Wednesday 14 November 2018

Former GAA star Dooher plots a new, daunting path

Three-time All-Ireland winner will battle wear and tear as he runs his first marathon

Gary O’Hanlon will defend his Irish title at the Dublin marathon tomorrow. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Gary O’Hanlon will defend his Irish title at the Dublin marathon tomorrow. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Cliona Foley

Brian Dooher was truly the prototype for today's 'utility' Gaelic footballers, constantly tracking back and forth on his natural Rolls Royce engine.

Yet even he has trepidations about his first attempt to run 26.2 miles in tomorrow's SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon.

It may be hard to imagine any physical task intimidating Dooher but his worries capture the scale of the challenge facing most of tomorrow's 20,000 participants.

As a key man in a Tyrone team that reinvented Gaelic football in the noughties, the three-time All-Ireland and All-Star winner was a constant blur of movement, skill and determination. But that was all with a ball in hand. The monotony of training without one, and the wear-and-tear injuries during 16 years of tireless inter-county service, means road running isn't easy for him.

Clann na Gael’s running group Brian Kelly, Cathal O’Neill, Johnny Browne, Gary Devine and Brian Dooherand
Clann na Gael’s running group Brian Kelly, Cathal O’Neill, Johnny Browne, Gary Devine and Brian Dooherand

So why is he doing a marathon?

It comes as no surprise to discover the GAA, specifically his club Clann na nGael, is a key part of it.

"There's five of us from the club doing Dublin. We are a typical small, rural club and are really struggling for numbers so we started a Run/Walk/Jog group, just as a social thing to try to get more people involved, and it took off," he explains.

Aughabrack and Donagheady are tucked deep in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains. Clann may have produced superstars like Dooher and Stephen O'Neill but it's currently a junior club that has to amalgamate with another just to produce a minor team.

"I don't think Croke Park has any idea how hard it is to keep small, rural clubs like ours going," says Dooher (43), who is now Clann's chairman.

Developing a running section has helped and also provides a healthy outlet for the entire community.

Don’t miss your Dublin Marathon sounvenir supplement on Monday
Don’t miss your Dublin Marathon sounvenir supplement on Monday

"Parents dropping their kids to training had the option of just walking or jogging around the pitch while they were waiting," he explains.

That quickly grew into 'Couch to 5kms' and further, and even their own club running vests. Clann's runners train Tuesday/Thursday nights and Sunday mornings on particularly testing terrain: "There's not a flat bit of road anywhere near us."

Dooher's initial ambition was to do the Derry Half-Marathon in August, but when that clashed with the All-Ireland final and the Red Hand's involvement, going to Croker took precedence.

So his running gang - Brian Kelly, Johnny Burke, Gary Devine and Cathal O'Neill - switched focus to a full marathon instead. As a vet Dooher worked very unsocial hours during his Tyrone GAA career but he now works in a nine-to-five role for the local Department of Agriculture.

Yet the late switch to a full marathon, and his persistent football-related niggles - he had an ankle reconstruction last year - means he hasn't logged up the prescribed mileage beforehand. Like many other debutants, charity fundraising has provided him with useful motivation at times.

"Brian Kelly, who's responsible for all the running in our club, set up a 'Just Giving' page for the Foyle Hospice. People just keep donating so whatever we can raise for them will be worth it as they do great work."

That's why an exceptional footballer, who is still leading off the pitch, will be part of the pack tomorrow, just happy to cross the finish line.

On the elite side, defending men's champion Bernard Rotich (2:15.33) and last year's third-placed Asefe Bekele are back while Ethiopia's Motu Gedefa, who was third in 2016, and Kenya's Caroline Jepchirchir, who won Belfast this year (2:41), are the favourites to take the women's race.

The battle for the Irish titles will see defending champion Gary O'Hanlon running his fourth marathon since April. He ran his PB of 2:18.53 in Dublin last year and his best since - 2:19 - in Berlin last month.

Mick Clohisey, who ran a 2:14:55 PB in Seville in February and 2:18 at the Europeans in August; 2016 winner Sergiu Ciobanu; and possibly marathon debutant David Flynn should challenge him.

To mark 100 years since Irish women got the vote, there will be special commemorative medals for all female finishers.

With Laura Graham out injured, the national women's title looks like a battle between two Olympians.

Caitriona Jennings, who was runner-up last year, ran 2:53 in New York in March while Lizzie Lee ran 2:40 at Europeans in August.

To donate to Clann na Gael's Foyle Hospice fund go to: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/brian-kelly8

Irish Independent

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