Club focus: Bray Runners
If you were to go on a socially distanced, regulated stroll around your local area, you would be certain to encounter joggers going on runs of various distances, be it 5k, 10k, or beyond.
They may be doing it for their health and fitness, they may be doing it for noble, charitable causes, or they may be doing it as a way of affording at least a brief amount of time outside of their households at a time when such opportunities are at a premium for so many.
Whether or not many of those who partake in this particular pastime maintain their interest, is something that Sean Clifford will be keeping a close eye on when life, hopefully, returns to 'normal' by the end of the year.
'I saw somebody on the TV recently, reckoning that, with the pandemic, there are another 100,000 runners. I think that might be a bit of an exaggeration but there is certainly a lot more people running now,' he said.
'It is just crazy the number of people out on the footpaths now and in the parks, so we expect that there will be another bit of a boom if and when this finishes up.'
Clifford is one of the four founding members of Bray Runners Athletics Club, alongside Pat McCourt, Dave Morrisroe, and Jimmy Kavanagh. The organisation was set up by the four men in January 1984, as a way of taking advantage of the burgeoning popularity of the outdoor jogging which had become increasingly popular in the 1960s, according to Johns Hopkins. The founders devised a plan for the club at a meeting at a pub in Oldcourt, Bray.
Within months of the club's establishment, membership had ballooned to 50 people, including future mainstays Michael Priest, Cyril Smyth, Dominic Horan (current communications officer), Paddy Monaghan, Dermot Brennan, Eleanor Hill, and Alan Threadgold. In addition to those individuals, former RTÉ correspondent Charlie Bird spent a short time as a member.
In the years that followed, and especially into the early-1990s, the club undertook a recruitment drive for their juvenile ranks. The results are there to be seen for all: according to Sean Clifford, as of writing, there are between 70 and 80 juniors, while there are up to 100 juveniles. There were unfortunate consequences for other organisations, however, with Hillside Athletics Club and Bray Striders both suffering from dwindling numbers to the point of extinction.
Due to this, Bray Runners has accepted the responsibility of training those juveniles to the same standard that would have been promised at Hillside or the Striders.
''There was certainly nothing malicious to it. We were successful and people were attracted to us. Those two clubs, which had been run by very well-intentioned people, ceased to exist because all of the kids started coming towards us. There was no ill-feeling from any of the people who ran those clubs. We were more organised, bigger, and could offer more to the kids and we had more proper coaching. The greater numbers allowed us to be more successful and look after the kids.'
In truth, local competitions were at a premium for Bray Runners in the early days, according to Clifford. It was mostly reserved to marathons, while ultra-marathons and fixed distance running proliferated in the years that passed by subsequently. As time wore on, the sport expanded, while other recreational sports such as cyclin and gyms have posed their own challenges for the club.
'Whereas most of us had been marathon runners, and there weren't too many races in those days, it's proliferated now, of course. In those days, there were mainly marathon runners, but then half-marathon and 10ks started emerging, and then we got into cross country.
'A lot of things have blossomed in the interim, which has put some pressure on your standard running club, but we are still there and we are still attracting members.
'There are so many different types of running that people can get ito, and many different types of sport. In the early-80s, there would be very little other than your football, your GAA. There was very little competition for running clubs. There is a lot more now.'
As far as a base of operations, the facilities were extremely basic. At the time, the Bray School Project was operating out of prefabs on Crutchley Lane, a set-up which the club was allowed to use for trainings and meetings. In subsequent years, the club would move around an awful lot as it searched for a home to call their own.
Amongst their temporary residences is the An Lár building on Lower Dargle Road which was able to be bought by the club as a result of there not being a title on the premises. After leaving there, they moved into one of Dr. Noel Browne's old tuberculosis hospitals, although long-term maintenance of the building wasn't financially viable for the cash-strapped organisation.
Since 2005, when it comes to committee meetings, the club know resides at Bray Head Terrace, while the athletes train at Shanganagh Park (seniors) and at Bray Institute for Further Education (juniors).
While it was not ideal for the club to be frequently moving around without being able to nail down a home, the challenges that came with it were not insurmountable.
'It did pose challenges but not insuperable, because schools were always very good to us, PRES was very good to us for allowing us to use their premises after school hours; I am talking about the original one on Putland Hill. The old community buildings that the brothers had, they allowed us to use. In an ideal world, funding would be made available for us to build a purpose-built building with running tracks and stuff.
'That has been an aim for the club over the years which has not happened because the financials have never been there. For a long time, we thought that we would be able to build a running track in conjunction with (St. Killian's Community College) because they had a bit of space, but unfortunately, it wasn't quite large enough and an additional bit of land would have been required, and the plans fell apart.
'We are still hopeful. There is some land at Fassaroe that has been mentioned as a possible location for a running track and purpose-built building but we haven't been able to get the required funding which seems to double every year.'
Finding a home and the overawing financial burden that comes with that search is just one of several challenges that Bray Runners has encountered over it, to-date, 36-year existence.
While they're especially proud of their juvenile section, getting those same youngsters to further commit to the sport once they reach the age at which they leave secondary school and embark on their third-level education is another challenge. That question of retention is cited by Clifford as one of the primary causes for concern for many different sports clubs, not just Bray Runners.
'There is much more competition out there. Having said that, the schools are more involved with getting kids involved in training and stuff. The problem is that there are natural breaks where people are leaving school, going to college, and moving out of the area. That is natural. All clubs are losing members who are losing contact with their own locality.
'That is a major problem everywhere. And then, the colleges have their own athletic clubs which suck in people who would have been training with their own local clubs, so UCD would have runners who would have trained with Bray.'
Between the above, their often futile attempts to develop the structure and foundation of the club, and the emergence of what Clifford describers as 'alternative' sports such as cycling and gymnasiums, Bray Runners will continue to face obstacles as it it closes in on its 40th anniversary in 2024. With hope, however, they can overcome these difficulties in the years to come and, once the current COVID-19 emergency is hopefully at an end, they can reap the spoils of another jogging boom.