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Seamus Power at home on his farm at Labasheeda. Photograph by John Kelly

“The Medals Are In A Small Tool Box Packed To Capacity Underneath The Stairs”

A farmer, a father and a husband.

They are the three titles that legendary Clare athlete Seamus Power uses to break down where his focus lies these days.

A relatively small farmer is how he assesses himself, with the 50 cows in his dairy herd keeping his days busy.

His evenings are busy too, with his three sons all having inherited the sporting gene from their father with football, hurling, soccer and inevitably, athletics, all on the agenda for the next generation.

They know all about just how successful their father was from the stories they have heard of his achievements, but there is also the more tangible proof in the form of his medal haul from an outstanding career.

It is fitting that the humble Power is not one for keeping his bounty on display, but yet when asked about them there is a hint of that confidence that saw him dominate the long distance athletics scene for well over a decade.

“The medals are in a small tool box packed to capacity underneath the stairs that I take out every now and again to show to the boys. There are some nice ones in there but they are not on display I am afraid. The lads wear them around their neck for a while but then I will find them thrown somewhere around the house and I put them back into the box again. They hear different things about my involvement in the running and that I was fairly successful so they like that too. I hope they will excel at something because I think that every young person needs something and sport is good to keep them grounded. Maybe they will be a runner or a hurler but whatever they want to do, we will encourage them all the way,” he said.

To say he was fairly successful does not even come close to doing justice to what the Coolmeen man achieved in the sport, with the nine consecutive national titles accrued from 1995 to 2003 a testament to his dedication. There were plenty other titles besides those too, with three interclub titles in 2000, 2001 and 2004. He represented Ireland on 12 different occasions at the World cross-country championships, and played his part in securing a team bronze in 2000. That same year saw him come agonisingly close to making the qualification time for the Sydney Olympics, with just two seconds denying him the chance to compete in the 10,000m on the biggest stage of all.

He has dealt with the setbacks in a defiant and brave manner, none more so than when his brother Dermot passed away suddenly at just 33 years old. The pair had been close, with Dermot being the shining light to aid his brother’s career in both a literal and figurative sense. It was not uncommon on the estuary roads to see Dermot setting the pace in the tractor for Seamus to follow, with the lights showing him the way around his natural training habitat on those dark winter’s evenings.

Since his retirement from athletics, Power has completely stepped back from the sport to concentrate on dairy farming. He reflects fondly on his time in the singlet but feels it is something that is well consigned to the history books.

“It was a time of my life when that is what I did and it was all I did. It controlled my life maybe, but it was a good time. A neighbour of mine who has since passed away was involved with St Mary’s AC and I was good friends with his son. He was watching me playing football and knew I was fit enough. One day he asked me would I go to Barefield to run in the county championship. I ran the U-14 race and won on the first day out, but I hardly even knew what I was winning or even how team scoring worked so that is how it all started” he recalled.

The progress did not take long to gather momentum as Power excelled right from the beginning. He still remembers his battles with Pat ‘Rico’ Clancy from Kilrush who he identified as being the main man to set the standard by in those early days. His fledgling football career with Coolmeen did not pass the U-16 grade, as his full focus turned to athletics. It would prove to be a decision that opened the door to a world of opportunity, and a chance to head to America to take his career to the next level.

“Success drew me to it and it was something you could do on your own. I got in with a bunch of great people and everything steered me in that direction. When you’re find you are fairly handy at something, you feel like you cannot get away from it either and maybe there was a bit of that too. I went to America on a scholarship when I was 19 and there was a lot of pressure on. Back then, Ireland was not the country we are living in now, it was so backward. I went to East Tennessee not knowing how to even turn on a computer so it was a big change. You go out there on your own and you have to keep up your studies and there is a level of performance expected from you to hold onto your scholarship. You want to win yourself anyway and there is a lot pressure so you have to do everything right. I lived for running and I was happy doing it. I was studying computer graphics but from the day I left there, I was falling behind because it was moving so fast. I was studying it, but I was always thinking about running and that was my main priority. I believe that you only have room in your head to do one thing really well and for me that was running” he said.

His time in America saw him build a reputation as one of the most promising athletes on the scene, and he certainly left an impression. He was the most successful cross country runner in Southern Conference history, becoming the only runner to win the league championship for four consecutive years. His achievements in the US were honoured in 2013 when he was inducted into the US University Hall of Fame. He feels his time there shaped what he would do when he returned to Ireland, both on and off the track.

“The facilities were great and the opportunities were great but you really could go either way. You could also make the mistake of overtraining or racing too much so you had to be really careful. If you could not control yourself, you could end up burned out and it did happen to a lot of Irish people that went out there. Some of them are still in America and while I am sure they are happy to be there, they probably did not have the careers that they thought they would. It is a tough road to be a successful athlete over there, but it was great exposure to get and there is nothing like travelling to educate a man. Most of my success came when I came back from America and I had really improved. That could be down to having learned a lot and taking everything on board from my time there, and I was more in control of myself then for picking my own races and training. I was calling the shots and I improved greatly from that” he stated.

The savage dedication to find the next improvement saw Power leaving West Clare to head to Kenya for a six week training camp at altitude in the summer of 2000. His companion on that trip was Peter Mathews, one his fiercest rivals who would become one of his closest friends. When Mathews, a Dubliner, was invited to Power’s home in West Clare, he quickly realised just what had made the Clare man the competitor he was.

“He came down to me for a while and the very first run we went on, he just looked at me and said hey Power, now I know why you’re so good, it’s these hills” he laughed.

His achievement of winning nine consecutive national titles is one that is likely to be unrivalled by a Clare athlete for some time to come, but Power outlined that it took a while for the realisation that he was building that run to dawn.

“Every year I forgot about the ones in the past because the one I was going running in now was the most important one. I did not want to lose and they just started to build up. It took a good few years before I realised there was a bit of a streak going. The cross country is probably what I am best remembered for but I ran some great races outside of those too. The biggest thing about winning nine All-Ireland’s was putting them together consecutively which is very hard to do. It is tough to be right on the day every year but November always seemed to be a good time of the year for me. I would have liked to make it 10 and while I did get close to it, I was just getting old. I tweaked my hamstring before the tenth one but I still ran a good race. It is not easy to win and you have to be absolutely right for it” he stated.

His famed Kilmurry Ibrickane-North Clare singlet might be well folded away at this stage but that competitive spirit is still evident.

“I am dairy farmer now and I love it and am committed to it. I would like to think that I would get the same performance out of the farming as I did out of my running and that motivates me. Maybe if I had a different job I would miss it more, but when I come in home in the evening, it is for a rest. I want to be able to sit down, not to have to be togging out to go training after being out all day farming. It is a 50 cow herd and there is a lot of psychical work involved so I am getting plenty exercise. There are times where I would like to just jog to stay fit but I don’t really enjoy jogging. I end up going a small bit too hard and the body won’t allow that anymore. I did not really wear out from running but I am heading for 50 now so we need to be more careful of our bodies” he concluded.

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