AN insight into what drives an athlete to shine at national and international level was afforded to members of the Clare Association in Dublin and their friends at the weekend.
At the association’s annual dinner in the Ballsbridge Hotel last Saturday night, Kilkee athlete Willie Keane, who was presented with the association’s Clare Person of the Year award for 2016, explained how being beaten in the All-Ireland Senior Cross Country Championship in 1973 was big turning point in his career.
He waited exactly 12 months to turn the tables on Mick Priest, training for 30 consecutive days in hail, rain and snow in the month of January to prepare for the next championship race. In March 1974, he regained his title and, in fact, was not beaten again in a championship race until 1980.
He continued to compete for many years after that despite maintaining a heavy work schedule. At times he trained at 7am or 10pm. He rarely felt tired and he would, without hesitation, attribute that to his level of fitness gained from his running, which has stood to him to the present day.
Willie, who won an historic race in Dublin while on his honeymoon in 1971, thanked the Clare Association in Dublin (Muintir an Chláir) for honouring him and paid tribute to their voluntary work and efforts to foster a positive and welcoming environment for Clare people in the capital. He said he is also aware of their great work in raising funds for Clare-based charities.
Willie said his local community in Kilkee is very important to him and he would not be present for the award without the support of his family and friends and those in his beloved St John’s AC.
He noted that St John’s had the proud honour of being selected as NACAI juvenile club of the year on a few occasions and quite a number of athletes went on to represent the Banner County in both Gaelic football and athletics. They also had four former athletes who had donned the St John’s singlet on their historic county senior football team of 1992. He dedicated the Clare Association award to all of them.
Willie believes if one does not have a deep connection with their place of origin then they are missing a part of their identity. He said he was blessed in that he had an athletic career that spanned 50 years.
He started competing at 17 years of age and he was fortunate enough to win 56 All-Ireland and individual titles and wear the Irish singlet in international competitions. He competed alongside and against some great athletes and he made some great friends along the way, he said, some of whom were at the function on Saturday.
“I absolutely loved the thrill of running and sense of freedom and exhilaration that was not easily created elsewhere. I also loved the challenge of competition,” he said.
He thanked his wife, Marie, for her support over the years; his sons, Willie, Ger and Micheál and his six grandchildren, James, Dara, Alanna, Liam, Aoibhín and Ciarán.