Why we should appreciate (and support) the Great Ireland Run
The Spar Great Ireland Run takes place this Saturday and it’s easily forgotten the value this race gives to the sport domestically as a whole.
Some will view the €29 entry fee as a little steep or think that a big brand such as Nova, headed by Brendan Foster, is coming to the Park and creaming the cash and headed off back to “Blighty.”
Delve a little deeper and it couldn’t be further from the truth – in fact they are doing us a great service. Look at the top three men in last year’s race alone. Japheth Korir, the world cross country champion, headed the field followed by Andy Vernon, who went on to win two European medals on the track for Great Britain, and Australia’s Michael Shelley who went on to win the Commonwealth marathon. All this in our own Phoenix Park along with Ireland’s top athletes past and present – Fionnuala Britton, Catherina McKiernan and Sonia O’Sullivan.
Nova aren’t afraid to splash the cash to put on the best fields possible and televise it too. This year Mark English will toe the line in the men’s mile which Paul Robinson made his own the last two years – he won’t be racing as he hasn’t returned to full fitness just yet. Fionnuala Britton is back on the road again looking to make it third time lucky and put her new training regimen under Joe Doonan (Catherina McKiernan’s old coach) to the test as she looks to master the marathon.
This year’s mile race will also see some of the next generation dipping their toes into the international scene – Andrew Coscoran and Shane Fitzsimons will experience cutting edge competition against bona fide international seniors.
You can’t underestimate the value of live mainstream television coverage. That’s the reason the sport thrived in the past and it gives those not in attendance the chance to see top international and domestic athletes in action. Also the joggers, disingenuous term I know, get their mugs on tv – even I did last year. In short, it gives athletics and athletes a profile.
Two years ago we were lucky to have Kenenisa Bekele, one of the greatest distance runners of all-time, put on a masterclass starting on Chesterfield Avenue. Forget the deer and the zoo, this was a true gazelle in full flight. Something we probably didn’t fully appreciate – a bit like the event itself. It may have lost it’s bounce a little bit but maybe that’s our fault. And we can always pump the ball back up to full pressure.
Kenyan class returns this year with Korir back to defend his title along with world record holder Leonard Komon. Fionnuala Britton will take on Valeria Straneo and Gemma Steel in a European battle for supremacy with Mary Cullen lurking menacingly in the wings.
Television, race match-ups and a proper show put on in the Park – why wouldn’t you be there. Get your trainers on and toe the line with some of the top athletes in the world or watch the spectacle unfold on the roadside. This is Ireland’s version of a proper international road classic. We don’t have many left.
Brendan Foster or “Big Bren” as he is affectionately known to the older generation of running aficionados is still fighting the good fight for European distance running. Let’s back the race with our feet in support or be a fan for the day. Failing that, watch the action on RTE. We’ll miss it if goes. Con Houlihan always said about Irish Runner editor Frank Greally, “He’ll only be appreciated when he’s gone.” Let’s appreciate what we have when it’s in full flow. It promises to be another “Great” day in the Park in what will be an excellent prelude to the Dublin marathon race series. Let’s make hay while the sun shines.