was not to sit on his laurels but to study Holistic Theology at Berkeley, CA

    Further reading here:

    So if you don't feel too inadequate - or tired - after reading all that, fire away with your questions folks! He's a busy man, as ye have gathered, so I'll let the questions run until Friday and then start to post some answers. It may be transcribing again so feel free to volunteer your services.

    ** All quotes from Pat Butcher's epic 'THE PERFECT DISTANCE, Ovett and Coe: the record breaking rivalry' (pp105-9)


  • Registered Users Posts: 2,677 ✭✭✭kit3

    Quite an impressive list of sports to have a successful influence on. There seems to be a growing trend in the GAA in particular to use elements of other sports to support training e.g. David Matthews working with the Cork hurlers, Gary O'Hanlon working with a Co Armagh club team, Bernard Dunne working with the Dublin footballers. In this regard, I would be interested in hearing what elements of different sports (if any) that he brought to the others and what specific advantages that brought. By the way, on a small point of clarification, the correct term is Ladies Gaelic Football.

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,960 ✭✭✭Duanington

    Love these :-)

    1 - We often hear phrases like "hard work beats talent" thrown around the place....what does Fr Liam think of this? In his experience, a guy\gal who will work his\her a$$ off in training year in, year out can surely never reach the potential of a naturally talented guy\gal who doesn't quite put in the same effort levels ...but does enough to get by.

    2 - What was the feeling in the camp after Sonia was robbed of the golds in Stuttgart ? Was it obvious to people then that something was wrong with this? Or was it something that came and went....and then came back as people reflected back on the event? ( and the ladies in question disappeared)

    3 - How did the whole coaching thing come about for Fr Liam?

    4 - How would Fr Liam asses team Ireland's performance at the recent Olympics?

    5 - Is there a "one that got away" athlete? Someone he coached who could have and should have gone on to greater things but for one reason or another didn't

    6 - We have more people running on the roads in Ireland than ever before, more races, more participants this simply lowering the standards or laying the groundwork for a brighter future?

    7 - Most satisfying achievement as a coach?

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,694 ✭✭✭Chivito550

    Did you compete in athletics before getting involved in coaching? If so, what events did you compete in, what were your PBs, and what kind of success did you enjoy?

    There are many great coaches who were not great athletes, and many great athletes who would not make good coaches. What are the most important elements of being a good coach?

    Looking back, how do you feel about the Atlanta Olympic Games? Do you look back on it positively or negatively?

  • Registered Users Posts: 15,704 ✭✭✭✭RayCun

    - when you're coaching in schools, or juvenile clubs, how do you draw the balance between wanting kids to be involved and active as part of a healthy lifestyle, and identifying the people with potential to excel and giving them the support they need?

    - how do you keep teenage girls involved in sport?

    - if you had to sum up your approach - "train fast to run fast"? "run long to build strength"?

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,396 ✭✭✭ger664

    - Opinion on the current Vetting procedures.

    - Lack of coaching/participants for field events

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  • Registered Users Posts: 19,482 ✭✭✭✭Krusty_Clown

    It seems that there are many examples (disproportionate number) of those from the religious orders who have significant success in coaching, identifying talent and influencing positive progress in the field of athletics (among other sports and fields). Are there any particular reasons for this or is it just coincidence? Could it be related to the high standard/level of education and qualifications required, or the dedication to serving and working with the community?

    Obviously sending athletes to the US on an athletics scholarship offers the athlete themselves a great opportunity to grow and maximize their potential, but do you feel that it comes at a cost at a national level?

    Do you think that there are home-grown athletes who would have benefited more greatly from spending time on a scholarship to a US college, or vice-versa, any scholarship athletes who you feel might have fared better at home?

    We seem to be having more success in athletics events over shorter distances, when compared to Ireland's long distance running successes of the past. Any particular reason for this shift and anything we can do to improve our results over longer distances?

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,623 ✭✭✭dna_leri

    Did you like/approve of the write up in "The Perfect Distance" ?

    Who is the greatest athlete you have seen running in Ireland?
    Who is the greatest Irish athlete of all time?
    And who is the best athlete you have seen anywhere?

  • Registered Users Posts: 425 ✭✭Mulberry

    What do you think of the current running boom? Will it last?

    What's the best way to encourage recreational/keep fit runners to give track athletics/competition a try?

    I regularly hear from the older members in my club that times (for club runners) were way faster back in the 70's and 80's, that the standard was much higher: would you agree and why do you think this is?

    Have you any tips for encouraging a club volunteering culture in an athletics/running club, especially now that many clubs are quite big?

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,921 ✭✭✭Kennyg71

    1. What is your favourite racing distance.

    2. Track or road racing, which do you prefer.

    3. Do you think modern athletes are as dedicated as previous generations.

    4. How have you kept up your desire to put all your energies and faith into
    coaching others of the last few decades.

    5. is there a sport you think you could have excelled at.

    6. What do you think are the ingridents to Make a successful coach.

    7. Do you think a lot of potential talent for track and field is lost to the GAA
    and what can Athletics do to encourage them, do you think athletics Ireland
    and clubs invest enough time in schools.

  • Registered Users Posts: 301 ✭✭glacial_pace71

    Some coaches go for the 'soft cop' /let's-build-a-human-pyramid approach of praise and encouragement, others go for the 'hard cop' tough-love approach.

    Sonia O'Sullivan once commented that in her youth she and Anita Philpott of your North Cork had a great rivalry, often stoked by the relative number of mentions or pictures in your 'Marathon'.

    Did you plan to see athletes thrive on rising to a little adversity and a strong challenge? Or would you calibrate things when encountering a particular personality type?

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  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,306 ✭✭✭Myles Splitz

    Great to see another on of these threads going and a very interesting subject

    1) Do you think that Community (club and parish) element played a strong part of development of the sport in the past? Do you think that this element is missing somewhat in current times in the sport despite the larger membership base of the AAI?

    2) You are president of IAAF and/or AAI for a day what changes do you look to implement?

    3) Biggest obstacles facing the sport as a whole aside from doping?

  • Registered Users Posts: 4,272 ✭✭✭Dubgal72

    Thanks all for the great response! Will hopefully get some replies posted during the week.....did I mention he's always busy......?! :D

  • Registered Users Posts: 117 ✭✭jonny99

    Often wondered where he had gotten to!

    Coached (patiently) a few of us in Kanturk in the early eighties.Remember one day he didnt hold a session, just showed us the photos he had taken of Treacy coming down the straight in 1984.One of the reasons I love the marathon distance, and Ive been around the marathon course over 150 times by now. If I could, rather than ask a question, I'd pass on my gratitude

  • Registered Users Posts: 4,272 ✭✭✭Dubgal72

    jonny99 wrote: »
    Often wondered where he had gotten to!

    Coached (patiently) a few of us in Kanturk in the early eighties.Remember one day he didnt hold a session, just showed us the photos he had taken of Treacy coming down the straight in 1984.One of the reasons I love the marathon distance, and Ive been around the marathon course over 150 times by now. If I could, rather than ask a question, I'd pass on my gratitude

    Will do jonny99. PM me your real name if you don't mind, might make more sense when I finally pin him down...Question for you, jonny..... Was he always on the go?!

  • Registered Users Posts: 117 ✭✭jonny99

    He seemed to be.

    Completely nuts about the sport, and of course, at that time, anyone running the roads was considered nuts (in North Cork at least, which was a predominately agricultural and conservative area,where there was no room for individuality-and of course, it earned him a few nicknames) but it rubbed off on us kids at the time for sure. To my memory,there was no unusual or different training involved, just infectious enthusiasm I suppose.A great man.

  • Registered Users Posts: 9,717 ✭✭✭YFlyer

    Did Galloping Jesus get a free car from North Mon or am I thinking of Brother Doody?

  • Registered Users Posts: 59 ✭✭FitzjamesHorse

    I was at the first ten days of the 1980 Oympics in Moscow.
    One afternoon a group of us including two priests got a minibus trip from the Hotel Baikal to Red Square, Lenins tob etc. Although never formally introduced I believe one was Fr Kelleher.
    On the way back the InTourist guide was much amused that Catholic priests wanted to visit Lenins tomb.

    The priest I believe to be Fr Kelleher said "I just wanted to make sure he was dead"