BY MICHAEL O’LEARY
Tonight (Friday) will be a very special night as Kilkenny City Harriers Athletic Club will celebrate it’s 70th Birthday with a Gala Dinner in Langtons Hotel. It will be a night of celebration and nostalgia as the club looks back on so many wonderful memories over the past seven decades.
The club was found in 1953 by several members who were willing to volunteer, and it was a most welcome actitivity for anyone who was in living in Kilkenny City 70 years ago as there wouldn’t have been the wide range of clubs and societies that are available today.
With no athletic track in Kilkenny 70 years ago, KCH used both Nowlan Park and James Park for training and to illustrate how different things were in the 1950s, official competitions were confined to men and youths, so there were no events for ladies or juvenile boys and girls.
However, things began to improve from The 1960s onwards as Athletics for juveniles became more widespread in Schools and Clubs.
One of the founding members and stalwarts of KCH Sean Byrne began to train the increasing numbers of Athletes arriving into the Club.
Over the subsequent years, Kilkenny City Harriers Athletic Club increased it’s numbers across all age groups at adult and juvenile in both male and female, with The Club beginning to gain recognition in Athletics circles across Ireland.
Several Athletes competed and won medals in All-Ireland Championships, while there were members of KCH who would also go on to represent Leinster and Ireland.
O’Loughlin Gaels grounds in Johns Park would also also be used as a training ground for KCH along with Nowlan Park and James Park.
Further progression was made in the 1970s with the installation of a grass track in the Loughboy area which is now Scanlon Park.
Things finally came to fruition in 1989 when Kilkenny was designated as a Local Sports Centre, and a grant of £300,000 from the National Lottery.
As a result an all weather running Track was provided, and in 1992 the new track was officially opened by the Minister for Sport, Liam Aylward and renamed Scanlon Park after Patrick ‘Rusty’ Scanlon, who had been associated with the old complex both as an athlete and as a soccer player.
Scanlon Park was perfect for training and hosting championships as it could cater for all disciplines of Track and Field, and was the perfect venue for other clubs that used it for training purposes particularly ahead of major competitions.
There was a major expansion when The Watershed opened in 2008 adjacent to Scanlon Park, and it provided plenty of new facilities included a new Swimming Pool.
So many Athletes from Kilkenny City Harriers have worn the green signlet of Ireland throughout the years in major competitions throughout the World.
Sinead Delahunty who is now residing stateside in America competed in two Olympics in Atlanta (1996) and Sydney(2000), while her best result was in 2000 when she finished 4th in The European Indoors in Ghent, Belgium.
Geraldine Nolan represented Ireland in The 1500 metres along with Sinead in The European Outdoor Championships in Helsinki in 1994, as Sonia O’Sullivan won The Gold Medal in The 3000 metres.
Joanne Cuddihy won a host of National titles over 200 and 400 metres setting National records in the process, and she competed in two Olympics in Beijing(2008) and London(2012). Joanne also competed in World and European Indoor and Outdoor Championships, and in 2006 she reached the final of the 400 metres at The European Outdoor Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden. She was a Silver Medalist at The European Junior Championships in 2003, while at The 2012 Olympics in London Joanne and her sister Catriona were part of The Ireland Squad that competed in The 4 x 400 metres relay. Joanne retired from professional Athletics following The London Olympics to concentrate on her medical career.
Adrian O’Dwyer competed in The High Jump at The Athens Olympics in 2004, where their were high hopes of him doing so well following a string of impressive performances on the International circuit. He had reached the final of The World Indoor Championships in Budapest, but unfortunately his Olympics ended having failed to progress from the qualifying round.
Eileen O’Keeffe was a regular competitor at major Championships throughout the 2000s in The Hammer competition, as she competed in Three World Championships, Two European Championships plus The Beijing Olympics in 2008. Her best performance in a major Championship came in The 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan where she finished 6th with a throw of 70.93 metres.
2007 was Eileen’s best year as she won a Silver Medal at The World University Games in Bangkok, Thailand, while she set a personal best of 73.21 metres when setting a new national record at The National Championships in Santry.
She dominated The Hammer competition having won 9 national titles in a row and also won 6 titles in The Discus event.
Ciara Everard competed in The 800 metres at the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janiero in Brazil along with The 2015 World Championships in Beijing. Her best performance was in The 2013 European Indoors in Gothenburg when she finished 6th in The 800 metres.
Her brother Eoin Everard has also competed for Ireland, and over the past 12 months he has won Gold Medals in both The European and World Masters Championships, and most recently he won The County Senior Cross Championships in Tullogher.
Emily Maher was another Athlete from Kilkenny City Harriers that enjoyed glory on The International stage, as The Hugginstown native won double Gold in both The 100 metres and 200 metres at The World Youth Olympics in Moscow, Russia. She was also part of The Ireland Squad that competed in The 4 x 400 metres in Sydney in 2000.
Brian Maher has acheived so much throughout his Athletics career, and is still going strong to this day judging by his Third place finish in The recent Cross Country Championships.
So many other Athletes from The Kilkenny City Harriers Club have competed for Ireland in a variety of comptitions over the years, as the club continously set high standards for aspiring Athletes to follow.
Tonight will be a night of celebration as they look back on so many wonderful moments that have happened within the club over the past 70 years.