(He's also extremely hard to pin down so now we have him in the hot seat, make the most of it )
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.'|
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."|
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."|
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.
- 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:
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
OUTSIDE TRACK AND FIELD
- 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....
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)