Sport

Friday 23 August 2019

Race to Honour the Memory of Athletics Star Noel Carroll

Noel Carroll — A true Irish running legend
Noel Carroll — A true Irish running legend

Frank Greally

If you are looking for a road race to enter in early August, I can think of no better event to recommend than the annual Noel Carroll Annagassan Viking Festival 10K that takes place in this fishing village in county Louth at 11am on Saturday, August 9.

This charming event is a fitting tribute to Irish running legend and Olympian Noel Carroll, who grew up in a house close to the finish of the event. The race is a celebration of Noel's life and recognition, too, for his lasting legacy to Irish Athletics, especially the Dublin Marathon - an event of which he was one of the original founders.

There was a time in the early 1980s when I visited Noel Carroll a couple of times a week and shared lunch with him in City Hall, where he worked for many years as the dynamic head of public relations for what was then Dublin Corporation.

Our friendship began in 1970 when I left the old home town in Ballyhaunis and came to work in Dublin. One night after competing at the Morton Stadium in Santry, Noel befriended me and offered to give me a lift back into town.

I would often visit College Park at lunchtime and watch in awe and admiration as some of my then special athletics heroes; Noel Carroll, Frank Murphy, Jimmy O'Neill and Junior Cummins engaged in lively training sessions on the grass track; cranking out fast 200m efforts with short recoveries.

Noel Carroll and Frank Murphy were my special sports heroes of that time; two Olympians I felt privileged to watch as they completed their lunchtime training sessions.

I felt 10 feet tall the night Noel Carroll offered me a lift back into Dublin and I listened to every word of advice he gave me that night. I think Noel empathised with me as a young lad just up from the West of Ireland, struggling to get to grips with city life. He had come from a rural background too and had spent some time in the city before heading for Villanova College in the USA on an athletic scholarship. When I got the opportunity in 1972 to follow the US athletic scholarship route to East Tennessee State University, Noel was one of the first to encourage me to grab the chance with both hands.

Noel's performances over 800m are legendary in Irish athletics. He brought something of an art form to the two-lap event, often coming through with brilliant precision to win right on the finish line. Noel competed in two Olympic Games and he won three British AAAs 800m titles, three European Indoor titles, and 14 Irish titles..

It was Noel Carroll's exceptional drive, passion and can-do attitude that helped launch the first Radio 2 Dublin Marathon back in 1980. Around that time Noel also published 'The Runner's Book' which is still a little classic. In the introduction Noel wrote: "I used to be an eccentric: now I'm an expert. I was once tolerated: now I'm consulted. I have graduated from somebody who should know better to somebody who knows better. The oddity I practiced was running. The only wisdom I can now claim is that I continued to run.

"Aside from the world of athletics, however, I do find myself in a new world in which the sport of running has fallen into the hands of common men and women. This is a joy to behold. People who only months or weeks ago wouldn't know a running shoe from a bedroom slipper are now talking about Achilles tendons, aerobics and lactic acid.

"What started as jogging has now given way to running. Aspiration that hardly stretched beyond a 10 or 15 minute shuffle have now reached out to the 26 mile marathon.

"A useful, healthy and nominal form of physical recreation has blossomed into an obsessive mission. The race is on."

You can enter the Noel Carroll Annagassan Viking Festival 10k at: www.precisiontiming.net. The course is beautiful and very scenic - and there will definitely be a lively atmosphere on the day.

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