Friday 23 February 2018

Historic Colours clash rose above political nonsense

Saturday View

Sean Diffley

In June 1961, UCD and Trinity track and field athletics clubs met in a match for the first time.

And this week, 50 years to the day of that historic contest in College Park, a concourse came to Dublin to remember and to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of a remarkable event.

They came not only from these islands, but from Poland, Australia, Italy, Nigeria and Norway to dine and reminisce in the Davenport Hotel.

Bob Francis, the Trinity captain in '61, came from Kent for the occasion; TT Lunde, who won both the Irish and the Norwegian pole vault titles, nipped over from Oslo; John Lawson the Trinity javelin expert was there; and from UCD were Kevin Prendergast, Brian O'Halloran -- both noted shot putters -- and the versatile sprinters Iggy Moriarty, Eddie Thornton, Pat Gill and captain John McKenna.

From Warsaw came a daughter, Monika, of the late Victor Maniak -- the Irish and Polish champion, and the 1964 Olympic silver medallist in the 4 x 100m relay in Tokyo, the Poles beaten by a famous finishing flourish by the Americans through a flying burst by Robert Hayes, who ran that last leg in 8.9 seconds.

In an emotional presentation, Monika was presented with her father's winning medals -- real gold ones -- for his wins in the Dublin county championships, medals he forgot to collect.

In that famous College Park meeting 50 years ago, Maniak had won both the 100m and 220m for UCD.

An especially remarkable event that match on June 1, 1961 in College Park? It was, indeed, because it took place at the ignoble height of the infamous Irish athletics split.

UCD were nominally affiliated to the NACA, which was barred by the International Federation because it refused to confine its activities to political boundaries, while the AAU, Trinity's rulers, accepted the north as outside the Irish confines.

But the two Dublin universities were fed up to the teeth by the political nonsense and went ahead with that first meeting, the inaugural Colours match.

I remember the occasion well, as a young reporter covering what was a tense event, with officials from the ruling bodies massed among the spectators.

But they never interfered and the two clubs, by a wide margin the outstanding clubs in the country, had set a headline and influenced the eventual resolving of the athletic split.

Present at the convivial gathering to celebrate the Golden Jubilee were many outstanding athletes who certainly would have been good enough to cut a dash on the international fields, but were deprived of an opportunity.

A quarter of a century before that College Park 'breakthrough', Dr Pat O'Callaghan should have been striving at the Berlin Olympics to win a third hammer gold medal.

But the year before the NACA refused to accept the rulings of the International Federation and so Ireland was not represented at the Games.

And that despite a letter from the founder of the NACA, JJ Keane, whose letter of February 2, 1935, in the Irish Independent, appealed to the delegates to adhere to the International Federation's political boundaries ruling in what he termed "the last chance to save Irish athletics."

It's taken a while, hasn't it?

Irish Independent

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