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The women who were more than support acts in a cross-country revolution

Sinead Kissane


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Sonia O’Sullivan, Anne Keenan-Buckley, Rosemary Ryan and Maureen Harrington at the end of the Senior Women’s Short Race at the World Cross Country Championships in Leopardstown in March 2002. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Sonia O’Sullivan, Anne Keenan-Buckley, Rosemary Ryan and Maureen Harrington at the end of the Senior Women’s Short Race at the World Cross Country Championships in Leopardstown in March 2002. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Sonia O’Sullivan, Anne Keenan-Buckley, Rosemary Ryan and Maureen Harrington at the end of the Senior Women’s Short Race at the World Cross Country Championships in Leopardstown in March 2002. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Maureen Harrington was pure cross-country. She ran for Ireland in seven World and seven European Cross-Country Championships between 1993 and 2002. She ran in places like Amorebieta, Alnwick, Stellenbosch, Marrakech. She ran no more than 50 miles a week.

Cross-country was her thing, not track. She never got a grant from athletics. She bought a chipper in Kenmare town with her sister and they called it Ferrari. Harrington could spend up to 14 hours a day working behind the counter, frying burgers and battered sausages before falling into bed in her apartment above the chip shop. She put the fast into fast food.

"I remember the times I'd come back from training and think, 'Feck it, I'm starving, I'll have a chicken burger'," Harrington recalled this week. "You'd wonder was there anything wrong with it after all? I don't think so."